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Running a virtual business comes with lots of benefits and advantages. These include lower overhead, access to a deeper talent pool and a greater sense of flexibility and work-life balance. But it also has its challenges. If you are not careful, communication can be one of them.
4 Ways to Improve Virtual Communication
Trying to build healthy and non-frictional communication within a virtual team can prove to be very difficult. However, if you are willing to be proactive and plan ahead, you can actually turn it into the strength of your remote team. Here are some of my top tips:
1. Select your channel
The biggest mistake I see in remote business owners is allowing employees to use any and all channels available to them. On the surface, it may seem completely subtle. (Lastly, the more channels you allow to use, the more they are available.) But this is just an illusion. In reality, it creates confusion and overwhelm.
It’s best to have a few specific channels and filter everything through them. This makes people less likely to miss notifications or fail to reach the right person on time.
You have to choose which channels are best for you, but it may be worth reviewing the email. While email is a highly effective channel for outbound marketing and lead generation, it is not nearly as practical for internal communication. Email inboxes are not ideal for scattered death traps and real-time forward discussions among colleagues. You better use a phone, SMS, a project management tool, or a chat application like Slack.
Related: Five things help distant teams to be more productive
2. Set expectations
Once you have selected the right channel, you need to set expectations accordingly. You don’t want to weigh your team with a ton of unnecessary rules, but there should be some structure to ensure optimal precision. At the very least, implement some basic rules and expectations around:
Which channels should be used when (such as asking a quick question vs. submitting a project for approval)
Expected response time when a team member sends you a question or request.
Employees are expected to be “available” to arrive in days and hours.
The clearer you are about your expectations, the less confusion and friction there will be. This leads to smoother process, less delay and more accuracy on project deliverables.
Related: New work rules for high-performing remote teams
3. Define a common language
When people are confronted, they can use a variety of factors to explain the meaning. It’s not just the words that are being spoken – it’s reflection, speed, tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. With virtual communication, you only have written words. What is being said can easily be misinterpreted.
One way to solve virtual communication problems is to define a common language for your team. This means setting a standard that your team uses. And if acronyms and other shorthand are used, everyone should have a clear definition of what these terms mean.
If you use a channel like Slack for communication, you can pin a thread to a specific channel so that people can easily refer to different terms, short words and phrases when they don’t understand something.
4. Go easy to meetings
Meetings are often a huge waste of resources. If you want to encourage productivity and reduce frustration within your team, I recommend that you recalculate how many meetings you have had. And when you hold one, make it fast and to the point.
Many businesses find success in changing from a standard meeting to something called a “standup” meeting. These are quick 15- or 20-minute zoom meetings where you only invite people who are absolutely in need. No small talk and the meeting starts immediately at the start. Each person (1) goes through a summary of the tasks completed since the last meeting, (2) the tasks currently in progress, and (3) any obstacles that prevent them from completing these tasks.
At the end of a standup meeting, anyone who wants to chat more about a particular issue can connect individually. This prevents a situation where two people take valuable time to come up with an idea that is not relevant to anyone else in the meeting. The goal is complete efficiency.
Also, it is helpful to use video in meetings whenever possible. Although some people see it as a nuisance, it is much easier to build friendships and trust when you can see each other’s faces.
Related: Not all meetings are standard
Become a good leader
Part of being an effective business leader is adapting to change. And in today’s climate, that means learning how to transition to a virtual business model. In the case of virtual communication, you need to rethink some of your traditional methods and adopt a unique strategy that is responsible for the strengths and weaknesses of digital channels like email, slack and sms. If you are willing to embrace this new “world order”, your team will be in a better position for the future.