Remote employees comprise 63 percent of all organizations, and the number is growing. Does that mean organizations and their employees have finally understood the nuances of working from multiple locations? Most likely not. There are plenty of benefits for employees who work outside of the office, but for their efforts to truly benefit the organization they work for, they need to be given a clear idea about what is going on. This important part, communicating effectively and clearly, is crippling many virtual teams.
What is a virtual team?
A virtual team is a group of people brought together to work on a specific project. Members of these teams may come from different organizations or verticals, have different specialties, and have vastly varying areas of expertise. These people might be on the same team for a particular purpose, but they report to different managers or bosses. A task force or special committee is an example of a virtual team; these virtual teams bring together people from different teams, verticals, or organizations to achieve a common goal. They may use remote connecting technology to make progress.
What is a remote team?
A remote team is a group of people who have all been brought together to work on a specific project or to do a specific job. All members of a remote team work for the same organization and often have the same manager — but despite this, they don’t work in the same space. They can be spread out across different offices, cities, or even countries.
What is effective virtual communication?
Now that we are aware of what virtual and remote teams are let us try to understand what the tenets of effective communication are. The reporting structure is the only big difference between virtual and remote teams. The work is often mediated by technology in both cases. Since they’re often located in different places, they can’t collaborate easily – and managers face difficulty understanding their needs too. Tools like project management software help them stay connected, remain organized, and stay on top of important business. Having a way to see each other matters, too, as facial expressions convey a lot during a conversation.
Many challenges confront these teams, and most arise because the members are spread out. It gets difficult for everyone to come together and feel comfortable in the collaboration process. With the right team-building practices, members of either type of team can work together to achieve specific goals by overcoming challenges in communication.
How do you communicate effectively virtually?
It is well known that a positive work environment in an office setting is beneficial. Translating a similar culture online is the essence of communicating effectively in a virtual setting. Remote workers also need positive mental space to be productive.The challenge for managers is that a lot of aspects of the remote work environment are not in their control. But they can control the way they communicate with their team members and encourage a certain way of putting points across. Effective virtual communication skills are vital to the success of a remote team, and there are plenty of benefits to cultivating positive and productive communication:
There will be fewer misunderstandings, and existing ones will be easily resolved. Efficient workflows, collaboration, and team-building, Improve employee morale by making them feel valued.
10 tips to communicate effectively in a virtual workplace
There are lots of different strategies that can be utilized to improve the methodologies of remote and virtual communication among teams. Some options that yield great results are listed below.
Providing adequate feedback
It’s easy to provide feedback to team members in a traditional office setting—managers can call them into the cabin or just pop out to their desk or cubicle for quick in-person meetings. This gets exponentially difficult in a virtual world when the concerned team needs managers to be communicating virtually, as managers have to be a bit more intentional about providing feedback in the best way possible. From emails to video chats, there are plenty of options for managers to provide feedback to the team members – but it is not enough to just convey the words of the feedback and send them messages. Managers also need to ensure those messages are received correctly because receiving a message with corrective feedback from the manager might make some employees defensive or feel defeated, or they might continue doing the same thing repeatedly without realizing the need to change their ways. Having real-time conversations in such cases becomes important. Some managers can feel uncomfortable at the idea of chatting back and forth with their team members. Still, it gets easier with time and the number of conference calls that happen – and once the rapport is established, the body language also eases out, and it can even be something that the entire team looks forward to.
The interaction between managers and team members should be comfortable enough for the members to point out the issues they face. Managers can take the feedback and identify ways to improve things for everyone involved. They can provide feedback in these sessions too, and be honest and empathetic—they can discuss with the team what they are and aren’t doing well. It’s easier to be clear when the surrounding environment (and workplace culture) is kind and uplifting.
Ensuring information accessibility
While providing sufficient feedback is important, managers should also take measures to keep everyone in the team informed about any major or minor developments. Team members should know about the project due dates (or any changes made to them as soon as possible), schedules of important milestones, and how the rest of the team members fare on their parts of the project.
