Communicating in the Virtual World

guest blog by:  Wayne Irwin


With the ongoing evolution of technology, virtual offices and teams are becoming more prevalent in organizations.  This provides a great level of flexibility at both an organizational and personal level.  At a personal level, technology allows employees to work remotely and have a more flexible schedule.  Organizationally, companies can leverage diverse skills that are found in varied geographic areas.

While there are a number benefits to remote offices and virtual teams, there are also nuances that need to be understood in order to take full advantage of what virtual offices can provide.  A key point that individuals and leaders must understand are the differences in communication needs with virtual teams. When teams aren’t physically collocated, you need to be even more effective at communicating.

Communication is an integral piece for the success of any team.  Additionally, developing strong relationships at work is important for one’s overall happiness.  As the nature of organizations change, so should the focus on communication and relationships.

Virtual teams have the ability to communicate through a number of technical medium – email, text messaging, instant messaging/chat, or voice calls.  While this “technical” communication can seem to be efficient, it isn’t always effective and lacks the richness and personal interaction that face to face communication provides.  This can put virtual teams or remote members of teams at a disadvantage.  With this in mind, face to face communications should be used as often as practical.

Keys to effective communication span the in person and virtual worlds; however, the rules become even more critical in a virtual environment.  The following are a few quick rules to keep in mind to enhance the communication in a virtual environment:

  1. Clarity – the meaning of your communication should be easy to understand and leave little open for interpretation.  Have a purpose for your communication that provides clarity to everyone involved.  This can be something that you put in the opening paragraph of an email or used as part of your opening statements on a call, but it provides scope and meaning to your audience.
  2. Concise – get your point across, provide facts & data, and don’t drone on.  Your audience likely will not take the time to follow your message and will quickly lose interest.
  3. Complete – your communication should cover all relevant data points and not leave loose ends.  Incomplete information opens your messages up to being confusing and ineffective.
  4. Confirm – virtual communication doesn’t allow you to “read” your audience and it is easy to assume that your message is being understood.  However, often times, both parties walk away with this understanding – and both are wrong.  Take time to validate that your message is being heard and that you are both on the same page.
  5. Considerate – in today’s world of rapid fire communication, be considerate and minimize replying all or replying with one word answers.

In the end, whether we like it or not, technology is driving us towards a virtual environment.  We all need to look at our communication etiquette to ensure we are being effective along with efficient.  Remembering the 5 “C’s” above will be the initial steps in facilitating better virtual communications.

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