Getting to Know You Online 13 effect in virtual teams, since sharing detailed information is among the top predictors of a virtual team’s success.10 So, if knowing each other is funda- mental to making that happen, it turns out to be a really important variable. But what constitutes knowing someone? Generally, we slowly build relation- ships with and knowledge about our colleagues in a face-to-face work set- ting. As we spend time together both on and off task, we grow to understand their work expertise and gain a sense of who they are as people, sometimes becoming friends in the process. Removing the physical presence makes all of this more challenging on both professional and personal levels. One study specifically pitted professional and personal familiarity against each other to tease apart the benefits of each.11 Professional familiarity was shown to be critical for asking the right questions, understanding the answers, and incorporating the new information. Personal familiarity, on the other hand, seems to make communicating smoother. We don’t take offense as easily to a comment that could seem harsh (which is even more likely when communicating online), and we cooperate and coordinate our work better when someone feels like a friend. But personal familiarity also has a dark side, including distraction (all that chitchat takes time!), reduced deliberation on decisions (we inherently want to trust our friends’ judgment more), reluctance to offer negative feedback or course-corrections (who wants to scold a friend?), and the unpredictable time off tasks to prioritize the emotional needs of another person. Even decision- making can suffer, as friends prefer to emphasize their similarities and thus avoid proposing dissenting viewpoints. Knowledge-sharing patterns across teams or departments end up bending in ways that respect the fault lines driven by friendships. Online, however, despite this dark side, personal familiarity serves a critical role in letting people reach out at all, and any familiarity (personal or professional) is better than none. Social Media Visibility The crossover to friendship is not always smooth in this internet age. Imagine meeting a colleague you like. You then take the next step and con- nect on social media. Getting to know your coworkers has moved online this way, even if you’re working side by side in the office every day.12 At this point, you are flung from the “colleagues” or even “new friends” stage into a much more intimate circle—one where you are likely to see stronger opinions, more personal details, and more unfiltered broadcasts. In one- on-one interactions, information tends to be revealed slowly and con- sciously, and in some cases, not at all social media bypasses that entire decision process. In person, we may choose how to present ourselves to maximize our similarities with someone else. On social media, we present to everyone at once.
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