I think we all agree that virtual teams require a whole different level of communication, especially if you can not just hop into the car and meet up somewhere. On the one hand there is the body language you are missing. On the other hand relationship building becomes so much harder. No coffee break or water cooler meet-ups to chat and get to know each other.
Here are a few tips on how to rev up your communication skills in virtual teams:
1. Be in a quiet place
This is essential, since any noise will be transmitted through the microphone. This can be ok, like a colleague always has a rooster crowing in the back ground. Since he lives on a tiny farm, it can not be changed. But it can also be annoying, like when you have children screeching in the back ground. Or outright distracting like when there is a construction going on in your vicinity.
Noise filtering head phones can help in this situation and are worth considering.
2. Ensure the technical bits work.
Just because internet, microphone, camera, screen share etc worked yesterday does not mean they work today. Always log in 5 minutes before the actual meeting, and try out everything.
3. Team Building is essential
Even if you have worked with all the team members before. Being together virtually is different and can be scary for some. So spend a little time on an ice breaker or a game. Thereafter you can do a short fun game every time you start a meeting. However the team needs to agree which one to do. For example, you could have 1 word of the day and everyone says that word in their language.
4. Have a Team Charter
The team charter is developed by the team, not dictated by the team leader. It includes a vision, a team identity - that could be a logo or a motto - and the ground rules. How do you want to engage. Are phones on during the meeting? What do we do with those coming late, or being distracted or doing other things while the meeting is going on? And how do we resolve conflict
5. Avoid sarcasm and irony
Both of them need actual body language. And even if you do video conferencing it is not guaranteed that the video will be clear all the time. Use clear and simple language avoid any local expressions, when you work with teams that are either having English as a second language or are from other geographical areas.
6. Get feedback
This is very important. Ask questions and ensure that everyone has understood the things discussed and action points agreed.
7. Keep a written record of the meetings
Even if this is a meeting that is not usually minuted, ensure there is a record and the action points are documented including whose responsibility it is and the deadline
8. Work on building trust
This is the most important part of team building. Build trust on 2 levels:
a. trust between yourself and each individual team member
reach out to the individuals and schedule one-on-one time with each.
b. trust between the team members
Discuss it open within the team and let the team come up with ways to get to know each other better and learn to understand each other better.
Be willing to be vulnerable as well, talk about your own challenges and short comings.
9. Have a slot in each meeting where people can openly talk about their challenges
This will also help to build the team and build trust. Set the example by talking about your own challenges. Be it getting the family to respect your work space, or be it internet connectivity or the construction next door etc. But also work related challenges.
If you get these points right, you should be well on your way to communicating effectively as a team and grow closer together.