Best Practices for Communication with Your Virtual Team
As remote work becomes more widely accepted, this new way of working presents opportunities and challenges for both workers and businesses. Remote work increases flexibility for workers and enables organizations to reach a wider talent pool, among other benefits. However, building trust and keeping the lines of communication open across virtual teams can be complicated.
Since virtual, remote workers aren’t exposed to the day-to-day conversations and work banter that traditionally happen in an office setting, teams need to identify new ways to ensure communication is effective.
Staying connected can be tricky, especially when different time zones, work schedules, and availability come into play. But understanding and implementing best practices for virtual communication can help your team collaborate more effectively no matter team members’ locations or schedules.
Best practices include:
- Set expectations right away
- Be clear and concise
- Use the right communication tools
- Encourage asynchronous communication
- Hold virtual team check-ins
- Hold only necessary meetings
- Create permanent, on-demand recordings and tutorials
- Track outcomes instead of time
Set expectations right away
Virtual communcation can present a number of challenges, including but not limited to:
- Too many meetings
- Lost productivity
- Fewer team-building opportunities
- Schedule misalignment across time zones
Without the opportunity to quickly ask team members questions in the office, setting expectations is a key to success with virtual communication. Doing so can help projects and priorities stay on track and ensure the team knows the status of various tasks.
One way to set expectations is, when you send an email or message, request a response by a specific time, using an agreed-upon standard for specifying time zone. This is a convenient option when team members are located in different time zones and might not see the note until the following day. Also consider implementing a regular cadence for status updates, such as sharing progress in a project management system at the end of each week.
Another option is setting expectations for when specific communication channels should be used. For example, direct messages might be best for quick questions, while emails work well for broader team updates. Also have a clear process in place regarding who should attend meetings so team members don’t spend time in meetings in which they don’t play a specific role. Setting expectations from the start can help your team members stay organized and engaged and avoid miscommunication.
Related: How To Collaborate Effectively with Remote Teams in 2023
Be clear and concise
A big part of communicating effectively is the tone that comes through in your communications. As you’re writing an email or chatting in an instant message tool, keep in mind that messages can easily get misinterpreted if they’re not clear—especially on a global, distributed team.
Before sending a message, reread your note to make sure it conveys the message you’re looking to get across. Also be adaptable and adjust your communication style to fit the person on the receiving end, as some team members might require more or different details than others. Consider having a live conversation if clarification is needed to help avoid confusion.
Use the right communication tools
A wide range of communication tools are available to make virtual communication more streamlined and efficient.
The following are just a few examples of communication tools for your team to consider. The right options for you will ultimately depend on your organization’s specific needs, budget, and team size.
- Video conferencing software. In the absence of in-person meetings, video conferencing software can help workers better collaborate and build relationships with one another by interacting with one another directly on screen. Some of the most common video conferencing tools are Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.
- Messaging apps. While video meetings are effective for more strategic and complex conversations, messaging apps are available for quick questions and team-building. In addition to direct messages, many messaging apps offer groups or channels for different teams, company updates, or team members’ specific interests. Well-known messaging apps include Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, and Discord.
- Project management systems. Large projects and campaigns have a lot of moving parts, so understanding where each project stands is important for all team members. Project management systems enable teams to track various tasks within a project, share assignments with individuals, stay on deadline, and reduce meeting time for incremental project updates. Some of the top project management systems include Asana, Hive, monday.com, and Trello.
- Shared documents. Attaching new versions of a file each time edits or updates are made can lead to challenges such as reviewing an outdated version or multiple team members sharing the same feedback. Shared documents are typically stored in the cloud and simplify team collaboration by ensuring all team members have access to the same version of the document as well as version histories. Shared document tools include Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox Paper.
Related: 40+ Best Productivity Tools for 2023
Encourage asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication refers to when two or more individuals interact without requiring them to be present in the same place or at the same time, and without needing an immediate reply. This communication method is helpful for virtual, distributed teams because it simplifies collaboration for team members across time zones and schedules and minimizes the amount of time spent in meetings.
