Working From Home For Dummies
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Studies show that texting has replaced voice calls and even emails as the primary form of communication. In fact, in a recent poll by Time, 32 percent of respondents said they’d rather communicate by text than phone, even with people they know very well. This shift to text isn’t just for personal communication. It’s even truer in the business world, where people prefer to email or text with colleagues.

Even though more and more people are using text-only communication (instant message [IM], phone text, and chat functions) in the workplace, it does have its pros and cons. Learn how you can effectively use text-only discussions in your virtual teams.

The pros and cons of text-only communication

The following are the pros to using text-only workplace communication, which includes texts, IMs, and chats:
  • When you text, you can expect an immediate answer. Of the 6 billion daily text messages in the United States, the average response time is three minutes. Email response times are getting slower in the wonderful world of spam, and voice calls often aren’t answered due to inconvenience or intentional avoidance.
  • Sending and receiving texts is a breeze. You don’t even need to open an app.
  • You don’t need to worry about time zones. Similar to email, you can send, read, and respond to texts at your convenience — not someone else’s.
  • The text message says exactly what you want it to say and it’s sent to specific, targeted audiences.
  • When you send a text message and receive a response, there is an accurate, written, and printable proof of what was sent, when it was sent, and to whom it was sent.

And here are the cons of using text-only communication:

  • They’re an interruption. Although texts are immediate, people can become overwhelmed when they pop up and interrupt their work, so they may not respond right away or even ignore the communication all together.
  • They can hinder interpersonal skills. Developmental psychologists have been studying the impact of texting, and they’re especially concerned about younger adults because their interpersonal skills haven’t yet fully formed. Most older adults already had fixed social skills before the era of smartphones, although these skills have eroded recently with high text usage.
  • Without body language, facial expressions, or vocal tone, text messages can be misinterpreted or misunderstood. It’s far too easy for a sarcastic comment to be misconstrued as genuinely hurtful. The real meaning of your message gets lost through the medium.

Your message can be miscommunicated in the following ways:

    • Unspoken feelings: With text-only communication, you can miss out on the opportunity to discover feelings behind a message or a person’s general attitude and understanding about the message that you’re conveying. Your intent can easily get lost in translation when you only use words to communicate.
    • Tone of voice: Tone of voice is an important aspect of communication when working virtually. By using text-only communication, you lose the opportunity to build your personal brand, trust, and influence with team members. Using your voice, you can come across technical, verbose, factual, direct, enthusiastic, friendly, funny, or informal. If you’re concerned with building team culture, consider choosing another communication method other than text-only communication.
  • Diminished language: Texting creates poor grammar habits. An entire vocabulary of shortened (misspelled) words, acronyms, and emoji not only can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, but it also makes communication much less formal and even can make genuine statements seem insincere. Most important, using poor grammar is highly unprofessional.
  • Impersonal communication: When people communicate primarily via text, they’re much less likely to have meaningful conversations. For highly sensitive or emotional conversations, such as an apology or a contentious issue, people are avoiding having real conversations and instead taking the easy way out and using text.

How to use text-only communication effectively

The big question is how to use texts, chats, and IMs effectively while still encouraging meaningful communication on your virtual team. It boils down to choosing the right medium for the right message. Ponder two important questions when considering your communication purpose and intent:

  • What’s the chance that the message could be misunderstood? Consider whether the message is highly technical or contains a lot of details. Ask yourself if the receiver of the message has the knowledge and skills to understand or comprehend it.
  • What is the risk to the relationship? Think about your current relationship with this person or group. Have you had a recent conflict or issue that may have damaged trust? If so, then you need to consider the risk to the relationship if the receiver misreads your message and makes any assumptions about its intent. Do you know the receiver well? Does he trust you and believe that you have his best interest in mind?
Depending on your answer to these questions, you can choose the right method of communication. The figure shows a virtual team communication method matrix that can help you determine what method of communication is best to use, ranging from impersonal to more personal methods of communication.

communication method matrix The virtual team communication method matrix.

If you want your team to become better communicators, build communication agreements that incorporate different methods of communicating for different situations and reasons. A communication agreement basically defines how your team will communicate, by what method, and for what purpose. Be sure to discuss the communication method matrix and agree on when texting is and is not appropriate.

About This Article

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About the book author:

A 20-year talent development professional,Tara Powers is an international best-selling author, award-winning leadership expert, and sought-after keynote speaker. She's worked with more than 200 companies and 15,000 leaders worldwide, building and launching talent initiatives that deliver high touch and high impact for her clients.

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