Welcome to our free Virtual Communications for Managers tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Virtual Communications for Managers course.
While many media types will work for many situations, this lesson studies the process of selecting the media that is best suited for a particular communication. The best-fit solution will enhance the communication process, increase retention, engage the participants and, when desired, stimulate participation.
When communicating virtually, it is often more difficult to "read" the other person than when communicating face-to-face. This is because:
The lack of nonverbal feedback and the change in timing can cause messages to be misinterpreted. Additionally, the person's comfort level with the communication media may affect their attitude toward the topic of the conversation.
These issues can be minimized if we understand the other person's communication style and relationship with communication media. It can be useful to consider the following questions before communicating with others virtually:
We can usually determine the types of media a person will be most receptive to by observing how he or she chooses to communicate with others in both virtual and face-to-face interactions. Does he or she:
Virtual communication will be most effective when you use media that emphasizes forms of communication that match the receiver's natural communication style.
It is reasonable to expect an employee to know how to use certain mediated communication systems, particularly if those systems are commonly used within the company. However, new employees and people outside the company may not have those skills.
Assuming technical skills exist may create a barrier to communication. Technologies that are new to a person may:
Erroneous assumptions can be seen in the following common business examples:
If the immediate desire is to accurately communicate a message and have that message well received and understood, technical competencies should be confirmed, not assumed, prior to communication.
Two common errors that take place when new technologies are emerging are:
One should always keep these things in mind:
Just as one should verify the other person's media capabilities, one should also consider the technology that is available to that person.
The number of participants in a conversation is yet another consideration. Most forms of media work equally well when used for conversations:
However, some forms of media do not work as well with large groups, particularly if the conversation is interactive. For example:
Some technologies require modifications to be suitable for larger parties. For example, telephony, designed to be a two-party medium, requires additional layers of hardware or software to manage more than two connection points or participants. These additions include:
While these additional layers of technology may be well established, one cannot assume they are readily available to all participants, so it is important to verify that they are available to all participants prior to attempting communication.
Respond to the following questions about people.
Once you have a solid understanding of the audience, you should analyze the message to determine what media is best for the delivery of the message. Considerations include:
The length of a message influences the appropriateness of a medium. Many technologies are suitable for short messages, and limit message length. Media that limit the length of messages include:
Most media geared toward shorter messages are asynchronous, and often only intended for one-way communication.
Media that support longer messages may be preferred for the following types of messages:
Messages that are complex or critical often require more sophisticated media. They may require media that has the following capabilities:
Many communications involve interactive participation, such as that which takes place in:
In these situations, the preferred media will provide:
Interactivity may be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous media may be preferred when:
Asynchronous media, such as discussion forums, are preferred in some situations because they:
Regardless of whether the communication is synchronous or asynchronous, any medium that excludes video and voice can:
A message that is confidential should not be sent through a nonsecure media without prior consent. These messages may include:
If there is any concern about the possibility of communications being intercepted through media, the parties should discuss the matter and agree on a method that makes sense to each of them.
The most secure systems usually include some form of access identification. Examples include:
On websites, a secure site can be determined by a URL that includes "HTTPS," rather than "HTTP."
Finally, the urgency of a message must be considered. Synchronous communication should take place if a message:
Should the only media available be asynchronous:
Answer the following questions about assessing messages.
The following table lists different types of media and their strengths and weaknesses. While studying this list, think about what was discussed about the people and the message in the previous units of this lesson.
