Virtual communication has changed the way employees communicate, presenting major advantages and some new challenges.
By Kimberly Gerber
Today’s mobile workforce has an amazing array of technologies available at their fingertips to connect themselves with other workers, customers, competitors and resources available across the world in ways unknown and unheard of 10 years ago. On the flip side, so many things get lost in communication when it’s not face-to-face.
Every day, hundreds of emails, voicemails, meetings and text messages bury employees in an information avalanche. But the sharing of information is not communicating. To quote George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Leaders must build strong communication habits that will help organizations and employees thrive in the era of virtual communications.
Building Rapport in a Virtual World
Many people struggle to build rapport in person, so it can become extremely challenging in a virtual scenario where you may not see your teammates, customers or sellers frequently. Without face-to-face chats in the hallway or break room, building trust gets difficult. In order to build rapport through virtual channels:
- Be proactive. Initiate informal “check-in” calls with colleagues or employees on a routine basis to keep yourself and everyone else in the loop.
- Engage informally. Allow colleagues to become more comfortable with you by engaging informally by phone, chat, email or Skype.
- Advertise accessibility. Make sure that people who work from different locations know when you’re available and how best to access you.
- Know the gatekeepers and problem-solvers. Develop a friendly rapport with the people who can keep you in the know and offer help when you need it.
- Know your audience. Pay attention to people’s communication styles. If you’re working with someone whose style you don’t understand or find unproductive, ask for what you need. Knowing and respecting how others like to communicate can help build trust and rapport pretty quickly.
Composing Effective Email Messages
It seems like email has made life easier and more difficult at the same time. We tend to be optimistic and believe people will overlook our own typos and mistakes, while we privately label those who send us sloppy emails as careless, confused or ineffective. By the end of the day, we’re buried in the results of those sloppy email messages. Become more competent and efficient with email by incorporating these tips:
- Start with a greeting, and close with a sign-off. It sets a positive tone and helps prevent recipients from perceiving that you’re being short with them.
- Write from the reader’s perspective. Consider their knowledge and experience, and be sure to explain terms and concepts they may not know. On the other hand, don’t over-explain or include redundant information that clutters up your message.
- Anticipate questions. If you include necessary background information or attachments, you increase the odds that recipients can take the actions you desire without bouncing back to you with questions.
- Keep it short. The longer the email, the more likely recipients are to save it for later when they have more time. If you find yourself starting a third paragraph, pick up the phone.
- Put the action at the top. Organize your message so that you ask the questions up front and then add background.
- Compose a clear subject line. A clear subject line flows from a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish with your message. If you can’t write a clear subject line, rethink your email.
- Don’t clutter your email with multiple topics. You might think you’re saving time by listing three different requests in one message, but most of the time your reader will answer the first question and hit “send.” Too few people read all the way through emails. Putting two requests in one email just means you’ll have to send a follow-up to get the answer you want.
- Edit and proofread. Edit for proper word usage and to make sure the one goal you’re expecting to achieve with that email is clear. Proofread a second time for typos, punctuation and inappropriate words.
- Don’t try to be cute or funny in business email. Even if you do it well, it is liable to be misinterpreted. Treat serious business emails as carefully as you would a resume.
- Never type anything in ALL CAPS, even to get someone’s attention. Caps are the equivalent of yelling. If you need to get someone’s attention, use bullets, underlining or bold type.
- Do not send email when you’re emotional. Be very careful about responding to someone who has made you angry or hurt your feelings. Reply only in polite tones and reserve expressions of frustration for the telephone or face-to-face communication. If you’re unsure about how a message might be perceived, ask a manager or trustworthy colleague to review it before you send it.
Once you’ve established this set of habits and strategies, productivity will jump as your communications begin to hit their targets and everyone gets the information they need at the starting gate. Clearer communication also means stronger relationships with colleagues—more teamwork, less friction and a strong sense of mission. Say goodbye to the information avalanche, and welcome the efficiencies of well-crafted virtual communications.