Communicating virtually relies on human skills that need more than a push of a button. After you’ve logged in, clicked the link and joined the virtual room, it helps to know how to develop the personal connection that the tech is there to serve. Distance doesn’t make that easy. But by keeping in mind a few useful thoughts, you’ll be able to make tech work for you rather than the other way around.
According to global consultants McKinsey, “organizations are clear that post pandemic working will be hybrid.” With the ongoing commitment to remote working, communication is evolving. Leaders and employers will need to adapt accordingly.
When participants join a virtual meeting from any part of the world, you can’t always rely on body language or eye contact to develop a connection. What to you might be familiar phrases, or safe assumptions, to someone else might be cause for misunderstanding.
Nevertheless, the world is smaller, or at least more plugged in, than it was a couple of years ago. As testing as virtual meetings can be, there are also advantages and opportunities. Our Learnflix eLearning course on Communicating Virtually covers four of the most business-critical elements of working remotely:
1. Pros and cons of virtual teams
Remote working has its advantages. A global team can have a 24/7 presence and include people with local knowledge and an understanding of cultural perspectives, skills that can be especially useful in problem-solving.
Challenges may come in working with people you’ve never met, or whose communication style differs greatly from yours. It can feel as if the tech has taken over, with participants using slow broadband connections or joining a meeting via a combination of camera, text and audio options.
To offset potential difficulties, you need a powerful virtual presence that works internationally.
2. Meeting the extra demands
How do you develop virtual presence? Imagine you’re with someone in a room but there’s a tinted glass wall in the middle. You can see and hear them on the other side, but everything is a little strained. In treating them as you normally would, you wouldn’t do something else while they’re talking to you. You might emphasise your words and actions to be sure you’re understood. Virtual meetings are the same. You should:
- Use positive body language and gestures and look people in the eye.
- Speak concisely and with energy.
- Choose your words carefully.
- Remember that you’re talking to another human being.
- Give your full attention, resist the temptation to answer emails.
In a virtual meeting there can be less feedback than in face-to-face chat, it can be very hard to gauge what the other person is really thinking. To compensate, you need to adapt your style.
- Solicit feedback, rather than waiting for it.
- Ask questions in order to gain information and to build the relationship.
3. Virtual Communication
In communicating virtually, the secret is to be present – which might sound like a contradiction in terms. Small adjustments can help you stay switched on.
Posture has an immediate effect on the voice and energy of the speaker, sit up rather than slumping, relax your shoulders and neck. Warm your voice up a little before you speak. And a smile will always help you achieve a brighter tone of voice.
Follow the ‘Purpose, People, Practise’ model to help you stay on track when preparing and delivering your message. Know what you want to achieve, be clear about your key information. Then, think about the people you’re talking to. What do they need to know?
4. Virtual meetings
Because of the additional energy required in managing virtual presence, online meetings are tiring. Teams are fatigued by excessive online discussions. Meetings should only be held when necessary and should be driven by a clear agenda with specific objectives. So, when should you meet? When information needs to flow in more than one direction and when you need the feedback of all participants.
Ultimately, communicating virtually is not the same as face-to-face. The pros and cons of remote teams connecting through tech are complex, but the opportunities outweigh the challenges. In communicating virtually, connectivity should be an occasional tech issue not a frequent people problem. With a little practice you can smooth away scope for misunderstanding and enjoy the greater rewards that come with stronger working relationships.