When you’re hiring virtual teams, it’s important to master virtual communication. You may have realized this as you noticed some difficulties communicating with virtual teams. This post is to help you to master virtual communication. We have the top seven ways laid out for you here so you can improve the transfer of information and build strong relationships even if you never meet in person.
(1) Choose Specific Communication Channels
You are probably managing a team that is spread out over multiple locations. You may also serve clients beyond your local area. This can be a logistical challenge if you don’t get ahead of it. For example, you could end up juggling six different apps just to stay in touch with everyone on the team, and six more for clients. This could also lead to miscommunication among team members who collaborate on projects, wasted time jumping from one channel to another, missed client calls, or a general lack of communication altogether.
You can avoid these types of hassles and inefficiencies by implementing a communication system. This begins with setting up what specific communication channels everyone should use. You might use an app like Slack, for instance, for internal business communications like team meetings and work progress updates. Slack allows you to group people together so that they can share information among themselves. This keeps departments separate so that the people who aren’t involved in those departments’ projects don’t have to sort through irrelevant information. It also keeps information organized because you don’t have to take separate actions to file conversations, like you would with email. Slack also keeps a record of different conversations so that you and team members can refer back to them as needed.
Email is a good tool to use for client communications because it is a very common one. Most people have an email address, but they aren’t likely to all be on the same communication platform as you and the team members are. Email is a lot more convenient for them, and you wouldn’t want to make clients have to sign up for a separate channel just to get in touch with you.
You can also use email for general company-wide announcements and updates if that works better for you. With Slack, however, you can create a separate group for this, and you can easily track who has read the update. Team members will also have an easier time responding to the memo, and everyone can see it. This does away with the email issue of forgetting to hit “Reply all”.
(2) Set Clear Expectations
As soon as you hire someone, you should take them through an onboarding session. This session should include a section on internal communication. The point of this section is to make it clear with all hires upfront that there is a specific process they need to follow regarding communication. For example, they need to know when and how often they should be checking in with managers, sending work progress updates, or following up with clients. Of course, this all happens on the communication channels you have already set up.
If you have hired people who haven’t been through a specific onboarding session, you can still set clear expectations with them. Just call everyone together for a meeting where you will share updates on the relevant systems and processes.
A review of good communication practices can also be very useful. Everyone should know what the goal is for every interaction. For example, they need to know beforehand what the goal is for that systems and processes update meeting, or what the goal is when they are asked to check in with managers. You want to always provide people with this goal so that they can communicate with that desired destination in mind. This makes communication efficient so that everyone can get all the information that they need quickly.
Before setting communication goals with team members, ask yourself for each type of interaction whether you are aiming for. Then set the expectation that they need to communicate accordingly, and also to set their own communication goals within their departments. This will help everyone look at communication as understanding where the other person is at currently, and not just throwing information at them. Then everyone can better see how to get to the desired destination in the easiest and fastest way possible.
(3) Hold All Hands Meetings
You probably meet with key people in your organization quite regularly. But there are most likely several people with whom you don’t really have regular interaction with. This needs to change if you want to master virtual communication. You don’t want to lose touch with hires because you simply failed to reach out to them after the interview. You also want to build a stronger relationship with them, which means more than just talking about what work you want them to get done for you.
Hold a meeting once a week on a scheduled day and time where you gather everyone together. This is a great time to touch base with everyone, and gives them a chance to touch base with each other, too. Both aspects are very important for the dynamic of the team as a whole.
During this meeting, you can start by sharing personal updates. At Outsource School, we hold these weekly all hands meetings on Monday mornings. Then we share updates about what we all did over the weekend. It’s a great rapport builder with new hires, and a great way to stay in tune with what’s happening in the lives of long-term team members. Trust is very important in building effective teams, and you can’t have trust without relationships. This trust also reinforces better communication because people get to know each other and become comfortable interacting with each other — especially, you, the “boss”.
After the personal updates, you can start sharing work updates. Inspire the team with wins from the past week. This keeps motivation high. Then dive into the general goals and what you and the managers will be working towards improving for the week. This sets the tone with you heading up goal setting and accountability. Then you can field any questions from the team about these goals. Finally, do a review of the goals that you have set for the current quarter, and connect these goals with the vision that you have for the company.
After the management level updates, it’s the team’s turn to share their updates. Have everyone prepare a bullet list of what they have to share with everyone. At Outsource School, we ask for updates from the past week, any issues that happened and how they dealt with them or if they need help, and their goals for the week ahead. As each one shares, make sure you stay focused so you can show appreciation for their contributions and motivate them to keep up the good work.
(4) Require Daily Check Ins and Check Outs
You don’t have to be hands on all the time to master virtual communication. You can set up a system that keeps everyone organized. One important procedure for every team member to follow is checking in when they start work and checking out when they finish work. Your onboarding process should outline who to check in and out with, and where. For example, they can reach out to their direct supervisor, or post in a group with their team leader.
