Improving Nonverbal Communication for Virtual Teamwork

Distributed teams, with members who work remotely or across vast distances, often rely on virtual, software-supported workspaces that try to recreate the kinds of interactions that occur in face-to-face meetings. This approach, which underlies traditional email and text chat, video conferencing, and various virtual and mixed-reality tools, cannot address certain critical challenges faced by virtual, distributed teams—particularly mismatches in social conventions, work styles, and conversational norms. Such differences can create misunderstandings, harm relationships among team members, and reduce team performance.

An interdisciplinary team of Cornell researchers is creating virtual environments to promote more effective communication in distributed teams. Specifically, this project will 1) develop a basic understanding of how differences in individual communication styles and conversational norms influence people’s nonverbal behaviors and their interpretation of others’ behaviors in face-to-face and virtual settings; 2) develop a system that modulates a user’s verbal and nonverbal behavior in virtual reality to help team members accommodate each other’s norms; and 3) investigate how users prefer to use such tools to manage their self-presentation and how they prefer to receive feedback from teammates.

This research seeks to improve remote interactions and the performance of distributed teams. By making virtual teamwork easier and more effective, this research could reduce work-related travel and its environmental impacts. Researchers will develop guidelines on representing behavior to improve collaboration and techniques for transforming behavior while preserving individual autonomy. The tools developed by this research could also set the stage for more effective interactions when distributed teams meet in person.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.2 Million spanning 4 years