Awareness of the workload and current project status is important in remote teams, as it will be harder for employees to hold themselves accountable. When people are only aware of their contribution and nobody else’s, it is easy to feel lost. Providing regular updates in real-time is important, as managers can use it as an opportunity to reach out to team members and see how they’re doing. Also, this increases trust between managers and their team members, as the act of staying in touch throughout the project allows for ways for managers to offer assistance or provide feedback. This proactive effort leads to the early resolution of problems.
Creating a transparent goal-setting process
It is important to set clear goals and expectations for the virtual & remote team members. Managers should provide plenty of details and be clear about what the organization expects from the individual. This also helps in avoiding miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Organizations can empower their managers by introducing a robust goal-setting mechanism like Objectives and Key Results. OKRs focus on critical thinking so that the goals are aligned across team members, and the entire team is working towards achieving the goals that matter most.
Implementing a review system
To ensure employees are on track to achieve their specific objectives, it helps to have a clear and thorough review system in place. Having a virtual communication meeting with the team for a weekly review is a great way to check everyone’s progress. Managers can also use these virtual meetings to answer questions, set new goals, and provide constructive feedback. When goals get discussed frequently enough, employees lose the fear of scale and focus on the task in front of them instead, knowing full well that managers will ensure the task is completed to expectations.
Using the Correct Tools
Effective virtual communication requires the right tools. Relying on emails exclusively to keep in touch with the latest happenings in the project can only end in one way, which is not the right one. Managers who conduct in-depth weekly review sessions should use other apps and tools that can simplify managing teams, giving feedback, and tracking progress.
Tools that fit in with the everyday work of managers and employees help achieve compliance with the requirements of goal-setting frameworks. Even with goal-setting methods like OKR and tracking mechanisms like PPP frameworks, managers have to work to get a clear overview of the progress made by individual employees on tasks. Tools like UpRaise for Employee Success integrate seamlessly with Jira.
Building a team
Building a team is not about assembling individuals to work on a project but creating a bond that simplifies communication between them—how managers build relationships. The more the managers know about the remote team, the more they can empathize and communicate — and the more honest and vulnerable they’ll be. Thinking of good virtual team-building activities is important, too, as it keeps the discussions lively and relevant. Managers can propose virtual lunches or fun activities to break up busy patterns. They can even hold virtual meetings to decide on the activity to be done later!
Understanding the purpose of introducing tools and processes
There are plenty of great tools that a remote team can use, but not all might be useful for all teams. Having a discussion with the remote employees about the issues they face, and then finding tools that solve these issues is important. There is a place for introducing tools without consulting the team, too—and it is often used while deciding on goal-setting frameworks. Even then, leaders and managers should consider tools that add little to no learning, because employees have more than enough on their plate already. Tools that integrate with the project management platform like Jira offer the least amount of intrusion to the daily schedule of employees and provide managers with a way to track and monitor progress. The goal of using additional tools is to reduce employee burden rather than to increase it to obtain metrics.
Creating knowledge spaces
Centralized information repositories come in handy in more ways than one. Streamlined and centralized information ensures everyone on the team is on the same page by making important information easily accessible. These repositories can also allow ideas to be reused and adjusted as processes and systems evolve. These knowledge places also help new team members access all technical and procedural information and help them communicate and understand their colleagues better.
Reiterating what needs to be communicated
One message can be interpreted in multiple ways unless effort is put into driving home the point. This problem can be easily solved in a physical office environment, but in a virtual one, the emphasis needs to be stronger. Managers can risk being overly communicative in this scenario because the downside of getting the message conveyed wrongly can be potentially disastrous for the organization.
Managers can avoid this by having regular in-person meetings for each team member. If possible, they can also arrange for periodic in-person meetings because no tool, however sophisticated, can completely replace in-person interactions and the importance the body language plays in our communication.
A Toolkit for Effective Virtual Communication
Good virtual communications are essential for businesses, and having a robust performance evaluation framework is essential for the organization and its employees to grow and succeed in the long term. Using OKRs with remote teams can improve verbal communication within the team and alignment by allowing managers to set objectives in collaboration with their team members. Having clear objectives and key results to strive for simplifies the workload for employees, especially the remote ones. With periodic check-ins built into the OKR framework, managers can track and coach employees to achieve necessary results.