Advances in technology have made it possible for organizations to turn to virtual offices for a portion of their employees. Many managers are now required to lead direct reports who live hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. This is adding a new dynamic to leadership, the dynamic of virtual leadership.
For many virtual leaders, communication exists via their fingertips, whether it be email, IM, or texting. This type of “virtual “communication, while valuable, cannot wholly replace the “old style” of picking up the phone and making a call. I’m not suggesting that emails, IM or texting aren’t very valuable tools to use while communicating, but there is something about a live voice and a real-time conversation.
Have you ever experienced sending an email with what you consider to be an easy question to answer and what comes back is an email without an answer but questions to clarify or add to your original question? You send back another email trying to answer questions, and before you know it, you are adding to the list of questions. After going back and forth with email after email over a period of a couple days, what started with one simple question has turned into a lot of time and effort for a simple solution. If you think back to the first email, would it have been a lot faster to have picked up the phone and make a phone call? Could you have asked the questions back and forth in a five minute conversation rather than over a couple days in emails? Was some of the confusion based on how both sides involved interpreted the questions? Could it have been an opportunity to build a relationship with conversation?
As technology continues to advance around virtual communication tools, the more prevalent virtual leadership and communication will become. Below are benefits and disadvantages with some of the virtual communication tools we currently have (email, texting, IM).
Virtual Communication Benefits:
- Done on your time. You don’t have to wait until both parties are available.
- Can be done from almost anywhere.
- Ability to communicate with more than one person at a time.
- A record of your communication
- You can share documents and other information to support the communication.
Virtual Communication Disadvantages
- It may take a long time to answer relatively simple questions.
- Does not build the relationship
- Intonation and tone cannot be heard.
- Subject to misinterpretation.
- Can create the CC – Wildfire (more people get involved than is necessary or advisable).
You can easily over use virtual communication and miss opportunities to build trust and relationships via in-person or verbal conversations. More than likely, you will be using a mix of communication styles. As you choose what style to use, some things you may want to consider are:
- Time constraints. Do you need a quick answer or can it wait.
- The importance of the topic.
- How many people need to be included.
- What type of relationship do you have with the other participant or participants?
- How long has it been since your last verbal conversation?
As virtual leadership becomes more wide spread, I’m sure more tools will be created to utilize technology in leading virtual teams. As more tools are introduced, it will be important to look at both positive and negative aspects and remember that sometimes people just want to talk.