What Happens To Body Language And Tone Of Voice In A Virtual Team?

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With slick, efficient teams now hooked up by equally slick, efficient platforms built for effective, intuitive collaboration,teamwork and project management, people may still be working side by side, but often they do so in entirely different offices, possibly different cities, and maybe even different countries.

Online platforms for project work allow companies to bring together the best available people out there, and have them work together in a virtual environment that is conducive to excellent teamwork, data management and problem solving. But as operations and practices get optimized and we find new, more efficient ways to communicate, share ideas and work together, the frequency of face-to-face meetings is falling.

What Happens To Body Language And Tone Of Voice In A Virtual Team?

So where does this leave good old body language, which is said to account for by far the largest proportion of how people traditionally communicate? Are all those facial ticks, squints, smiles and winks to be consigned to the great, big virtual paper bin in the cloud? What about all those subtleties once revealed in our tone of voice,the strength of a handshake, an emphatic nod or disapprovingraise of the eyebrow?

While the words we choose to use in ‘normal’ conversation are important, that importance is magnified ten-fold when placed in a virtual environment, with potentially every letter of every word up for analysis, dissection and, god forbid, misinterpretation. People might even start getting paranoid and resort to an endless stream of novelty emoticons and ha-ha-ha’s, petrified that their well-meaning intentions come across as desperation, or their flare for ironic witticismsas bitter putdowns.

Business leaders may well hire on the basis of one-on-one interviews, but if the majority those first impressions are based on presentation, posture and clean teeth, perhaps we should be considering conducting more of our interviews online, also? At least that way the information being used to assess a candidate will be more consistent with the way in which future interactions are experienced.

But whatever the possible challenges that ultra-efficient teamwork represents, the value of having those teams work in sophisticated, contemporary office setups is incontestable. With that in mind, perhaps business leaders should be looking for simple ways to help nurture the growth of their teams. Team members can be encouraged to ensure zero distractions when taking part in online video calls, which should be kept short and focused, and so avoid risk of any undue loss of attention.

Those team members can also be encouraged to seek and provide clarification on key points with concept-checking questions, and avoid asking vague classics, such as “Is that ok?” or “Did you follow that alright?” which invariably induce a positive “Yep” or “Uh-huh,” irrespective of the listener’s true levels of internal doubt and confusion.

But surely the most important thing of all is that all team members feel included, appreciated and valued; that leaders provide them with the resources they require to perform well; and that they feel they can truly contribute and make a positive difference to the team and company. In the virtual working environment it might not always be possible to give fellow team members a hug, but we can at least give them a pat on the back.