When managing virtual teams, how much communication is enough? And when should you use the different vehicles for your communication: E-mail, Phone, face-to-face?
There are 2 common mistakes made, when communicating with remote teams, which revolve around frequency and timing. Most people managing virtual teams assume they will have less communication with their employees. The opposite is true. Successful remote managers actually have more communication with their teams than those that work in the same office. So remote employee managers need to make a concerted effort to communicate more with their remote employees.
Also, remote managers tend to delay key communication until they know they will see their employees face to face, or until they conduct the next weekly call. This can be a mistake because it sets the precedence with remote workers that they work differently when outside of the office. If you would walk down the hall to talk with an employee, then don’t wait until a future time when they will be physically present, to speak to them. Instead, just change the communication vehicle, and pick up the phone instead. Delaying communication creates a gap between the virtual employees and the office or other workers. That gap needs to be bridged, by utilizing different communication vehicles, to keep conversations as active as in the office.
Here is a quick guide for when to use each type of communication vehicle:
Email – You should have daily communication with your employees via email– either with a team email or individual. This is to show presence and let them know you are working beside them, even if they can’t see you. These can include feedback, information notices, best practice ideas, praise.
Keep in mind that you lose most of your message when communicating via email (65% of a message is conveyed through your non-verbal actions). Email is like communicating through a straw – much of the message is filtered out as it is pushed through a more limited channel. The recipient receives that message through the straw and adds their own interpretations of intentions, attributions, and judgments to them – due to the more limited information received. This can be a dangerous scenario since often those recipient add-ins are not accurate.
Phone – You should have weekly communication with your virtual employees via phone, both one-on-one and as a team. A weekly team call should be used to discuss goals and team info, feedback sharing, and building the team community. One-on-one calls should be used for ongoing development and individual updates.
Face to face – Remote employee managers should meet with each employee once per quarter, one-on-one and as a team, at least once or twice a year, if not once a quarter.
Webinars – Webinars can be a nice hybrid between phone calls and face to face, allowing you to add a visual aspect to your calls. They can be used when visual communication is required (such as demonstrations) or by using web cams to visually see virtual employees. However, these should not replace the face to face team meeting.
When managing virtual teams, it is important to increase communication, and to not delay it, by utilizing all available vehicles when needed.