Communication modes and performance of virtual design teams in an undergraduate building project

Effective communication between parties in distributed design teams is essential for successful construction projects. However, there is little consensus and understanding on the factors influencing the distanced communication between these multidisciplinary parties. Many effective practices that are applicable to traditional collocated teams may no longer be relevant and require a thorough examination. This paper reports an on-going research project that aims to investigate the factors influencing the communication effectiveness of virtual design teams in a case project undertaken by final-year undergraduate students in two institutions in Canada and the UK. The empirical work involved a questionnaire survey of 69 students, comprising 32 UK (civil/structural engineering) and 37 Canadian (architectural) students. The findings suggest that there is tendency for different communication modes used by the two professions, with architects preferring visual and kinesthetic modes, and civil/structural engineers preferring aural and read/write modes, although this was not statistically significant (p=0.286). Higher levels of trust could be sustained by providing evidence of consistent performance over the course of the project. The architectural students and female participants are more likely to exhibit higher levels of trust to their counterparts and higher levels of satisfaction with team working. The findings reveal the potential influence of disciplinary training on the preferred communication modes and the development of effective virtual collaboration. Additionally, the research provides material for further reflection and may serve as a useful consideration for future development of a guiding framework for effective training of built environment professionals.