Best Practices for Virtual Communication and Meetings

Did you know that almost 10% of the present-day workforce telecommutes from home? The likes of AT&T, Accenture and P&G have opted for a remote working system by partially eliminating their traditional offices. While there are obvious benefits associated with this system, a big drawback is the lack of communication between remote workers/teleworkers and their organization.

Teleworkers are far removed from the face-to-face interactions occurring in their organization. This automatically makes proactive communication an important facet of a remote working arrangement. And while it is best when initiated from both the remote workers and their supervisors/contact points, the onus fall on the latter. After all, communication is a key mechanism through which remote managers cultivate relationships with their reports. Here is a look at some best practices of virtual communication that can be very useful in any remote working arrangement.

Communicate frequently with remote workers

When you don’t make a dedicated effort to include remote workers in the office communication loop, you risk isolating them and making them feel less engaged with projects. It is imperative that you communicate frequently with your employees to share information, monitor their performance, and make sure they know you’re available to help them.

Leverage the most effective modes of communication

As a remote manager, you need to be flexible about how you communicate with your employees. Employees may prefer different communication tools, and if you can adapt to these preferences, you will be able to connect with them more often. For instance, some may find it more comfortable to connect with you or the in-office team via Skype exclusively, while others may prefer a mix of email and telephone. It is best to understand preferences and align communication accordingly.

Focus on communicating clearly

You can devote only so much time towards communicating with teleworkers. To make the most of this time, you must provide clear direction and goals to get your message through to them effectively. In this regard, you should also practice closed-loop communication, which involves following up with employees to ensure that important information is both received and understood. Messages can be easily misinterpreted in virtual settings – clarity and follow-up can eliminate confusions, ensure smooth communications and keep frustrations at bay.

Planning a meeting – What you should know

Meetings can be held to communicate updates, make decisions, brainstorm, and more. Each meeting has its own purpose, and for it to be accomplished, you must have a proper structure in place.

The Society for Human Resource Management has provided a list of nine different tips for running effective virtual meetings. Here are some you will definitely find useful:

  • Prepare and distribute agendas in advance, and ensure that they reflect input requested from the participants. You can also initiate meetings with a roll call of all participants and to review the agenda, meeting objectives, and time frame.
  • A meeting is a participatory event, where inputs from attendees must be actively encouraged. You can assign facilitator and scribe roles to one or two members of your team. Their responsibility will be to encourage every attendee to participate and to set follow-up assignments at the end of the meeting. As you can see, these tips focus largely on creating a virtual meeting structure that will enhance participation and lead to more effective communication.

Make it a point to keep track of who is participating or talking, and ensure that all participants are on the pulse of discussions, by asking, listening and polling.

Understand the four types of awareness

Your ability to listen and hear what cannot be seen is an important and oft ignored aspect of remote communication. Here are the four different types of awareness you must know about to effectively manage your remote employees or teams.

  • Activity awareness, where you are aware of employees and their work activities.
  • Availability awareness, where you are aware of employees’ schedules.
  • Process awareness, where you understand how individual employees’ tasks need to be sequenced and how they fit into an overall project.
  • Social awareness, where you know about employees and their social environment.

In a nutshell, communication is critical to managing in virtual environments. To be effective, remote leaders need to focus on the frequency, mode, clarity, and structure of communication while also maintaining high levels of situational awareness.

Christopher Wofford is Digital Media Producer and host of WebSeries at eCornell.
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