How to Improve Virtual Team Communication

Posted by Kristin Arnold on April 21, 2020

I was chatting with a client who is “sheltering in place” at home.  He was determined to set a good example to his people that even the CEO didn’t need to come into the office.

In true “Dr. Phil” fashion, I asked him, “So how’s that going?”

“The good news,” he said, “is that my employees are staying home.  95% of our work can be done remotely – although I would have never said that it could be done prior to this coronavirus crisis.”

But I noticed a hint of unease in his answer.  So I probed a bit more.

He said, “I miss the camaraderie.  We would cross each others’ paths, have a weekly update meeting and things like that.  We just don’t do that anymore.”  I  probed a bit deeper and confirmed his implicit concern: Even though the work was “getting done,” he didn’t have the personal confidence that all was going well and the train was staying on the rails.

Perhaps you are feeling this too?  Even teams that work in the same office have communication challenges!  It is no wonder that virtual teams have even more challenges!

To help your virtual teams improve their communication:

  1.  Have each team member note their preferred communication style (direct, indirect, easygoing, task-oriented) and their preferred vehicle for communication (email, text, Slack, F2F, etc.).  Note the commonalities and differences!
  2. Take an inventory of all the ways the team communicated before the pandemic (email, voicemail, phone, newsletter, hallway chats, scheduled meetings etc.)  Note what was good about them as well as the not-so-good aspects.
  3. Ask yourself and the team, “Is there a way we can easily replicate these good aspects into our virtual environment?”
  4. From this discussion, you’ll create two deliverables:
    1. A Virtual Team Communication plan for the expected ways for the team to communicate routinely with each other.  Here’s an example I just created with a different client:
    2. You’ll also develop a list of your formal meetings.  My gosh!  Did you know you hold so many meetings?  Keep the ones that work for you….and make sure you keep the same cadence in the virtual world!
    3. Lastly, you’ll see a list of non-recurring social gatherings such as hallway chats, happy hours, celebrations.  This list is just as important, so think about how you can replicate these social gatherings!

I’m not worried about scheduling the occasional happy hour, pizza party (delivered to the remote office all at the same time!).  I am, however, concerned about replicating the unplanned “water cooler” conversations with colleagues.  It’s easy to put your head down, work all day, and not interact with a single human being.  So how do we create these spontaneous events in the virtual world?  For some groups, it will be constant instant messaging.  For others, it’s live phone conversations or video conferences.  It’s a fluid dynamic, just like bumping into others in the hallway.  Just make sure that the entire team is involved in the chatter!

One last piece of advice:  Develop your leadership drumbeat so that team members constantly feel like they know what is going on.  Whether at a regularly scheduled meeting, a virtual “drop in” visit, or a weekly video email to all, let people know what’s happening at the company, with your clients, and with your strategic objective(s).

In the virtual world, you just have to be more intentional and deliberate in communicating with your teammates!

 

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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