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Running a virtual business comes with plenty of perks and advantages. This includes 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 aren’t careful, communication can be one of them.
4 ways to improve virtual communication
Left unaddressed, trying to cultivate healthy and frictionless communication among a virtual team can prove very difficult. However, if you’re willing to be proactive and plan ahead, you can actually make this a strength of your remote team. Here are several of my top suggestions:
1. Choose your channels
The biggest mistake I see remote business owners make is allowing employees to use any and all channels available to them. On the surface, this might seem totally fine. (After all, the more channels you allow people to use, the more available they are.) But this is just an illusion. In reality, it creates confusion and overwhelm.
It’s best to have a few specific channels and to filter everything through them. This makes it less likely that people miss notifications or fail to reach the right person in a timely fashion.
You’ll have to choose which channels are best for you, but it might be worth rethinking email. Though email is a highly-effective channel for outbound marketing and lead generation, it’s not nearly as practical for internal communication. Email inboxes are distraction death traps and aren’t ideal for real-time back-and-forth discussions between coworkers. You’re better off using phone, SMS, a project management tool, or a chat application like Slack.
Related: Five Things Helping Remote Teams to Be More Productive
2. Set expectations
Once you have the correct channels selected, you need to set expectations accordingly. You don’t want to weigh your team down with a ton of unnecessary rules, but there should be some structure in place to ensure optimal clarity. At the very least, implement some ground rules and expectations around:
Which channels should be used when (ie asking a quick question vs. submitting a project for approval)
Expected response time when a team member sends you a question or request.
Days and hours that employees are expected to be “available” to be reached.
The more clear you are on your expectations, the less confusion and friction will exist. This leads to smooth processes, fewer delays, and greater accuracy on project deliverables.
Related: The New Work Rules for High-Performing Remote Teams
3. Define a common language
When people are face to face, they can use a lot of different factors to interpret meaning. It’s not just the words being spoken – it’s the inflection, pace, tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. With virtual communication, you only have the written words. This can easily lead to misinterpreting what’s being said.
One way to solve virtual communication issues is to define a common language for your team. This means establishing a standard set of terms that your team uses. And if acronyms and other short-hand are going to be used, everyone should have a clear definition of what these terms mean.
If you’re using a channel like Slack to communicate, you might even pin a thread to a specific channel so that people can easily reference different terms, acronyms, and words when they don’t understand something.
4. Go easy on the meetings
Meetings are often a huge waste of resources. If you want to encourage productivity and reduce frustration among your team, I recommend paring back on how many meetings you hold. And when you do hold one, make it quick and to the point.
Many businesses find success switching from standard meetings to something called “standup”. These are quick 15- or 20-minute Zoom meetings where you only invite people who are absolutely needed. There’s no small talk and the meeting begins promptly at the start time. Each individual goes a summary of (1) tasks completed since the last meeting, (2) tasks currently working on, and (3) any roadblocks preventing them from through these tasks.
At the end of a standup meeting, anyone who needs to chat more about a specific issue can connect individually. This prevents a situation where two people take up valuable time hashing out an idea that isn’t relevant to anyone else in the meeting. The goal is total efficiency.
Also, it’s helpful to use video in meetings whenever possible. While some people see this as a nuisance, it’s much easier to develop camaraderie and trust when you can see each others’ faces.
Related: Not All Meetings Are Quality
Become a better leader
Part of being an effective business leader is adapting to change. And in today’s climate, that means learning how to shift to a virtual business model. When it comes to virtual communication, you have to rethink some of your traditional methodologies and adopt a unique strategy that accounts for the strengths and weaknesses of digital channels like email, Slack, and SMS. If you’re willing to embrace this new “world order,” your team will be well positioned for the future.