As yet, there really hasn’t been a virtual equivalent of a firm handshake or seeing the whites of a partner’s eyes that cuts the mustard in business circles. But as more commun-ication goes online and teams become pan-global, business leaders need to balance the convenience and effectiveness of how staff interact.
Organisational psychology researchers Pearn Kandola have been studying communications. Their conclusion, that there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, should surprise no one. However, the extent of the problem with electronic communications is alarming. According to the Pearn Kandola research, a simple exchange of information, such as project milestones and priorities, can take four times as long using email, compared to face-to-face interactions.
The problems are exacerbated by geographic separation. In these “virtual teams”, trust is quickly eroded, says Carolyn Shearsmith, a psychologist at Pearn Kandola. If emails go unanswered, even though there may be good reasons, the “behavioural invisibility” damages team relationships, she says. For organ-isations spread across the globe, the warning is clear.
Given that globalisation shows little sign of going into reverse, the need to improve virtual communications is ap-parent. And there is hope: according to Shearsmith, the ‘richness’ of media – incorporating text, voice, video – impacts the effectiveness of communications; relational cues, such as tone and body language can be conveyed better.
Integrated communications, based on standards such as the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and the Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), are being used to develop integrated communication packages.
Telecom equipment maker, Cisco Systems, has already come to market with its Personal Communicator application, a tool allowing employees to access email, voicemail, instant messaging, video calling and voice calling from a
This integrated communication portal greatly improves the effectiveness of ‘virtual’ communications, and increases the viability of both global team-working and home working, says Steve Frost, marketing manager at Cisco.
And whereas some managers have been reluctant to sanction home working because of the threat to the corporate network, a unified communications portal can have enterprise-class security built in, adds Frost. “It works the same way as you would secure a data network, the fact that we are adding on these different media doesn’t really make the security any more difficult.”
Business leaders cannot ignore the changes that are reshaping corporate communications, but the careful implementation of technology can help minimise the disruption, says Shearsmith.