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Group Work

Communicating with Your Group

Communication is one of the most critical aspects of collaboration—when you encourage a culture of great communication within your group, it can help to do the following:

  • create a sense of belonging,
  • keep everyone more engaged, and
  • reduce potential conflicts.

In this section, we'll talk about what you should consider when it comes to picking your modes of communication so your group can stay well connected throughout your project.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication

Group projects need a combination of both asynchronous and synchronous communication strategies to help groups collaborate on ideas, coordinate work, and complete tasks.

Synchronous communications are scheduled, real-time interactions that happen by phone, video, or in-person. For example, your group might meet after class to choose your presentation topic and to divide up tasks among your group members.

Asynchronous communications happen on your own time and over a longer period of time. For example, before your first meeting, your group might take a few days to create a shared document where you can brainstorm ideas for your class presentation and offer feedback before making any final decisions.

Communication Strategy Tips

It's important to be intentional about your communication—as you're discussing how much of each type of communication will work best for your group, check out the boxes below for some extra tips:

  1. Plan ahead.

    Make sure all group members have lots of time to fit the meeting into their schedules so they can plan ahead. Check out the section on Planning Effective Group Meetings to learn more about structuring your next meeting!

  2. Have a clear purpose.

    To support your group's work-life balance, only use synchronous communication when it's necessary. Understand why you're meeting and what you need to accomplish together.

  3. Respect commutes & time zones.

    If your group is spread out across your community (or across the world!), chances are good that someone will have to attend a meeting outside of their normal schedule. Switch up meeting times and make sure the same group members don't have to make major changes to their lives to attend. Remember—you can also book Group Study Rooms to host your meeting on campus!

  4. Consider recording online meetings.

    So long as everyone is aware and consents, consider recording a meeting that has important information for someone who can't attend. That said, if a group member keeps missing meetings and asks for recordings, then this is a issue—you'll need to navigate this problem as a group.

  5. Optimize video and audio.

    Make sure you're in a quieter spot with good lighting when attending an online synchronous meeting. Also, when group members are talking, make sure to mute your own microphone to reduce background noise.

  1. Proactively over-communicate information.

    If your team chooses to have fewer synchronous meetings (e.g., one meeting every two weeks), it's critical to provide as much information as possible so everyone can follow up on action items without the need for more clarification (and delays!)

  2. Set reasonable response times.

    If you need a response by a certain time, let your group members know so they have time to create a thoughtful response and aren't scrambling to answer at the last minute. And always take your group member's personal schedules into account—for example, if you know a group member works full time, expecting a response during their workday isn't fair or practical.

  3. Provide resources.

    An added bonus of written communication is that is allows you to deliver lots of information in one spot, so use that space wisely—include links to sites, folders, and any shared documents that will make it easier for everyone to take action.

  4. Be transparent.

    If group members are using asynchronous communication for certain tasks and interactions, it's important to remember they also don't have access to all the physical communication cues of in-person or synchronous work—as a result, transparency is critical. Clearly lay out expectations and give everyone access to the conversations and information they need to be productive and efficient.

  5. Don't turn asynchronous into synchronous.

    Many forms of asynchronous communication can easily turn into synchronous communication if it's used as such. For example, while e-mail is generally considered asynchronous communication, it can be used synchronously if group members are writing back and forth in quick, almost immediate, exchanges. If this becomes general practice, expectations for future e-mail exchanges may change—and suddenly, the pressure is on for everyone to respond immediately to every e-mail. Outline your expectations for each form of communication from the start to avoid any confusion.

Note on Accessibility

You should also discuss accessibility needs and other concerns when choosing communication strategies!

As a starting point, you might consider asking the following questions:

  • Can all group members get to campus safely and easily for a meeting?
  • Will everyone share their notes and documents before meetings to allow for extra processing time?
  • Does your virtual meeting platform offer close captioning? Does everyone know how to use them?

Communication & Planning Tools

It's important to choose as early as possible which modes of communication will help you and your team complete tasks, provide updates, and host online meetings. Everyone has their own preferences, so it's important to include which platforms your group will use as a part of your group contract.