You can also use these daily checks to have them report on what they’ll be focused on for the day, and what they finished at the end of their shift. These daily checks keep them accountable for showing up on time and ready to dive into work, and for making sure that things get done. Regular communication among team members who work closely together is vital for quality work output. It also helps team members get more comfortable with each other so that they can be more open about challenges that they are facing. To this end, make sure that team leaders are paying attention to relationship building and not just tracking work.
In the final analysis, these checks are not only to track productivity but to manage results, and not just activity. Be very clear when you set expectations and about these daily checks that everyone should be aware of outcomes. This helps everyone to avoid the slippery slope into unproductive busy work because they stay focused on actual results-producing actions. Encouraging this consciousness in all interactions is vital. You can only master virtual communication when you are all focused on results, and that becomes part of the company culture.
As a bonus, setting expectations and monitoring results further empowers self-motivated hires and encourages others to take initiative and get things done at a high level.
(5) Hold a Monthly Virtual Happy Hour
A monthly happy hour is something that you can start doing to further support stronger team relationships. Schedule a monthly video call using a tool like Zoom so everyone can have some face time. This allows everyone to get together for the sole purpose of bonding and having fun. This is team building time that is specifically set aside for taking a step back from work. Giving everyone this break, yet still spending the time together, solidifies relationships and builds trust and loyalty. Everyone needs to see everyone else as people, not just worker bees.
Start off by hosting an activity yourself. Make sure to choose something that you can comfortably execute online. The best team building activities are designed to strengthen communication and cooperation, encourage efficiency and support for team members, and be fun! The point is to get the team to focus on a common purpose within a framework that enables members to exercise their abilities and a structure that promotes accountability. Practicing these team values in a casual setting will help everyone to master virtual communication in a fun and easy way.
(6) Avoid Attribution Errors
We humans have the natural tendency to make attribution errors. This term describes how we default to a mode where we explain people’s behavior as a facet of their character or how we blame a particular circumstance for our behaviors — mostly when we are called out for bad behavior. We naturally tend to be more generous and forgiving with ourselves than we are with others. This is more true when we are upset.
It’s important to model correct attribution with hires. First, this means not labeling people to explain their behavior. For example, avoid saying that a person took credit for your work because they are rude or selfish. Their motives are their own, and all you can really do honestly is express how that behavior made you feel. Second, it means owning your reactions to other people’s behavior. For instance, don’t justify that time you lashed out by saying that it’s because your internet went down and you were rushing to finish your tasks, or because you had a stressful conversation with a client. The way that you react to circumstances is under your control.
If you can model this to the whole team, you can encourage them to do the same. They will learn to look at people and situations differently to have a more positive attitude. This will then help to foster a more positive work environment overall.
Remember that most virtual communication lacks the nonverbal communication elements that we usually rely on as part of each interaction. For example, you may be on an audio call where you can’t see any facial expressions or note the person’s environment. You may also not be able to hear their tone of voice clearly. Because of this added challenge, we can more easily make attribution errors by jumping to conclusions and not giving people the benefit of the doubt. You need to lead by example to make compensating for the limitations a part of your company culture. This way, you can avoid the added challenges and master virtual communication.
(7) Maintain the Right Communication Style
To master virtual communication, always be authentic when you communicate with team members. Authenticity is the only way that you can be a truly effective communicator.
You may have a persona that you hide behind when you’re in public view. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just part of the privacy boundaries we set up, and most of us do this to some extent. But you don’t want to keep this wall up between you and the members of your team. You want to build relationships with them rather than keep them shut out. You can still have boundaries, of course, but you have to show up more authentically than with, say, people you see when walking down the street to buy a cup of coffee. The wall has to come down if you want to foster a team atmosphere.
Showing up authentically begins with having empathy. You need to develop the ability to understand the people on your team and to share feelings with one another. This is actually the very basis of real and meaningful communication. Otherwise, you’re just talking at people, not with them. This also means that not a lot gets through on the receiving end.
Authenticity also requires vulnerability and humility. You need to let people into your life to a certain extent and find some common ground on which to interact with them. These traits also mean that you really listen to others, and don’t just wait for them to say something that you want to hear.
If you’re shy, start by getting comfortable talking to people. Then you will grow to be truly present and engaged during interactions and make others feel more relaxed and comfortable.
Go Master Virtual Communication!
Keep in mind that holding meetings over the internet is different from meeting in person. Getting updates from someone halfway across the world is not the same as hopping over to an office next door and having a chat.
The dynamic of virtual work tends to be on the loose side compared to working in an office setting where you can pop in to check on people any time you like. This is why setting up a system for communication is so important. You want to make sure that everyone is aware of what’s expected so they can remain accountable without the threat of a surprise inspection. Having a system also provides a reliable structure of expectations that helps people feel more comfortable so they can focus on work.
Would you like to know how to be certain who your next hire should be? Or maybe you are having a hard time deciding what parts of your business can be outsourced with virtual assistants, right now. We can help you answer these questions, and help you to discover what new systems you should add to scale your business faster. Set up a free hiring consultation with us at Outsource School today – simply book here!