Context Communication

It’s harder to communicate when you’re not in person. You miss out on valuable non-verbals and intimacy of eye contact. Yael refers to this as Context Communication.

For instance, if you email your boss in the next office and don’t get an immediate response, you have visual and audible cues to help understand the delay. They might be on a call or typing an urgent document. However, if you’re offsite, waiting can lead to anxiety and doubt.

Sound familiar? How do you make up for quality in-person context when working virtually? Simply put, there is nothing simple about effective team communication skills. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic – both to learn about and to fix when there’s a problem. Fortunately there are resources to facilitate productive Context Communication.

What Contributes To Context Communication

team building strategies

“Effective communication is the first of the four elements for successful team performance. When interacting with others, the more we communicate our context, the greater the connection, and, therefore, the greater the chance of achieving objectives.” 

Yael Zofi
A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams

p. 7


The three factors that contribute to effective team communication skills when it comes to Context Communication are:

Environmental Cues– what’s going on in each office location; what are the schedules and workloads; who has which project; and other visual and audio cues. Context Communication cues diminish with distance. For instance, seeing stacks of paper or hearing your colleague taking business calls throughout means that you may understand the context of her busy day.

The Medium– the channel you use to communicate, such as email, voice, video conferencing or face-to-face conversation, will determine the richness of the information shared. Should you type an email, text or an instant message? Leave a voicemail or call back? Is a video conference better for the intended communication at hand? Email is appropriate for short updates and information sharing. However, it cannot communicate the rich contextual information that is the hallmark of same-time/same–place team interactions. A short call can often save hours of wasted time in writing e-mails about issues that are better conveyed in conversation.

Relationships– how well do you know someone’s personality, moods, lifestyle and interests, even office hierarchy and alliances? When you do not have time to observe your teammates in person, how do you develop a relationship with them? Relationships are often the Context Communication ‘glue’ that holds virtual teams together. After the initial Team Setup phase, you want to ensure that your team develops strong team relationships that overcome the difficulties of working across physical distances.

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