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How Teams Communicate in Virtual Workplaces: 5 Ways to Spark Meaningful Connections

Virtual work will continue to grow post-pandemic, but experts say we are not prepared for the hybrid workplace of the future. 

As we see the end of the pandemic and the return to work-as-usual, the question now is not, “Should we let our teams continue to work remotely?”

But rather, ”How can we make a remote team setup work?”

One of the most pressing challenges of working with a remote or virtual team is effective communication. Successful teams are those that can maintain meaningful connections, develop a strong team culture and stay engaged with their jobs despite the distance.  

Failing to recognize and address this challenge can be disastrous, especially since many businesses are new to the remote working experience.

Virtual Teams Have Unique Communication Challenges

Remote workers can feel disconnected and disengaged from their colleagues because of distance and communication preferences.

A 2020 digital workplace survey reported that remote workers still feel left out of the workplace. They say they miss out on information because it was communicated in person, and that they face challenges that their in-office colleagues don’t. The same survey showed that some respondents held off on sharing process documentation; they felt that looking for the information would somehow be time-consuming.

Remote workers also have to adapt to each other’s preferred ways to communicate, and oftentimes it’s the technology that stops them from building meaningful connections. Some people prefer talking on the phone, while others turn to instant messaging to share every type of information. Others like to engage in email conversations. These differences can influence whether or not they will reach out and engage with others. In an office setup, you could walk up to your teammate, and ask a question. For remote work, you’ll turn to instant messaging, which, despite emojis and gifs, is not as rich as face-to-face conversations.

In addition, the power of small talk in the break room is lost in a remote team setup. The proverbial “water cooler” disappears. Teams no longer have a physical space to engage in less formal conversations, which is a waste of opportunity for any organization. Many of our best ideas arise when we feel relaxed and open to talking with others.

All of these challenges contribute to a sense of disconnection and disengagement among teams. 

The reality is that virtual teams, whether hybrid or purely remote, can add so much value to any business.

As business leaders, our task is to discover ways to enable meaningful interactions— one that gets work done and is engaging for everyone involved.

5 Ways To Enable Virtual Team Connections

A key ingredient of every successful team is effective communication. 

Virtual teams might miss out on the benefits of face-to-face interactions, but they can use technology to find creative ways to maintain meaningful connections. 

Here are 5 ways virtual teams can spark those powerful connections at work.

  1. Simplify and clarify messages. 

Clear and simple language gets your message across better — whether it’s face to face communication, and especially when using text-based communication.  

To write clear messages, always begin with the end in mind. 

If you need something, ask for it in the first few lines of your message. The next sentences will serve as supporting information. Structured in this way, the reader can quickly figure out what it is you need. If you are giving instructions, start with the outcome you expect, then describe the specific steps. 

  1. Follow the “Rule of 3”.

The most persuasive number in communication is the number 3, according to communication expert Carmine Gallo. ​​​​​​​ People tend to remember three things better and longer — and neuroscience backs this up. Three ideas, or concepts, are also inherently more interesting and enjoyable, just like the 3-act structure of a story.

You can apply the rule of 3 when dealing with complex information. For example, you can break down long articles into 3 takeaways before sharing it with your team.  If you’re communicating complex instructions, organize them into 3 key steps. When holding team meetings, stick to just 3 points in your agenda. 

  1. Improve your meetings.

​​​​​​​Have a clear agenda every time you gather your team for meetings — and stick to it. Use the “Rule of 3 “ to focus your conversation, or to clarify your tasks. Remember, most people find it hard to recall lists of 7 items or more. There is a limit to our working memory.

You can also vary the structure and length of your meetings. The start and end-of-the-week team huddles are usually for setting goals and direction, while the daily meetings are focused on what needs to be done today. 

And finally, choose the perfect time for your team to meet. Consider the time zone differences to make sure your team is alert and attentive during the call. 

  1. Focus on building your team’s culture.

Group training, team huddles, and virtual “water coolers” are possible using video and chat tools.  Just like in-person meetings, you need a structure to get the most benefit from group interactions. Start by focusing everyone’s attention, reminding them of the purpose of the meeting, and asking them to turn off distractions. 

Virtual workspaces and break rooms can help your team connect and get things done. 

A virtual break room can exist in your team’s messaging app. It’s a space where you can share content that starts a conversation.

Try team messaging apps like Pumble, or Slack, if you like the idea of virtual breakrooms. A physical break room will have multiple groups engaged in different conversations. Slack and Pumble let you follow message threads so your team won’t get lost in the conversation.

You can also designate co-working spaces through audio and video conferencing.  Teams can join a group call for an hour of focused work — with or without video turned on.  

The benefit for your team is worth  the time to set up a video workspace.  Researchers have found that the “coffee shop effect”– the right combination of noise and crowd– makes some people more creative and productive. Doing the same on video may be the  next best thing for virtual teams. 

  1. Tell stories. 

Stories help your team bond with each other, and remind them of the reasons why you do what you do. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Simon Sinek published a recording of his team’s huddle on YouTube. The team members were asked, “Who has a story of why we do what we do?”

One of Simon Sinek’s team members told a story of a nurse standing up for what she believed was the right thing to do. The nurse was familiar with Sinek’s work and it empowered her to stand up for someone else.  For Sinek’s team, this was a validation of the impact of their work to the world at-large.

Encourage your team to capture stories about their successes, challenges and insights. Remembering the vision of your company can be an empowering experience for your team. 

Preparing for a post-pandemic workplace

Unifying communication tools, workflows, and processes throughout your whole workforce is a significant hurdle for many businesses making the transition​​​​​​ to remote work. Email, chat and video are the basic tools of  a remote working environment. And in most cases, these tools are enough for your teams to stay in touch. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ 

Remote workers face communication difficulties. This is a fact. But this just means that organizations need creative ways to engage their teams. The key is to be aware that the challenges exist, be willing to try new approaches

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