Communication in virtual teams may not feel as fluid and dynamic as it does in face to face teams, especially if you’ve spent most of your time working in collocated teams. Here are four ways to improve communication in virtual teams:
1. Develop communication norms.
Email. Texting. SharePoint. Phone calls. Workfront. Jira. Slack. Sales Force. Instant messaging. And the list goes on (and on!).
There are so many communication technologies available for virtual teams these days, it can be hard to figure out which one is best used for which type of task.
The more you can establish norms for communicating through certain media for specific tasks, it will make it easier for your virtual team members to find what they need and communicate effectively.
2. Be available as much as possible.
When a collocated team member walks by and sees your door open and that you’re not on the phone, it is easy and comfortable for them to stop by and ask a quick question, get clarification or simply say hello.
Virtual team members don’t have access to those same physical and visual cues, so they will need other means to know when you are available. Whether it is through using an onscreen status indicator or regularly scheduling office hours where virtual team members can “drop by” via phone or video conference, make yourself available to your virtual team members in a regular and dependable way.
3. Strategically over-communicate.
Communicate your expectations through multiple means (project plans, documents and meetings to name a few). Over-communicate the things that you feel are the most important, being mindful to keep it at an expectations level rather than at a task level in order to avoid micromanaging team members. Additionally, do your best to preempt any side conversations with individual team members in which important or critical information is exchanged. This will help to ensure that team members who are not present don’t feel out of the loop or disenfranchised because they were not part of the discussion.
4. Communicate the story of the team and how it fits into big picture
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, virtual team members need to hear the story of their team (why it was formed, what it’s goals are and how it fits into the mission of the broader organization) regularly and told with conviction. When team members understand the broader context for the team’s existence and their specific role on it and that they are fulfilling a critical role in the organization, they will be more likely to be committed and engaged.
These four steps, taken together, can make significant strides toward bringing more cohesion and connection to your virtual team. These steps are meaningless if you don’t act on them. Pick one and start doing it today.