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Does the lack of body language have an impact on Virtual Teams?on 5 August 2015Posted by Jacqui Hogan
In our previous blog, we looked at some of the challenges of building a successful eTeam when your team members are not in the same office or, indeed, in the same country. One of the challenges of not being able to physically meet is the lack of physical cues in the form of body language.
The importance of body language
According to some sources, 55% of communication is visual, 38% is vocal and only 7% is the words you use. However true you believe this to be, there is no doubt that your body language is an extremely important part of how you communicate with your fellow team members.
Because we are so used to seeing it, it is easy to take body language for granted. However, body language provides us with important visual clues to what people are saying. From small clues like facial expressions or your stance, how tense or not your body is, to your gestures, your body language adds a great deal of meaning to your words. To get an idea of just how important this is, film your next meeting and watch it with the sound turned off. You may be surprised!
ETeams meet face-to-face less often, so there is less body language and you need to be more sensitive to written and spoken cues. This means that you have to use other means for identifying emotions and asking whether or not people are all on board. Here are some ideas for how to communicate when body language is limited or unavailable.
When you all use visual tools
There are a number of tools available, where you are still able to see the rest of team “live”, for example a dedicated video conferencing tool or Skype video.
Although this may seem very similar to a face-to-face meeting, it has a number of challenges:
- Transmission delay, where your voice is not in sync with your body
- Lack of eye contact, as it’s often hard to look at the camera
- Background distractions
All of the above can make conversations feel remote and disjointed. Meetings will often appear to be more formal, as you need to speak in turn for the tools to work properly.
- Pay close attention to people when they speak
- Use unambiguous body language
- Have a non-distracting background and choose a room where you won’t be interrupted
- Keep your meetings short and focussed on a single topic
- Schedule your meetings at a time that is convenient for ALL attendees
When you don’t all use visual tools
Sometimes, you will want to hold a meeting but you don’t all have access to visual tools e.g. Skype with a photo rather than video or interactive texting etc. The meeting is still “live”, so you still have verbal interaction.
This presents additional challenges:
- Lack of attention e.g. doing your emails while half listening
- Skewed involvement e.g. some people are on video some are not
- Uncertain understanding and/or agreement
- High levels of interruption as people don’t pick up on natural body language pauses
These meetings can feel quite efficient as there is often less talking, but agreement is much less certain.
- Ask for clarification often, both for information and decisions
- Ask for comments from all attendees on all key points
- Don’t cut people off too quickly as sometimes they need to explain in more detail due to the lack of body language
- Listen, and don’t get distracted by other activities
- Actively speak in turn
For most of us, exchanging information and making decisions no longer relies on interactive contact with our teams. We send and receive information at our convenience and expect others to respond promptly. Without being able to see the whites-of-their-eyes, the reality is a little different!
- Most people are not good at expressing their feelings in writing
- Miscommunication - taking (or giving) offence
- Lack of a response, as a quick wave and ‘that’s fine’ would have sufficed in the office
- Lack of confidence in using the tools
- Feeling overwhelmed with irrelevant information that clouds the important stuff
- Feeling left out of the loop
- Interpreting the goals differently
- Making different assumptions
- Duplicating effort because you’re not clear about responsibilities
We are so used to expressing ourselves visually through body language, that we frequently forget that other people can’t see us! We also make a lot of assumptions about other people’s level of understanding.
- Agree and communicate the collective goals, putting them somewhere everyone can access and refer to
- Make sure everyone is clear about who is responsible for what
- Make sure everyone knows how to use the tools
- Err on the side of over-communication rather than under-communication
- Invite specific feedback (tools such as Glasscubes have this facility built in) e.g. whether you want approval or just an acknowledgement that something has been read
- Always acknowledge communications, even if you can’t make an immediate decision, so people know you received it
- Never assume agreement – always ask for a clear answer/decision
- If a response is requested, make it prompt and make it clear (don’t waffle)
- If you get a lot of miscommunication, consider using emoticons (:)) to allow you to distinguish light hearted comments from serious ones
Glasscubes is a UK based collaboration tool vendor that supports a full range of eTeam and remote working options. Find out more about how they can help you manage your eTeams more effectively by calling +44 (0)20 3274 2310.
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