Since the pandemic began in March 2020, many teams had to switch to a virtual work setting with little to no time to prepare. What have we learned since then? How can teams communicate effectively when they are not in the same place? Truthfully, I believe that the future of work is hybrid with CHOICE. Some people work better in an office. Some work better at home. Some, like myself, need to mix it up. I enjoy being in the office for the socialization piece of getting to know my colleagues. However, I do enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working from home and getting to dictate my own schedule and work without interruptions I choose to do so.
As I’ve worked with several organizations over the last several years, here are my top 3 tips for positive communication within virtual teams:
- Set clear guidelines and expectations
It is important to know how frequently you should hear back from a colleague and when it is necessary to send reminders. Sharing calendars can be a great way to know when others are free or busy. You don’t have to share all of the details of your calendar with colleagues. It is even helpful to block out specific quiet work time on your calendar and then others will see that you are busy.
If people take personal time, respect that. I think now more than ever, we are understanding the value of family and health taking priority over the work, work, work culture. However, also be sure to know when it is appropriate to email, phone, or text. Cell phones have become part of the workplace culture, but unless it belongs to the company, I try to keep mine primarily for personal use whenever possible.
Think about as a team the problems you may run into if someone doesn’t respond. How will you get a hold of that? How long should it take for a response? Can you set up away messages on Slack of email when you’ve stepped aside for some time? These are all things that your team can discuss and come to common expectations.
2. Leverage technology to automate and collaborate
Many organizations use virtual communication tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. It is an easy way to send messages and let people know when you are away from your computer. I work strange hours to get my stuff done, but I don’t always want people to know I’m working late at night. So, I will often use the schedule send feature of Gmail to send emails out around 8:00am in the morning. If someone sees I’m on and working at 9:00PM, they may start to message me or expect a quick email response. I personally am trying to establish clear work and person boundaries by automating what I can.
Other great ways to utilize technology would be to share project management systems like Trello or Monday.com. These platforms offer a space to visualize shared projects and create deadlines and notes.
3. Keep running meeting notes in Google Docs or Microsoft Sharepoint
One strategy that my team used this past year and a half was to keep running notes on a Google Doc for our weekly check-in meeting. We would go over the agenda items from the previous week, see what was new on our to-do list, and use the assign task feature to automate emails to the team on who was going to do what. We then had a recurring Google Calendar invite that included the Zoom link and Google Docs notes that we could all access.
It was clear and kept us all organized and on the same page as we prepared for events and programs.
Now, every team and group has their own dynamics and energy. It is important to listen to one another’s ideas, try new things, and be mindful of what just is not working. Perhaps the team leader can even put together an anonymous suggestion line where staff could come up with some solutions to communication issues that the team is having.