#WFH: Do you Where a White Shirt?

Become aware of your instinctual way of communicating with others. Along with personal and interpersonal connections in the virtual world, you want to be aware of cultural barriers and challenges. Culture can be defined using a multitude of topics and categories. The easiest way to define culture may be: what people think, feel and do. Culture can be global, it can be local, it can be corporate or it can be social. However you look at culture, it concernsvalues and beliefs that then play out as behaviors and interactions.

When you communicate in the virtual world, you cannot assume anything. Communications is the glue that holds the virtual world together. The arsenals of technologies that are available to you are there really for just one reason: to let you communicate with other people from a distance. When you align connections, you need to convey information to others in the most expedient and efficient way possible. Why send 100 emails back and forth when a quick web conference would get the job done? You want to be conscious of the impact the technologies have on context.

We have no shortage of technologies and more are on their way. The importance of these technologies is really to help you and other virtual workers communicate and get the job done. Factual information like budget spreadsheets, sales plan presentations and production schedules are pretty straightforward. There is little ambiguity. Social information communicates attitudes and expectations as well as tangible facts. This makes it subject to interpretation and perceptions. Normally, you rely on your five senses to makes these interpretations, or maybe six if you count intuition.When you work in the virtual workplace, you have less visibility. Others can’t see you and you can’t see them, not even with video – or at least not in the same way. When you walk into your virtual office, no one else is there. The office style and dress code have little meaning to a virtual team. You can be connected to each other and to another activity at the same time: faxing, emailing, conferencing and scheduling. This increased dependency on technology can cause you to feel isolated, with less social interaction and cultural affiliation. Nonetheless, you still need to make deadlines, get tasks done and adhere to other group norms and practices. Without the visual cues, expressing shared expectations and agreeing upon effective contributions becomes even more important. This can be difficult.

Observing common settings and drawing on common experiences gives us a common culture. In some offices it was commonplace to require men to wear white shirts. It may not have been a written rule, but everyone always had one on. This is unspoken communication and expressed the expectations of the group. You may or may not have received comments when you wore a blue shirt, which was explicit communication. Both written and unwritten rules of behavior still exist in the virtual workplace. The difference is you have no one to compare yourself with so you may not even know enough to ask the right questions. This is one reason that structure becomes so important in the virtual world.

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