By Laurie Cure, Ph.D.

Leadership development and effectiveness are grounded in effective communication. We must effectively deliver a message AND listen to hear the message. Effective communication is difficult in the most stable environments and remote work adds a level of complexity where many organizations are struggling to adapt. 

Over the past 10 months, leaders have come to discover several critical strategies to support improved communication in virtual environments. While fatigue can get the best of us, implementing some of these tactics can maintain both engagement and workplace effectiveness.

 

To support improved communication in a remote setting, we recommend the following:

1. Establish communication expectations.

With virtual work, teams run the risk of isolating and moving to an independent mindset. It is tempting when you are at home to get into a bubble and forget that you have a team to support you. Leaders can support a cohesive team by proactively creating communication expectations and standards that everyone can agree to. 

For example, when will you use email, phone calls or video meetings? What can everyone expect in terms of response time from one another?  What are the expectations in terms of camera use?

The more we can establish expectations up front, the easier it will be to ensure healthy team dynamics and avoid unnecessary conflict. 

 

2. LISTEN, listen and listen some more.

Allow space in your meetings for a personal connection as opposed to jumping right into business. Allowing time and space for casual discussion ensures everyone is building relationships, which suffer when we are in remote spaces. 

Since much of our communication is non-verbal, you also need to listen more intently in remote environments. Ask questions when you need more information or if you find yourself making an assumption you want to clarify. Pay particular attention to tone of voice, space in words and ensure everyone is present for the discussions. This requires a commitment to avoid multitasking so we can be fully engaged in the discussions. 

Ensuring participants use their camera can assist. We read facial cues quicker than verbal cues. We must also pay attention, however, to camera fatigue and allow some meetings to be voice only by differentiating the needs of our teams. 

Ask powerful questions to ensure understanding. The more we learn about each other the more comfortable we are sharing our unique perspectives and ideas. Our Inspiring Leadership Conversations collection is an assembly of powerful questions with the intent to ignite deeper, dynamic conversations among work teams. 

 

3. Create structures for effective communication. 

As we continue to build on remote work, establishing formal support structures can be a critical strategy. More frequent, intentional meetings help keep everyone connected. Consider the creation of “office hours' where you and team members are openly available for one another. Many teams have experienced success with a virtual water cooler where employees can just come together with no formal agenda. 

 

4. Facilitate in partnership with technology. 

Find a platform that allows you to host discussions in a dynamic way (or use multiple platforms to support you). I mentioned earlier that we need to differentiate meetings conducted with a phone call versus video. We can also incorporate various facilitation techniques to support discussion. 

  • Have a walking meeting. 

Ask participants to take the meeting while on a walk or give them an assignment and take a 10-minute walk before the group returns to discuss. Similarly, allow team members to switch it up and take meetings from various locations. 

  • Allow time in the meeting to conduct business. 

Many of us are on meetings from 8:00-5:00, with little time to prepare or review materials in advance. It can be helpful to give team members tie in the session to do this work. I often convene the group and then ask everyone to mute and turn off the camera for 10 minutes while they review a report or assignment (perhaps offering a few reflection questions). After, we can return and usually have a more robust conversation.

  • Use the chat function aggressively. 

It can often be difficult to get a word in during a meeting. We are sensitive to not talk over each other, there are sometimes delays on the internet or we are not engaged.  Asking people to type comments in the chat function or raise their hand can ensure all voices are heard. People can share thoughts and get in important comments when they participate this way. Chat is also a great tool for introverts who typically are thoughtful during discussion, but many times are not able to get a word in. This is a great tool to keep everyone participating actively.  

 

5. Be aware of changing leadership styles to support remote communication.

Micromanaging in a remote environment is even more ineffective than in traditional environments. You must trust your employees at a higher level.  A model for managing called “Tight-Loose-Tight” encourages leaders to create tight expectations on the front end so employees are clear about their work and then allow them to work freely within those parameters (loose). You might establish check-ins or small targets for completion to stay on track. Then get tight again on the back side when you assess progress to goals. 

 

6. Introduce new technologies. 

Using (and more importantly agreeing on) new technologies can be a useful way to stay in communication with one another. Hangouts, texting, and instant messaging can allow for a more immediate way of staying in touch, asking questions of team members and building relationships.  Some teams have also created internal social networking sites (like Facebook) where employees can stay connected both personally and professionally. Our team often uses video texting so we can send quick messages to each other through video. 

 

Leadership and team development is a conscious process that requires deliberate attention. Our leadership coaches work alongside teams to assess culture, resolve conflicts, work through transitions and so much more. If we can support you and your team, contact us here.