According to The Washington CPA, 70% of managers say they are more open to a flexible working model now than they were before the start of the pandemic. If any good came from the last two years of turmoil, it is that companies are now recognizing that employees can be as productive and responsive when working from home as they can when reporting to an office.
Given that the world isn’t likely to return to pre-pandemic work norms, it makes sense to focus on improving communication skills in a remote working environment.
Barriers to Effective Virtual Communication
There are several barriers that must be overcome when communicating virtually with team members. Virtual communications differ from in-person communication in several ways.
When people converse in person, they rely on body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice to convey deeper meaning than words alone can convey. Virtual communication removes these added layers of information-sharing and puts the emphasis on written words alone. Even with videoconferencing, some nuances are lost, and not all work can be shared effectively during video conferences.
The skills you’ve come to rely on for effective in-person communication differ from those needed for effective virtual communication. Here, we share several tips to help you become a better virtual communicator.
- Use technology to enhance communication: Most companies choose one project management system, one instant messenger system, and add email and videoconferencing to the mix. These four basic technologies cover most day-to-day needs. It doesn’t really matter which ones you choose, as long as you use them consistently.
- Set expectations and boundaries around technology use: Establish response timelines and share them via written documentation. For example, you may request that during the business week, all instant messenger communications and emails are answered within 24 hours or that the project management system is updated by a certain day of the week. Share these expectations and hold team members accountable for following through.
- Select specific channels for different types of communication: Instant messenger tools such as Slack and Skype are great for quick responses, but unsuitable for longer discussions. Learn when to use specific types of communications. Some good rules of thumb are:
- Quick questions or updates: instant messenger channels
- Project updates or information sharing: project management channels
- Formal communication, reports, or updates: email
- Brainstorming, team meetings, large briefings: video conferencing or conference calls
- Provide frequent feedback: Another important element to virtual communication is frequent, regular contact with team members. Providing regular feedback on project updates, messages, and initiatives is vital for effective virtual communication.
- Close communication loops: Don’t leave anyone wondering what’s going on. Along with frequent feedback, “close the loop” by ensuring you alert others when a task is complete, a project is finished, or a customer situation has been addressed.
- Write in a short, succinct, and direct manner: Since so much of virtual communication is conducted via typed or written words, it must be impactful. Avoid extraneous thoughts, off-topic asides, and trying to convey emotions via writing. Humor and sarcasm may be suitable for your personal communication but added to a business communication can seriously twist a message, often to the point where it can be misconstrued. Use shorter sentences, plenty of bullet points, and other written communication techniques to ensure shared understanding.
- Keep everyone informed: A good rule of thumb is to over-communicate rather than under-communicate. Include anyone who may need the information in an email as a Cc line, or forward information to team members who may need it.
As the world continues to embrace flexible work arrangements, more workers will demand the ability to work remotely. This is especially true as the so-called “great resignation” shows no sign of abatement. Offering virtual work options, flexible work arrangements, and telecommuting options allows you to hire outside of your immediate geography and find excellent candidates. But, in order to make it work, you and everyone else at your organization must improve your virtual communications. Become a whiz at that, and you’ll be set up for a strong future.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.