I have just found this great little report on the necessary competences for virtual work (click here for the original report). The literature review is very thorough - it really sums up everything that is out there about the skills necessary for someone to work in or lead a virtual team.
You probably won't be suprised to learn that -again- communication competency came in as the TOP requirement (n=45) for both leaders and team members who work virtually.
I find it very interesting that there is so much talk about the importance of choosing the right media for the purpose, the "brief but understandable" style, "being a good listener", the interpretation of the signals sent by team members, yet so few people realise that we are missing the bigger picture here...
It is impossible to address these issues above unless we understand that communication via the "new", in particular text-based channels is something we can NOT do naturally, merely by drawing on our experiences from previous linguistic encounters. E-mail and instant messenger is NOT like speech and NOT like writing. It's neither speech written down, nor writing that sounds like speech.
It's a whole new genre with its own rules, strategies and norms, with its not fully conventionalised conventions and creative practices, the majority of which is aimed at capturing a hypothesised prosody or pronunciation of spoken language.
So before talking about being brief but understandable or being a good listener, or learning to interpret other people's signals, people need to become aware of HOW they can achieve these. What does a brief message look like? Does it mean character count? How can we signal interest and listenership in writing? What are the signals others are using and do we all share the meanings?
So here's an example of what I meant above... What did you hear in your inner ear when you read my "eh"? Am I trying to do some sort of dialect? Or am I only trying to be informal? Do you think you heard the same prosody what I intended? Is this a good way to signal interest in the other person's opinion, but in a no-too-direct way?