Check the boxes below to help you identify tools that can support your group's communication strategies and planning needs throughout your project.

Concept/Mind Mapping Tools

Digital concept/mind mapping tools support brainstorming by allowing you to identify concepts and ideas and then map out relationships between them. These tools provide nonlinear and highly visual ways to understand and represent your knowledge. While there are lots of different applications, they can be helpful in defining a topic for a project (e.g., to brainstorm ideas on a topic and display related sub-topics).

Web-based tools (with some free services) supporting the creation of digital concept mapping include: Coggle, Mindmeister, Mindomo, MindMup, and Popplet.

Virtual Whiteboarding Tools

Online whiteboards help groups engage in brainstorming by promoting idea sharing and collaborative development.

Most of the following tools can be used online with some free features and functionality: Lucidspark, Miro, and Stormboard.

Collaborative Writing Tools

Collaborative writing tools allow groups to both write and edit documents in real-time which can streamline the document creation process and foster co-creation of reports, assignments, and more. Useful features of many tools include version history tracking, track changes, tagging, commenting, some freely available cloud sharing and storage, and drop and mobile device accessibility.

Most of the following tools can be used online with some free features and functionality, and Sheridan provides access to the Microsoft suite:, Dropbox Paper, Google Docs, and Microsoft Teams (Microsoft Office 365 Software - Sheridan Students, Microsoft OneDrive)

File Sharing Tools

File sharing tools allow groups to share and manage their documents using cloud storage, which allows for ease of access and collaboration.

Most of the following tools can be used online with some free features and functionality, and Sheridan provides access to the Microsoft suite: Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft Teams (Microsoft Office 365 Software - Sheridan Students), and WeTransfer.

Instant Messaging

While instant messaging is often used for chatting with friends and family, these apps are great tools for group projects. Users can test, make voice and video calls, and share photos using these apps. Groups can use these tools for both synchronous and asynchronous communication, which can help support group communication when members are in different locations.

The following messaging tools are freely available as apps for Windows, Android or iOS smartphone/mobile device operating systems, and some are also available for use on laptop or desktop devices: WhatsApp, Discord, KIK, Messenger, Microsoft Teams (Microsoft Office 365 Software - Sheridan Students), Slack, Telegram Messenger, and WeChat.

Video Conferencing

Online conferencing is useful when synchronous or real-time communication is important by facilitating meetings with multiple participants through video calls. Other popular features of these tools include built-in screen sharing, file sharing, and chat features.

Most of the following tools can be used online with some free features and functionality, and Sheridan provides access to the Microsoft suite: Google Meet, Microsoft Teams (Microsoft Office 365 Software - Sheridan Students), Jitsi, Slack, Skype, WebEx, and Zoom.

Task & Project Management

Students have many task and project management tools to choose to from for group projects, though some are very expensive and complex in nature. Accessing these advanced tools is not typically required for group projects at Sheridan, though getting familiar with some platforms can be helpful. For example, some tools can make it easier to set out group project timelines, assign tasks, visualize or prioritize goals and workflows, and monitor group outcomes and progress throughout your project.

Most of the following tools can be used online with some free features and functionality, and Sheridan provides access to the Microsoft suite: Asana, Jira, Microsoft OneNote (Microsoft Office 365 Software - Sheridan Students), Notion, Quire, Slack, Trello, and Wrike.

Scheduling & Calendaring

Automated scheduling/calendaring tools allow groups to share their calendars, find meeting times that work for everyone, and schedule meetings—all while avoiding back-and-forth emails!

Most of the following tools can be used online with some free features and functionality, and Sheridan provides access to the Microsoft suite: Arrangr, Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams (Microsoft Office 365 Software - Sheridan Students), and NeedToMeet.


Polling tools allow group members to vote on the most suitable dates and times for a meeting to make sure all members are available.

The following tools are web-based and allow you to set up polls for group scheduling: Arrangr, Doodle, NeedToMeet, Rallly, and Xoyondo.