Communicating effectively is one of the most difficult challenges for teleworkers and virtual teams. The physical separation from your team can inhibit trust, visibility, collaboration, focus, effectiveness, and the building of relationships, and is often cited as the least enjoyable part of remote working.
Nonetheless, these challenges can be mitigated and overcome with deliberate practice and effort. Here are five tips to help you communicate more effectively as a teleworker:
1. Make your calendar visible to coworkers. In a recent post, I introduced the WIPS time management technique (Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling). WIPS advocates for the use of a calendar tool, like Outlook or Google, and most organizations will have access to this type of technology. I highly recommend ensuring that your teammates have access to your schedule and that you make the details of that schedule visible to your immediate team. When used in conjunction with WIPS, your team will be able to see the meetings you are taking, the projects you are working on, and how you’re spending your time more generally. Now, this may seem a little intrusive, but it will build additional trust with your colleagues and provide everyone with visibility on the projects you’re working on.
2. Seek feedback proactively and frequently. Because many teleworkers don’t regularly interact with their colleagues face-to-face, we often miss out on opportunities to get feedback on our work. In a traditional office environment, this can come from non-verbal cues during meetings, during chats in the break room, or in a number of other ways. To remedy this, I recommend being proactive about seeking feedback. Techniques like email follow-ups, regular touchpoint discussions, and asking for thoughts on a teleconference can all lead to valuable feedback that you wouldn’t otherwise have obtained. This will not only help you perform better as a contributor to your team, it will often foster enhanced collaboration throughout the team as a whole.
3. Call out others’ successes. One characteristic of a high-performing team is the ability to share ideas and feedback in an open and safe atmosphere. Many teams take this to mean that they can challenge and debate their colleagues, which is true, but the role of positive feedback and affirmation is often underutilized in this dynamic. The best teams have a healthy degree of both, which can contribute to a sort of positive feedback loop; positive feedback leads to better relationships and higher trust, which in turn leads to more and better collaboration, making the team even more effective. So call out those good ideas during meetings, reach out via IM to congratulate a colleague, and pass along your praise of a teammate to your manager; it will highlight your role as a team player and make your team more effective.
4. Maximize calls and minimize emails. How great are emails? I mean, nothing beats that pile of Monday morning emails that takes you hours to file through, right? WRONG. Emails have value, but they are overused by almost every organization. The vast majority of emails, especially internal emails, would’ve been better as a quick call or instant message. There’s also the added clarity inherent in voice communication. We’ve all received a email or text message with an ambiguous statement and thought, “what do they mean by that?” That’s because vocabulary is only part of communication. According to Albert Mehrabian, words only contribute 7% to a statement’s meaning. The other 93% comes from tone and body language. So not only are voice calls (or better yet, video calls) more efficient in communication, they’re also more effective. By calling more and emailing less, your team will have better time management, clearer messages, closer relationships, and will perform at a higher level overall.
5. Use collaboration tools. Speaking of reducing emails, an entire industry has emerged based on this principle. Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms focus their business on helping teams work more effectively. The reduction of emails is part of these platforms, but their missions are beyond that; to help teams collaborate better. And while this includes more emphasis on voice and video calls, they also incorporate hubs and channels where teams can work together in a shared virtual space. This principle is also shared in project/task management software, like JIRA, Asana, and countless others. And while none of these tools are perfect for every team, and team members can dread using them at times, they really do work. So try them out! As a general rule, the more ways virtual teams can emulate co-located teams, the better they will perform as a single unit.
As you can see, there are many ways to communicate more effectively as an individual, and as a team. The 5 tips highlighted here are the best in my experience, but I’m sure there are others out there! What communication tips do you have for remote workers and virtual teams? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly! Thanks for reading.