What is virtual communication?
Before diving into communication strategies for virtual teams, let’s see what we mean by virtual communication.
In contrast to instantaneous communication, where there’s opportunity for on-the-spot feedback and response, virtual communication tends to lack in those aspects. Gestures, body language, tones and sounds are more easily misinterpreted as there’s no way to immediately clarify the intent behind them. Aspects such as body language and facial expressions may not be present at all in virtual communication, as the two parties may be miles apart.
Virtual communication requires different techniques and tools to achieve the same level of efficiency and effectiveness that is natural in in-person communication. Remote teams must be experts at virtual communication to function well. However, nowadays not only fully remote teams use virtual communication, almost every business also does.
Some typical virtual team communication tools are:
- Mobile phones
- Social media platforms
- Project management tools
- Video conferencing
- Instant messaging apps
So to some extent, most workplaces use virtual communication. But with a few tweaks, strategies, and the right tools, virtual communication can significantly improve business operations.
Best practices for virtual communication
When a business works remotely, colleagues can’t rely on a ‘natural’ way of communicating. The verbal parts of the conversations don’t easily translate to virtual communication, and there’s an extended reply time as well.
For example, a colleague can’t simply walk past your desk for an immediate answer to a question. High-quality virtual communication is about creating a space where colleagues can communicate just as easily as if they were next to each other.
The in-person type of office communication is known as synchronous communication. Creating an effective virtual communication strategy is about combining synchronous and asynchronous techniques.
Whether remote or not, there are critical elements to all communication strategies to adhere to:
- Get your message across clearly
- Match communication styles and channels to your team’s needs
- Use a combination of one-on-one and group meetings
- Create space to speak openly
- Document extensively
- Be consistent
With these points always on your mind, it’s time to have a closer look at the strategies you can use to improve virtual communication.
1. Switch to asynchronous work by default
Asynchronous work isn’t as complicated as it might sound at first. Asynchronous channels, such as virtual assignment of tasks, allow people to focus on their work in their own time. On the other hand, synchronous channels, such as instant messages and meetings, require employees to adapt to each other's timelines.
By applying an asynchronous model of communication, team members can choose their work schedules more freely. Teams don’t need to be always online at the same time to communicate effectively. Organizing around an asynchronous work pattern means a preference towards asynchronous communication while still keeping the space open for discussing urgent matters synchronously.
A global, diverse team might experience scheduling issues. There are different time zones to navigate, daily life commitments, school runs, doctor appointments, holidays, or meetings. By leveraging an asynchronous model, these schedule clashes are no longer a problem. Team members become able to easily communicate without immediate timescale pressure.
2. Leverage task management
Leverage virtual task management to improve communication and information sharing.
For example, by implementing a project management framework, such as waterfall and agile, you can set rules on how to communicate on tasks. With these rules clearly set, everyone can keep track of progress. When properly managed, structured, and documented, tasks give virtual communication more structure. There is less confusion, the information is readily available and easy to find, allowing for the communication to be more to the point.
Project management frameworks work by aligning a team. Clear steps, made out of tasks, outline the path to a successful project. For communication, this path is critical because the information is passed between colleagues within a structure. A colleague already knows a lot about a task or a message given to them because the framework provides context.
To fully leverage task management, use the Tasks mini-app in Rock. Import existing tasks from other task management applications and store them in a space next to messages, notes, and files. Communication around tasks and other day-to-day activities is all in one place when using Rock. Rock speeds up communication and efficiency because you don’t have to switch between multiple applications.
3. Reduce the number of meetings
Meetings can be great for nurturing more personal relationships, but make sure to use them when really needed. 1:1 meetings, coffee chats, and creative discussions can add value to remote teams. However, this isn’t always the case.
Many people spend too much time in meetings that end up being useless. It doesn’t always bring teams closer as some online meetings don’t have much engagement.
Cancel or reduce the number of meetings that are not effective. Instead, concentrate on the meetings that provide value.
To get the most out of your meetings and communication in virtual teams, you can find more insights on virtual meeting best practices on the Rock blog. But two key points in making your virtual meetings more effective are:
- Cancel (or shorten) unnecessary meetings
- Substitute meetings with other tools and resources
Sometimes meetings are essential and can’t be avoided. In these circumstances, the structure is vital. A clear meeting agenda helps you to make the most out of it. You can find more meeting agenda examples on the Rock blog.
Alongside following a meeting agenda, there are some tactics to use during a virtual meeting to improve communication. In the Harvard Business Review, Melody Wilding explains how to tactfully interject during a virtual meeting. Ms Wilding recommends keeping points brief, being assertive, and capitalizing on transition points.
4. Use documentation as much as possible
Strong documentation practices allow your team to find important information without relying on an immediate response from a coworker.
One of the biggest hurdles remote teams must overcome is asking for help when needed to complete a task. When working remotely, a coworker can’t sit at your desk and run you through a program. So how do remote teams overcome this issue? The answer is documentation.
A team should always have access to all the relevant documents and know how to document their own processes. Members must be able log in at any time or location, and the documentation should be available to access. Information around processes, protocols and day-to-day activities is worth documenting.
Project documentation keeps teams applying similar strategies, staying up-to-date and reducing un-needed communication. Create documentation in a variety of formats:
- Screen recordings as tutorials
- Standard information documents for procedures
- Templates for communications
There’s so much to keep track of during the workday, it’s vital to categorize and document as much as possible. The more documentation you have, the smoother the work is.
5. Reduce the number of tools you use
There is a lot of context switching when you use different tools for communication and project management. Use all-in-one tools like Rock to combine messages with tasks, notes, files, and meetings in one place.
Condensing the amount of tools is important because it allows for less context switching. When you switch to a new tool, your mind is pulled away from the direct tasks. You’re dealing with a new interface, a new set of functionality, and it’s not connected to your previous thought process.
Alongside the last point, the tools aren’t natively speaking to one another, which costs more time. To integrate the tools, you will likely have to set up non-native integrations with Zapier, for example. However, at the end of the day, the two different tools aren’t designed to completely fuse.
You can easily reduce the number of tools by changing to an all-in-one solution. Rock provides messaging, tasks, notes, files, and meetings all in one place. Teams don’t have to switch between tools when communicating on different areas of their work in Rock.
Communicate Efficiently, From Anywhere, At Any Time
Combining these best practices for virtual communication with Rock allows teams to supercharge their day-to-day work.
Use asynchronous work as default, leverage task management, reduce meetings, document as much as possible, and reduce the number of tools you use. Bring order to chaos with Rock and allow your team to implement any type of project management framework by signing up for free.