Category Archives: Virtual Operations

Internal Communication

Internal Communication at the Virtual Organization

by Mark Sivy

As the leader of a virtual organization or virtual team, attention to communication between co-located and geographically separated individuals requires a heightened level of importance and skill. In a recent study I performed on leaders of virtual organizations, the participants’ continual return to the communication topic throughout the interview process highlighted communication as one of the most essential and influential components of their leadership. The data analysis revealed two differentiated areas of communication – internal and external.

This blog post examines aspects related to internal communication, which were categorized as being general internal communication, headquarter employee communication, and at-a-distance employee communication. Almost all study responses involved at-a-distance and electronic forms of communication through emails, phone calls, online meetings, learning management systems, and instant and text messaging. The leaders involved in the study said communicating through these various media presented challenges in terms of ensuring that they were done correctly, clearly, and effectively. If these criteria were met, the leaders indicated that contemporary methods of electronic communications were seen to be advantageous over previous in-person ones. The participant also cited face-to-face conversations as well, typically when employees were within short walking distance of each other such as in and adjacent office or cubicle.

virtual commmunication

General Communication

The means of and approaches to communication in a virtual organization are different than in a traditional one. In a traditional setting, general internal communications are often done according to a daily schedule, are commonly unidirectional, and are often asynchronously viewed, heard, and given response. The majority of the participants felt communication that occurs in a virtual organization is more immediate, dynamic, frequent, and closer to real-time than in a traditional physical setting. The leaders were able to leverage at-a-distance electronic communication in a manner that promoted the overall importance of communication, the need for clarity of communication, the unique uses of communication, and the value that communication has to the school team and community. The media used for internal communication were varied and depended upon the geographic relationship of those who were in contact and the purpose of the communication.

Most leaders alluded to the fact that there is a heightened sense of importance placed on communication within a virtual organization due to the geographic distances between staff. One profound comment that sums up the feeling of many was, “Communication, communication, communication. I don’t think we can communicate enough.”

Headquarter Employee Communication

The leaders reported communicating with co-located staff in a variety of ways that were purpose specific. There were standing times set for face-to-face meetings with all headquarters staff, with these typically happening on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Many of the leaders supplemented these meetings with the use of online meeting systems to connect with those staff who were unable to attend in-person.

online meeting systemThe participants also used various means to communicate with those staff that they were more dependent upon and had to speak with more frequently. Each relationship developed a favored form of communication. Being dependent upon proximity, time, and purpose, the common avenues of interaction would involve walking to an office to talk, calling someone by phone, sending an email, using an online meeting system, or using instant messaging. Even in a common physical setting, the sense from the leaders was that the availability of these at-a-distance electronic communication often allowed more responsive and frequent communication and a greater openness than they experienced with in-person discussions.

At-a-Distance Employee Communication

Communications with these employees involved some sort of electronic medium, most commonly email, instant messaging, and content sharing via intranet. When compared to a single location organization, there were more frequent and more random communications with employees, both individually and as teams. Some leaders noted that at-a-distance communication increased the amount of communication between employees, thus creating a greater sense of support and team effort.

Instant MessagingMany study participants described communication strategies as being based on the importance of the messages and types of information. The leaders wanted to manage communication in a manner that reduced the burden on employees to keep up with the volume of communications. Messaging systems were used for quick input from an individual, content management systems typically served as a repository for both reference materials and current information. Emails were often used as a means for personal and team communication or specific requests.

Reflection Point – “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Tony Robbins

Most of Us Practice Virtual Operations

The New Age of Virtual Organization Operations

by Mark Sivy

Most of us probably haven’t thought much about being in an era where virtual organization operations play a major role in daily activities, but it does and we’re involved with it. So what examples exist for these types of operations? To explore this we need to first identify what constitutes virtual organization operations.

A Perspective on Virtual Organization Operations

Here’s where it might get a bit tricky since technically virtual organization operations have existed since individuals have communicated and coordinated efforts while being at different locations. To narrow this topic down, I’ll focus on “near real-time” interactions that occur at-a-distance. Prior to the advent of electronics, some of these early methods have been through the use of mirrors (heliographs), smoke signals, drums, and flags (semaphore). As we moved into the 19th Century, organizations began using electronically-mediated services that were being invented, including the telegraph, fax machine, and telephone. Coming into the 20th Century, virtual operations were facilitated with the advent of radio, television, and eventually the Internet.

Virtual organization operations occur when geographically separated members of a team work together in achieving some outcome such as an event, service or product. Any one of these groups can represent a broad pool of shared skills, knowledge and experiences that are networked via digital communication and collaboration technologies. These technologies address the barriers of time and distance, enabling an organization to leverage collective innovation, creativity, and synergy. Virtual Organization Operations

Virtual Organization Operations in Practice

So where does this leave us as practitioners of virtual organization operations? Well, this actually involves a huge range of activities from something as simple as two relatives in different parts of a country talking on the phone planning a family gathering to a corporation’s globally distributed team working together to develop a new product line. Since you’re reading this blog, I would say that it is very likely that within the past 24 hours you’ve engaged in some form of virtual operation whether you’ve placed an online order with Staples or Amazon for merchandise, collaborated on a work document on Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox, or used social media such as Twitter or Google+ to plan a social gathering.

So What’s the Challenge in Virtual Organization Operations?

With all of these common examples of how one might accomplish virtual operations with relative ease, you might be thinking this isn’t rocket science. In part that is correct. Some of the everyday tools that are used for many virtual tasks are linear or have been created for end-user simplicity. However, when it comes to mission critical, dynamic, and interactive virtual organization operations that involve interactions between diverse team members, it becomes much more complex. Working in this type of networked environment requires specialized knowledge and skills that enable people to communicate effectively and function efficiently when separated by geographic distances.

The Challenges in a Nutshell

Body languageMost of us are unknowingly dependent on gaining much of our communicated information and understanding from in-person body language. In a seminal study, Mehrabian and Ferris (1967) discovered that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words stated. So depending on the form of communication, as much as 93% of face-to-face communication content could be lost in communicating with others at-a-distance. We can only partially compensate for this, but it is important that we do, otherwise serious misunderstandings, mistakes, and failure can result.

In a future post, this topic will be explored in more depth using the concepts of presence, emotional intelligence, transactional distance theory, and social constructivism.

Reflection Point – The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. ~ Peter F. Drucker

 

Reference

MEHRABIAN, A., & FERRIS, S. R. (1967). INFERENCE OF ATTITUDES FROM NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION IN TWO CHANNELS. Journal Of Consulting Psychology, 31(3), 248-252. doi:10.1037/h0024648