As a company that has been virtual since day one, about 10 years ago, we are always confused when we see all of the negative opinions out there about virtual communication and remote collaboration.
For example, the title of this Fortune article from last year is really something:
Google’s former HR chief says your boss wants to boil you slowly like a frog to get you back in the office, and it will be terrible for morale and productivity
Data backs this up. According to staffing firm Robert Half, 65% of local managers in DC were pushing for workers to be full-time in office. At the same time, half of employees said that if they had to return to the office full-time, they will quit.
Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt talked about how in-person work is necessary, as young employees could not function without his direct oversight. He said he “doesn’t know” how to build virtual management.
Here is how you do it!
Let’s take a look.
Pick Your Channels And Stick With Them
This one is so simple, and yet something that many entrepreneurs let slide. We live in an age where there are an abundance of tools for remote meetings, work, and collaboration.
This includes things like Zoom, Google Meet, Confluence, Asana, and Slack. And that is hardly even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all that’s available. On top of this, there is also social media, which many may use informally both on and off the clock without guidance.
Due to all that’s available, if you don’t clearly tell employees where to have official communication from day one, you can end up with big problems.
Communication and organization can be difficult enough without having one faction of your office working via Slack and one communicating informally on Facebook messenger about work tasks.
Make sure that everyone knows where to connect with you, where official company news will be posted, and what channels they should be using to work and collaborate.
Less Is More
One trap that many enthusiastic entrepreneurs fall into is trying to incorporate every tool available into their business because they think that is the key to optimization and improvement.
When it comes to effective virtual communication, the key is simplicity. Don’t just download things because the marketing is enticing.
The largest causes of workplace stress, according to the American Institute of Stress, are large workloads and people issues.
The last thing you want to do is have so much going on in terms of project management tools and messaging apps that people can’t keep track of their work and communicate with other team members.
Do you need a project management tool? Will a simple chat application suffice? Do you need both? Would giving your team company-specific emails be enough?
Know what you need, and choose to utilize a streamlined and smart minimum for unified and effective communication with your team.
Clear Expectations Create Effective Virtual Communication
Once you have chosen your channels set expectations with your team. There are two big traps that business owners could potentially fall into here.
1) They set no expectations because they don’t want their team to feel inconvenienced and overburdened by rules.
2) They create a system of rules that is unnecessarily complex and gets in the way of effective virtual communication.
Some limits here are useful, especially if you have a large team. This can be the difference between everyone being on the same page, and people who should be collaborating having a dozen collaboration tools at their disposal and still missing each other.
If you want to use multiple channels, make it clear which channels are used for what.
What should people use for meetings? Where should they go to ask a quick question? Where should they submit a project?
Again, it may feel a little silly to set such strict rules if you have a team of only two or three people. However, if you are hoping to grow your business, setting these boundaries in place from day one is key.
A Note on Managing a Remote Team Internationally
Depending on the kind of business you run, and whether you work with in-house staff or freelancers, it may also be useful to set expectations around expected response times and what hours team members are expected to be available.
However, this may not work perfectly for all businesses. Say, for example, you have a team working around the world.
Expecting someone in Taiwan and someone in Chicago to have the exact same office hours is likely not feasible. In these cases, you may have to abandon instant responses.
However, at the same time, a significant time difference alone does not excuse someone not answering simple questions for days or weeks. These are things to keep in mind when creating a culture of easy remote communication.
Remember, the clearer you are in operations and expectations, the less confusion and miscommunication there will be.
This means that your team can work more effectively, with less stress, and meet more targets every day.
Make Meetings More Efficient
Something we have talked about before on the blog is “Zoom Burnout.” Essentially, this phrase became a quick way of referring to the unique kind of stress people feel after spending hours feeling surveilled.
Hours and days and weeks of video chats, meetings, and virtual social obligations really add up.
While it is a bit complicated, there is some science to back up why exactly some people react negatively to virtual social interaction.
For one, in virtual meetings, it may appear that dozens of people are looking at you at once.
This subconsciously activates the fight or flight responses in users. Of course, some are more sensitive to this than others.
One way to get around this is to only have meetings when it’s absolutely necessary. If something can be a few-sentence email or Slack message, leave it at that.
Another way some remote companies are getting the most out of meetings is by changing their format.
Standup Meetings Lead To Effective Virtual Communication
If you have ever worked in an organization and felt that meetings were more of a barrier to completing tasks than the helpful resource they are supposed to be, you might find Standup Meetings more useful.
They shorten and simplify the classic meeting and give it structure and focus. Data shows that taking the traditional meeting structure and expecting the same remotely is not working well.
So, what exactly makes a Standup Meeting? These virtual meetings are 15 to 20 minutes max and only involve absolutely necessary people. There is no small talk and they begin promptly.
Each person involved has to say these things exactly, and nothing else:
- Tasks completed since the last meeting
- Tasks in progress
- Any roadblocks preventing them from completing these tasks
Standup Meetings also address one other big problem with the traditional meeting structure.
If you have ever spent most of your workday in a meeting listening to others discuss problems that have nothing to do with you, while your responsibilities pile up, you know how frustrating that can be.
At the end of a Standup Meeting, if people need to talk about a specific issue, they do that with whoever the issue pertains to individually.
Final Thoughts on Cultivating Effective Virtual Communication
As you can see, creating effective virtual communication is far from impossible. With a few simple guidelines and practices in place, it can actually be more efficient and less stressful than traditional methods.
The fact of the matter is that in-person communication does not guarantee efficiency and success either. Both in-person and virtual communication need to be approached thoughtfully and strategically for any team-based venture to succeed.
Over the years, countless traditional businesses with in-person work structures have failed. In fact, finding this way of working intolerable and ridiculous is such a well-known trope in our culture that you can find media about this going back generations.
Both in-person and virtual business can be executed well or poorly. It all depends on your approach. One is not inherently guaranteed success and the other is not inherently guaranteed to fail.
What do you think? How do you approach virtual communication? Share your tips below!
What do you think? Comment below.
Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.
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