Good communication is absolutely critical to being an effective virtual team member. In a remote working environment, you cannot just visit a colleague at their desk to sort out an issue that has arisen or chat about your progress with a client at the water cooler. Added to this, communication often takes place by written message – without all the social cues and meaning we can gather from a person’s voice, face, and body language when we meet in person. Here are some tips for great communication when working remotely:
If you are in doubt about whether to copy a colleague into a message or let them know a piece of information, it is better to risk communicating too much than not communicate enough. Trust that others will let you know if your assessment is off track. If a team is dispersed over time zones and geography, information can easily be missed, leading to confusion.
Remote communication is often in the form of written messages or emails. Taking the time to read a message and edit it for maximum clarity can avoid costly misunderstandings. When sending a message to a colleague, make sure that your intention is clear, your requests are clear and specific, and you only send the necessary information. Try to be concise and use straightforward language.
Let your team members know which channel is the best one to reach you on (phone/email/direct message etc.) and when you will be available (working hours/ time zone). Set expectations about realistic response times and if you are unable to meet them, send a short acknowledgment or apology rather than nothing at all. Always expect the best of others and have a positive mindset. Assume people are doing the best that they can.
Tackle Issues Early
If a communication issue or disagreement arises with a colleague, step in to resolve it as soon as possible rather than allowing it to escalate. Often, it is more effective to pick up the phone or get on a video call with someone than to try and resolve a communication issue or personal disturbance over email. Written messages are subject to misinterpretation, particularly when emotions might be running high. Try not to over-analyze the tone of a message and assume the best of others.
Nurture Working Relationships
In the absence of a water cooler chat and coffee room connections, make an effort to keep up some kind of informal communications and personal connection with your colleagues across the distance. You might have a dedicated ‘water cooler’ channel on your messaging platform or make time for informal check-in calls over a cup of coffee.
Ask for Feedback
In a physical office, you are more likely to get informal feedback and encouragement from colleagues and managers. It might be necessary for you to actively seek out this kind of feedback when working remotely without other people around you physically. Feedback is important for morale and professional growth. It will help you know when you are on track and where you need to put in the effort to improve.
Check out this short video (5 min) which gives some examples of how a team of remote workers optimizes their communication when not working together in the same physical space: