Although virtual communication has a huge number of advantages, it also presents an array of challenges for a wide group of people around the world. Many people recognise that virtual communication prevents us from sharing any non-verbal communication such as gestures or facial expressions. However what they do not realise is that for many cultures, the non-verbal part of the message is actually one of the most important aspects of communication.
Virtual communication can present challenges for a vast majority of people, but it can be even more difficult for individuals in cultures that strongly emphasise relationships. When doing business with counterparts in southern Europe or South America, for instance, you may find they experience difficulties when using virtual communication. You may also find that they feel frustrated by not having the possibility to socialise directly with their international counterparts. The lack of physical contact like a pat on the shoulder or a firm handshake can also make them feel that there is definitely something missing in the message they are sending to their counterparts.
Virtual communication can also be difficult when it involves people with a different communication style. Low context communicators who rely a lot on the meaning of words, such as North Americans, are likely to find it difficult to communicate virtually with high context communicators, like Indians, who will tend to deliver part of their message with silence or non-verbal signs. In this particular case, the virtual method of communication itself becomes an obstacle.
How can virtual teams overcome these difficulties? Meeting face-to-face every now and then seems to be one of the most appropriate solutions however it can be impractical and expensive. Team members are often located on different continents and moving every member for the sole purpose of having a face-to-face meeting where they can socialise and build relationships is usually unrealistic for international organisations with an eye on the bottom line.
The use of ‘friendly’ means of communication can be a good alternative to help your teams to socialise. For example, using video conferencing helps to put a face to the name and allows people to see non-verbal communication. Creating special channels of ‘small talk’ for the team such as a dedicated virtual chat room on the corporate intranet can give people the opportunity to have more informal conversations.
Effective remote working or management of virtual teams can be challenging, but intercultural training can help you develop strategies and skills to more effectively communicate with international counterparts. Communicaid’s cross cultural awareness training courses like Managing Virtual Teams or Effective Virtual Working can help you identify the most appropriate solutions and develop skills to effectively manage the virtual element.
Providing cross cultural training to a virtual team will make them aware of the potential difficulties of virtual working and ensure they find ways of making the most of their communication. It’s also a perfect opportunity to bring the team together in a face-to-face context, or they can do a virtual training session which will truly help them identify and deal with virtual challenges they face.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010
Working across Cultures: the Challenges of Virtual Communication | Cross Cultural Training