|Personal video conferencing (video and audio exchange), e.g., Skype.||May be low or no cost. Simulates face-to-face conversations.||Connectivity may be an issue due to large bandwidth usage. May have a moderate learning curve.|
|Personal web conferencing (presentations and audio exchange, may include video), e.g., WebEx; GoToMeeting.||Simulates face-to-face conversations. May allow sharing of documents and other media through desktop sharing.||Connectivity may be an issue due to large bandwidth usage. May require special technical support. May have a steep learning curve. May be expensive.|
|Group video conferencing (video and audio), e.g., larger Polycom systems.||Simulates face-to-face conversations. May allows sharing of documents and other media.||Connectivity may be an issue due to large bandwidth usage. May be expensive. May require highly specialized equipment. May require special technical support. May have a steep learning curve.|
|Communication-centered applications (learning management systems, content management systems, online forums), e.g., Blackboard, Drupal.||Often supports multimedia sharing: voice, text, and visuals. Provides document sharing. Usually asynchronous, but may have synchronous components; typically chat and video conferencing.||May be very expensive. May require technical knowledge to install and support. May have moderate to steep learning curve.|
|Telephone (voice only).||Fast. Easy. Relatively inexpensive. Provides immediate feedback.||May or may not be private. May or may not be secure.|
|Mobile devices (smart phones, tablets), e.g., iPhone, Android.||Multiple ways to communicate (phone, text, video). Easy to carry and portable. Moderate price. Tools can be synchronous or asynchronous.||May or may not be private. May or may not be secure. Graphics can be slow. Connectivity may be an issue in remote locations.|
|VOIP (Internet phone), e.g., MagicJack.||Fast. Easy. Low or no cost. Provides immediate feedback.||Connection may be more prone to interference than phone.|
|Chat.||Fast. Easy. Provides immediate feedback.||Often requires Java installation. In group communications, there can be many conversations taking place at the same time. May be hard to follow. May require fast typing skills to keep up.|
|Email.||Fast. Easy. Proven technology. Allows media attachments.||Message can be sent to the wrong person. Easily hacked.|
|Texting.||Fast. Easy. Good for short messages. May allow image and video attachments.||Not good for long messages. Not secure. Easily hacked. Message can be sent to the wrong person.|
|Fax.||Relatively fast. Great for sending documents.||Requires phone line. Images may be poor quality. Requires receiving fax machine or software.|
|Discussion forums.||Great for deep discussion and brainstorming. Good for mid-sized groups. May allow image attachments.||May have slow responses.|
|Heuristic systems (exploratory systems, querying systems, demonstrations and online activities.), e.g., Wikipedia, some websites, interactive java applets, etc.||Great learning tools. Permits free-form exploration and learning.||Time consuming to create. May require significant bandwidth.|
|Animation, e.g., virtual calculators, animated graphs, some e-cards, etc.||Good explanatory tools. Provides real-life simulation. May support interaction.||May require significant bandwidth. Limited to computerized technology (computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones).|
|Websites and blogs.||Accessible 24x7. Large quantities of information. Can include multimedia. Can be used in conjunction with feeds for automated updates.||Can be challenging to create. Most communication is one-way.|
|Interactive web media. (Social networking), e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn.||Fast. Supports multiple communication types (microblogging, blogging, chat, email). Often free. Accessible 24x7. Can include multimedia. Good for short broadcasts or quick conversations.||Lacks privacy. May have steep learning curve. Functions change randomly. Many ads. Often contains a good deal of superfluous information. Not favorable for formal communications.|
|Microblogging, e.g., Twitter.||Best for short broadcasts. Easy to access. Fast.||Interactive discussions are rather awkward compared to other technologies. Security/privacy is limited.|
For some communications, the underlying media may need to be considered because it may affect the quality or reliability of the message. The following lists includes some of the transmission methods, and their strengths and weaknesses:
|Hard-wired electronics (uses electronic pulses).||Dependable. Fast.||Requires cabling. Not mobile.|
|Fiber optics (uses light pulses).||Very fast. Dependable.||Requires cabling. Less available than electronic wiring. Not mobile.|
|Wireless radio waves (microwaves, satellite).||Allows mobility over large areas.||Can be affected by weather and the environment. Less secure unless encrypted.|
|Wireless radio waves (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth).||Allows mobility. Can be fast. Best for short broadcasts. Easy to access.||Connection is not secure unless encrypted. Connection has a relatively short range.|
Two example situations in which transmission would be considered are:
As was learned in the first lesson of this class, face-to-face communication normally combines three different forms of communication:
Because words and voice are received by one sense (hearing), most face-to-face communication uses two senses. In the same way, the most common uses of multimedia combine two senses:
It has been shown that:
The reason for this is sensory overload. Most people can only process two sensory inputs at a time. Concentration decreases when the senses have to process too much.
Other senses may be introduced at times to enhance the message or emphasize concepts. Like an occasional physical touch in face-to-face communications, a third media may be introduced into virtual communications, but it should be used cautiously and intentionally.
If we want to use multiple media types (e.g., audio and visuals) we may need to layer technologies. Layering simply means to use multiple mediated systems concurrently.
Layered technologies can be beneficial:
Let us look at some examples of layered technologies in different situations:
One drawback to layering technologies is the heavy use of system resources. When multiple media systems are running concurrently, transmission quality may decrease due to the demand on processing power and bandwidth.
If at all possible, thoroughly test systems in advance prior to using them in production, particularly with clients and executives.
Respond to the following true/false questions about the mediated technology:
Answer the following questions about communication technology.
When selecting communication media, the application for which the media will be used should be a strong influencing factor. For example:
The media selection process combines all the factors in this lesson. The following reiterate the variables one considers when selecting media:
In most situations, the availability of media will be the most limiting factor in the selection process. The confidentiality of the message may limit the media selection further.
Match the following communication needs with the best mediated systems.
Write down your answers to the following questions.