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Creating a Communication Plan for a Virtual Team

written by: Suba Lakshminarasimhan • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 8/16/2011

The virtual projects often fail due to the improper communications. It can also lead to chaotic situations and revenue losses. Through this article, you will learn the most important elements to be considered while creating a communication plan for a virtual team.

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    Why Do Organizations Need a Communication Plan?

    The globalization revolutionized the way organizations function nowadays and the virtual work scenario is rapidly growing everywhere. A good communication freedigitalphotos, team, jscreationzs plays a vital role in deciding the success of these virtual projects.An Improper communication within a virtual team can make the situation chaotic and in turn lead to project failures.

    How can the virtual teams overcome these problems? There are many factors to be considered during project communications. Creating communication plans by implementing the five key elements discussed in this article will help a lot. Read ahead to learn more.

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    Conduct an Audit on the Current Communication Processes

    Before laying out a new communication plan for the virtual team, conduct an audit on the existing communication processes and methods. The teams may already be using certain tools to communicate the project information.Conduct an audit to understand whether these tools and methods help the team to meet the project objectives.

    Remember,the team members virtually meet and work on the project objectives. The communication audit must focus on the:

    • Virtual team members who send and receive messages (upward as well downward communication)
    • Mode of communication (oral, written, conference, meeting, presentations, etc.)
    • Tools used for communication (internet, telephone, mail,etc.)
    • Attitude towards an existing communication plan (whether the team is comfortable having daily conference calls, etc.)

    The communication audit acts as a critical tool to identify the problem areas and develop the best practices. Create a flow chart on how the communication flows from one level to the next level.

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    Involve the Entire Team While Creating a Communication Plan

    A virtual work environment will have people working from different geographic locations and in various time zones. It is important to involve the entire team while designing a communication plan. Construct the plans that work well for the entire team. For example, set the periodic bridge calls or webinars at the best possible time for all the team members to attend. You may not want the key members to fall asleep while making important decisions.

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    Choose the Right Communication Tools

    The key communication tools such as the telephone, Internet, video or web conferencing, social networking sites, online tools and fax are commonly used in organizations today. Remember, you need to spend money to utilize these tools. Do you have enough budget allocated to buy, use and maintain these tools? If you have more members from different geographic locations, frequently having telephone calls will make a big hole in the budget. Implement processes that are cost effective. Consider using web-based communications like VoIP, e-mail, web conferencing, webinars and other online tools. At the same time, make sure you do not compromise on the quality of your project communication.

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    Stakeholder Management in the Communication Plan

    Apart from the internal members in the virtual team, you need to consider other stakeholders like customers, vendors, external developers or contractors while creating a communication plan. Identify the phases when exactly these external members need to be involved in the project communications. Again, you need to consider the geographic locations and the time zones of these external members while designing the plans.

    Understand that all the stakeholders greatly influence the project objectives and the deliverables. Involving every one of them in the communication plan is highly significant. The contractors should be informed well in advance about the policies and the procedures pertaining to the organization. An improper information flow from the contractor can create serious legal issues.

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    Document the Communication Plan

    While drawing a communication plan for the virtual team, documenting each step or phase is mandatory.

    Formal Communication: Start the documentation process by drawing a flow chart to explain the existing communication processes. This can be done while conducting a communication audit. Portray a flow chart on how the new communication process is planned. Comparing these two flow charts will help to identify the missing areas, if any. Both the upward and the downward communication processes need to be included in the documentation.

    Informal Communication: Occurrence of the informal communication need to be monitored and prevented as necessary. At times, the important issues are discussed and the decisions are made during the informal communications. Develop ground rules and guidelines for the informal communications through e-mails, telephone conversations and other tools. Make sure all the informal communications are documented appropriately. If not properly documented and communicated to the entire team, it can greately affect the outcome of the project.

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    Share the Plan

    You must define the SLA (Service Level Agreement) or the maximum response time to all modes of communication. Make sure that the entire team is aware of the communication plan. The virtual team members must understand how the upward and the downward communication in the new plan works. Check out and carefully monitor the team on every step of the communication process. Make sure that the members of the virtual team grasp the criticality of every single phase in the whole communication process.

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