Communication in a Geographically Distributed Work Environment
The modern workforce is causing employers to rethink their approach to internal communications. According to the National Statistics Council, more than one-third of the average employee’s time is spent in meetings.
In the past, meeting participants would dutifully trudge to an assigned conference room at the scheduled time. But there were lots of informal, ad hoc meetings taking place in the office, too—those ‘water cooler’ chats where employees exchange quick project updates or pose questions to colleagues.
Flash forward to today and 43% of U.S. employees work remotely at least part of the time, according to Gallup. Here are the pros and cons, from a collaboration perspective, of six common communications methods used by geographically distributed teams.
Most communications experts would agree that face-to-face meetings are the gold standard of business collaboration. Humans are hard-wired for face-to-face interactions. It is only when we are together that we can take in all of the verbal and non-verbal communication occurring, as well as the contextual surroundings.
Disadvantages to face-to-face meetings for distributed teams included the need for advanced planning and scheduling conflicts. The company also incurs travel costs for remote team members.
To leverage the advantage of in-person meetings but avoid some of the challenges, many teams choose to have annual, semiannual or quarterly face-to-face meetings that include several events for team building and collaboration.
Video and Web Conferencing
Both video and web conferencing can add a visual dimension to auditory meetings. Web conferencing can be conducted at each employee’s desk, and it allows easy sharing of documents, diagrams and spreadsheets.
In a video conference, it’s not uncommon for the technology challenges to take up the first five minutes of the meeting, which limits efficiency. It’s also difficult to schedule ad hoc video conferences, because typically the equipment is only available in one or two meeting rooms.
Geographically distributed teams rely on the telephone for both ad hoc and scheduled meetings. When you speak with on the phone, auditory cues such as your tone of voice enhance understanding. However, without visual cues, pauses in conversations feel awkward and team members often interrupt one another accidentally.
Email is an easy collaboration tool for geographically distributed teams. If team members work across different time zones, email enables work to continue uninterrupted. It’s easy to attach documents and work products. Senders can mark high priority or time-sensitive emails. The primary disadvantage of email is that the sender’s tone and intention can easily be misconstrued because it lacks auditory and visual cues.
Real-time messaging tools facilitate rapid, ad hoc communication between team members. Like the phone, you can reach out in an instant, but like email, if the other party isn’t available, the message will wait for them. Messaging apps can be used on computers or mobile devices between one or multiple parties.
Project Management and Ticketing Systems
In a project management system or support ticketing system, communication is structured around projects and tasks. Usually the entire team can see status updates, post their own work, and review what others are doing. This can lead to effective collaboration on projects, but may not be as well suited to other types of team communications.
Take a Flexible Approach to Remote Communication
As you can see, there isn’t one perfect way for geographically distributed teams to communicate. Work with your team to determine the best forms of communication for your types of projects and collaboration styles. It’s a good idea to have occasional face-to-face meetings for very important projects and general team cohesion. Asure Software’s Full Service Room Scheduling solutions can help your teams schedule the rooms, resources and services needed for in-person and video conference meetings.