Communication Strategies for Virtual Work

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

I would like to introduce all of you to Rebekah Clarke, CPLP, PMP. Rebekah has written an article for Grit & Flow on communication strategies for virtual work. I asked her to focus on some strategies for individuals whose communication, in general, is challenging. She provided a lot of great information! Enjoy & Share!

Till next time - Tiffany

Our world is changing every day with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and it’s likely that the way you traditionally work has changed as well. For many, working remotely is not an everyday occurrence and the idea of leading and attending virtual conference calls sounds a bit daunting … and maybe boring. Working virtually is not that much different than working in the office. What is different is how collaboration happens. Instead of meeting in a conference room, you may meet using a web conferencing tool. Instead of everyone looking at a presentation on the same screen, you’re looking at it individually from your computer screens. So, how do you can stay engaged as a virtual worker, in both your daily activities as well as in your meetings?

When working virtually, effective communication is still critical. Active listening, clarifying expectations, managing conflict, and expressing appreciation still need to happen. You still need to maintain situational awareness, ask good questions, and focus on work. What you do lose is the ability to see non-verbal behaviors. This impacts your ability to see how your message is coming across to your listeners. In order to be effective in a virtual work setting, you must think harder about how you communicate. For some, this is hard because communication is not a strong suit. Here are some ideas to help if you struggle to communicate well:

  • When sending or receiving a message, read it out loud to make sure you understand the tone of the message. If you’re sending the message and the tone seems too strong (aggressive, emotional, defensive), set it aside for a while and come back to it later. This will help you process what you need to say in a calmer way.

  • If you receive a written message (email, text, instant message) and you aren’t sure how to take it, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to the sender. Start by saying something like “I want to clarify what you said so I don’t misunderstand it.”

  • Think about what you are trying to communicate. If it’s just an update, say so. If you need someone to do something, specify who, what needs to be done, and when you need to have an answer back. If there’s a consequence for a delay (maybe you need them to do something so you can finish your work), let them know why you need them to do the task.

  • Be professional at all times. Choose respectful language and tone in your writing. Avoid foul language. Use proper grammar and spell words out. And this especially includes instant messaging. Remember you are not texting with friends; you are still working in a professional environment.

  • Ask for feedback. Be honest about what you are working on and ask how you can do better. Managers appreciate someone who takes the initiative to grow their skills and will generally always want to help you improve. Asking for feedback also helps your manager understand you better and they may become more supportive in times when your communication may not be quite right.

If you haven’t done virtual work full-time before, here are some other things to consider:

Decide on a cadence for communicating with your manager or your team. Think about:

  • How do you want to communicate? (Is phone or email better? Want to set up a conference call so you can share files and look at things together?)

  • How often do you want to communicate? (Daily check-ins, once-a-week meetings)

  • What do you need to communicate about? (Project Updates, Status Updates, Work Plans for the Next Week, New Projects)

Clarify expectations on what working virtually look like for you and your team.

  • Make sure your expectations are clear for deadlines on projects, telephone check-ins, and responsibilities.

  • Encourage your team and provide them positive feedback, constructive criticism, and flexibility.

  • Be considerate of the personal impacts of this pandemic on your team’s lives. It can be hard to work with stir-crazy, school-age kids at home.

  • Encourage and enable your team to questions about what’s expected. Be honest about any distractions and discuss deadlines.

Proactively overcommunicate. Make sure your manager knows what you’re working on, what your plan is for the week, and when you expect to have things done.

Utilize collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or BaseCamp, to assign tasks, share files, collaborate on working documents, and organize projects. Most offer free trials, so it’s worth it to sign up if you don’t already have organizational tools in place.

When meeting virtually, consider these ideas:

  • Be prepared for technical issues. Be patient especially considering there has been a significant increase in bandwidth usage for all web conferencing companies.

  • When presenting, vary your tone, pace, and volume to create emphasis. While this may not seem important, speaking to a virtual audience requires more effort on the verbal factors of communication since the non-verbal part of communication is generally hidden from the speaker.

  • Consider your audience, Keep in mind any disabilities your attendees may have (visually or hearing impaired). Look for ways to accommodate them before the meeting starts (e.g. sending the meeting materials ahead of time, recording the meeting so they can listen again later if they miss something, etc.)

  • Find ways to engage everyone in the conversation during virtual meetings. Meeting tools often have chat functionality where you can ask for input and feedback.

  • Stay present. It’s easy to multi-task during any kind of meeting, but choosing to focus on notetaking, asking questions, and planning the next steps can help you stay engaged.

About the Author

Rebekah Clarke, CEO of Holman/Clarke Group, Ltd., I am a passionate learning and development professional specializing in helping others achieve their learning strategies by asking questions and designing out of the box solutions. I have been successful because of my collaboration, inquisitive nature, exceptional problem-solving and planning skills. What’s unique about my approach is that I want to get it right and maintain my focus on understanding the problem thoroughly before trying to design a solution. I enjoy learning and development because it opens the door to helping employees grow their talents, move up in the organization and hopefully make them happier at work!

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