Research indicates that socioemotional communication is an important factor in virtual teamwork: successful teams talk about more than just the task at hand, and team members feel more satisfied and appreciated as a result.
Our team has not engaged in any kind of extracurricular conversations, in fact our small talk is so small its barely there at all. The ‘chat room’ remains empty and I cannot find a single post or email that is not directly concerned with the project. The only hints of socioemotional communication can be found in a few friendly sign-offs.
Initially this came as a relief to me – I do not visit chat rooms, I never use emoticons, and I have an almost pathological need for people to stick to the point. However, I do realize that the act of communication itself can be more important than the message or content involved. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek uses an old joke to illustrate this: A factory guard is sure that a worker is stealing, so everyday he searches the worker’s wheelbarrow thoroughly. Of course the punchline is that the worker is stealing wheelbarrows.
Sometimes the vehicle is more important than the contents, and the act of communication can be more important than what is actually said. Small talk can make us better talkers in general, and straying off the point can help us gain new perspectives. I cannot help but think that if we had talked more, we would have worked better.
(Image by fabuloufabs: Creative Commons)