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Managing virtual project teams
Managing virtual project teams

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2.2 Social presence and information richness

Two related factors that affect the levels of awareness in collaboration are social presence and information richness.

Social presence is the degree to which an approach to communication helps people feel a personal connection with others (Wilson and Edward, 2004). The more social presence that exists in team communications in general, the more the personal relationships between team members can develop. A face-to-face meeting has a high level of social presence, and email usually much less. Synchronous communications tend to have more social presence than asynchronous ones (Duarte and Snyder, 2006). A large element of social presence lies in the immediacy, warmth and spontaneity of communication: the back-and-forth exchanges of normal conversation. Thus an email exchange where two team members are both online at the same time and send messages to and fro might have more social presence than a single asynchronous exchange. In the synchronous email exchange, both team members have the feeling that the other is really there. The usefulness of social presence depends on what a group or individual is trying to achieve at any particular time. Sometimes it can be better to have less social presence. For example, interpersonal connection, while being useful for some aspects of team work, such as the building of trust, might be time consuming and interfere with tasks which require clear and sustained concentration such as analytical tasks .

Information richness is the amount and variety of information flowing through a communication medium. High levels of information richness enable the transfer of clues to the meaning of communication through the reproduction of gestures, body language, facial expressions and emotions. This richness helps to avoid confusion and misunderstanding (Duarte and Snyder, 2006). To allow high levels of information to flow, communication mediums with high bandwidth are needed. That is to say, the communication channels that are used must be capable of high rates of data transfer.

Virtual project team managers can evaluate the suitability of different technological approaches by assessing the amount of social presence and information richness required in different situations and provided by different approaches. They then need to evaluate the effectiveness of the approaches by assessing the bandwidth that is required by each of them and that is available to different team members.