Examples of asynchronous communication include emails, direct messages, comments in shared documents, and updates shared in project management tools. This type of communication is best for collaborating on feedback, answering simple questions, and providing quick updates.
Related: Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication: Differences and Examples
Hold virtual team check-ins
Scheduling recurring virtual team check-ins gives team members the opportunity to share updates on timely projects and learn about the latest team and organizational priorities. Such check-ins also enable team members to build relationships with one another and celebrate recent successes.
The right cadence for meetings varies by team and organization. For example, while a weekly 30-minute meeting might be best for some teams, others might meet once a month for an hour. No matter what works for your team, a best practice is to set the meeting at a consistent time and avoid rescheduling unless absolutely necessary.
When scheduling virtual team check-ins, make the invitation optional, since the time won’t always work with every team member’s schedule. Also circulate updates or a recording after the meeting, so those who couldn’t attend can still stay in the know.
In addition to regular status updates, consider scheduling occasional virtual team-building activities. At times, remote work can be isolating, so such activities give team members a chance to get to know one another in a fun setting. Examples include virtual trivia, bingo, escape rooms, game shows, and coffee chats.
Hold only necessary meetings
Recent research from meeting note software company Otter.ai and the University of North Carolina Charlotte found that large companies could save up to $100 million each year by cutting back on meeting time and reducing attendee lists.
Each time you consider scheduling a meeting, think about whether the meeting is absolutely necessary. The most effective meetings have a set agenda that includes background information for the meeting, desired outcomes, and an intentional list of attendees, each of whom has a specific role or responsibility in the meeting.
Some instances in which meetings are preferred to other forms of communication include team brainstorms, a new project or campaign launch, and conflict resolution.
Create on-demand recordings and tutorials
Team members can’t always make it to every meeting, either due to a scheduling conflict, the meeting taking place outside their working hours, or because they’re focusing on high priority, timely work. To keep team members updated on the latest priorities and action items, consider recording meetings and making them available on demand.
Many video and phone conferencing tools include options to record meetings and save them, either in cloud storage or on a specific device. Recordings can start and end when you choose, but make sure attendees are aware before you begin recording.
In addition to recording general team meetings, on-demand tutorials can be helpful for onboarding and training sessions. With pre-recorded tutorials available, the individual or team leading the training won’t need to spend extra time repeating the same presentation each time a new team member joins or in makeup sessions for individuals who missed the initial training.
To streamline the process of creating training videos and tutorials, consider engaging skilled independent talent on Upwork to produce high-quality recordings. Experienced independent professionals are available to develop training videos, edit recordings to feature the most relevant information, upload content to your internal systems, and more.
Track outcomes instead of time
A common concern remote workers face is the need to appear active on messaging apps or attend meetings at specific times each day. But with a hybrid, distributed team that includes a mix of full-time, in-house workers and independent professionals, working hours vary. Allowing team members to complete assignments at a time that works for them rather than micromanaging their schedule—as long as deadlines are met—builds trust and can drive engagement as a result.
Instead of holding team members accountable for completing work at a specific hour of the day, it can be more effective to track project milestones and outcomes. Each time your team kicks off a project or campaign, break it down by steps, tasks, and deadlines. This will enable your team to drive the right outcomes to achieve business goals—no matter where or when individuals work.
Related: How To Build Trust With Your Remote Teams in 2023
A professional project manager knows best
Following best practices for virtual communication can help any team improve productivity, engagement, and business results. The initial steps involved with identifying and implementing remote communication processes take time and thoughtful consideration. Partnering with an experienced project manager can help.
Skilled independent project managers are available on Upwork to help ensure your team’s virtual communication is as efficient as possible. Most independent professionals are already experienced in virtual communication from running their own businesses and managing multiple clients. The right project manager can apply best practices they’ve previously learned to help your team. Get started by posting a job today.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.