2. Communications Plan
A Communications Plan specifies when and
how team members communicate:
Audience: Who will receive the communication
Information Needs: What information is being
Media: How is the information conveyed
Timing: When it is conveyed
Responsibility: Who is sending the information
4. Meeting Types
Feedforward (status reporting)
Feedback (reacting and evaluating)
Define the meeting purpose
Decide on the meeting format
Decide how long it should run
Decide who should invite
Circulate the agenda
6. Running a Meeting
Open with a short summary of its
purpose and agenda
Allow parties to express their opinions
Keep irrelevant debate to a minimum
Wrap up meeting with informing people
what the next steps are
7. Post Meeting
Keep a record of the meeting
Send out any promised resources
Follow up on how the next steps are
Contact members who didn't get heard
or were unsatisfied with results
Email is certainly the most used communications
medium for virtual teams. It’s easy. It’s
convenient. But it can also be misused. Here are some
tips I have for using email.
Always include a subject line and make sure it tells
the recipient what the email is about.
If the topic of the discussion changes during the
course of an email discussion, change the subject
line, especially if you are forwarding the email
discussion to a different group of recipients. E.g.,
don’t keep the subject line as “Nice to meet you” if
you are now deep into contract negotiations.
Keep messages brief and to the point. Write short paragraphs,
separated by blank lines. Most people find unbroken blocks of text
boring, or even intimidating. Take the time to format your message for
the ease of your reader.
If your email does contain multiple messages that are only loosely
related, number your points to ensure they are all read. If the points are
substantial enough, split them up into separate messages so your
recipient can delete, answer, file, or forward each item individually.
Email is clunky for sending attachments, especially large ones; so only
include attachments when necessary. Don’t attach a Word document
to send text that could have typed into the body instead.
Send group email only when it's useful to every recipient. Use the
"reply all" button only when compiling results requiring collective input
and only if you have something to add. Recipients get quite annoyed to
open an email that says only "I agree!"
10. Instant Messaging
While email is great for asynchronous messaging, it’s not so great for realtime communications or for lengthy discussions. In a real-time world, many
teams choose to use instant for daily communication.
The expected response time for responding via instant messaging is much
shorter than it would be for an email. This makes quick, spontaneous back
and forth conversations easier via instant messaging, yet instant
messaging still allows flexibility for an asynchronous conversation – just
usually a much quicker one. It is an effective way of working through a
particularly thorny issue because it doesn’t carry the potential lag that
emails often do. Lying somewhere between an email and a phone call, an
instant message conversation doesn’t have to interrupt someone in the
middle of working on something else, but also carries a sense of urgency
for a relatively fast response.
Instant messaging also improves team cohesion (informal chatter – and
jokes – that often bring co-virtual teams together) and can help provide
levity and stress relief, as well as build camaraderie.
11. Discussion Boards
Instant messages are often not durable. It is not guaranteed that the
person at the other end will see it if they aren't at their computer, and if your
team posts a lot of instant messages over the course of a day, it’s easy to
lose track of an important conversation. This can be a major problem
when, for example, having a disagreement with a client for a milestone
delivery but neither party can easily find what was discussed about that
matter in a chat from several weeks ago.
For text-based communications where it is important to keep a record of the
discussion, use a discussion board like Basecamp.
Whenever I have a new item to review or discuss with a client, I create a
new discussion thread for that topic. I then select which members of my
team or the client’s team will receive email alerts when a new comment is
posted on the thread. Months later, I can go back and review the
discussion if there is any disagreement about what was said by either party
in relation to that topic.
12. Phone Calls
Text-based communication also isn’t great for sending confusing or
emotional messages. Think of the times you've heard someone in
an office indignantly say, "Well, I sent you email" when they didn’t
get the reaction they were seeking.
Even when things are going smoothly, one shouldn’t use text as an
excuse to avoid personal contact, which is essential for having
individuals work together as a team.
Problems also arise when one misinterprets emotions in a text
message. If you have a problem with someone, you should speak
with that person directly. Don't use email to avoid an uncomfortable
situation or to cover up a mistake. When email discussion gets
tense, move to a more personal touch point such as the telephone
or voice chat.
13. Phone Calls
Regular voice communication should be used even when things are going
smoothly. When teams are co-located, that is to say all sitting in the same
room or part of the office, a lot of informal communication occurs. Things
are overheard in conversation that others might decide to chime in on, or
side conversations might spark other questions or ideas. Also, there is a
chance to let off steam and overall build a sense of team through quick
conversations about interests, jokes, tools, tips, etc. These types of
informal communication also serve as an important way to create a sense
of team, building collective trust and improving morale.
Of course, having face-to-face communication or even voice-to-voice
communication is rather difficult in a virtual office working in far-flung
locations. I make it a point to schedule regular voice calls, scheduling them
with geographic considerations in mind. I make my calls to Europe in the
morning (when it is near the end of the day), to East Coast team members
during my midday, and team members in Asia in the evening (their