The new languages of virtual working

Virtual worker on video conference call
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From discussing progress and having annual reviews to booking holiday and asking questions about a task, face-to-face conversations have always taken preference. However, with the rise of the gig economy and businesses looking to reduce costs, more and more people are working remotely, making these conversations arduous.

But how can business managers effectively communicate with members of staff to ensure they remain engaged and motivated when working virtually?

The Oxford Group has conducted a survey on Virtual Working Attitudes which explored the experiences of virtual workforces, focussing on the potential problems with morale, productivity and relationships between members of staff, which are all vital for a successful team.

Below are five tips for managers to help keep communication flowing to create engaged and motivated team members when working virtually:

1. Keep it personal

Establishing direct links between managers and members of staff is key to ensure that remote relationships work.

Speaking via Skype or telephone often work as well as face to face as it provides that depth of emotion and passion. Managers should maintain this direct dialogue with each member of the team separately.

2. Don’t close off the communication lines

Managers and team members should decide exactly how they would like to communicate before going forward.

It is vital that both sides are comfortable and happy with the agreed method of communication, making them more likely to open up about potentially sensitive situations.

Regular conversations about progress to provide support and ask questions are extremely effective.

3. Don’t overcomplicate things

When communicating virtually, it is important that conversations are kept simple and straight to the point.

Avoid overloading the other person and limit any distractions from the main points you are trying to discuss.

This involves thinking carefully about what you want to achieve from a conversation before going in to it and limiting the number of unnecessary people copied into emails and sitting in on phone calls.

4. Amplify your points

Distance between members of staff often means that communications need to be amplified and reiterated in order for them to be clearly understood.

Frequency and consistency are crucial in order to achieve the right balance between amplifying a message and overloading the team member so they forget the key points.

5. Change things around every so often

Managers need to ensure communications don’t become predictable. A good way to achieve this is to mix it up and use different spaces or communication methods for different conversations.

Some good examples include sending out a weekly/monthly newsletter to the team and encourage responses and comments, using a camera to record short communications or meeting over drinks outside of the office, in an easily accessible place for everyone.

To conclude, there are numerous ways in which managers can ensure that members of their team remain engaged and motivated whilst being informed and feel valued.

Each of the steps above are relatively easy for managers and business leaders to implement, and so in this increasing world of virtual working, there are no excuses for teams to become disfigured and disconnected. 

About Nigel Purse

Nigel Purse

Nigel founded The Oxford Group in 1987 following a career in HR and business management with the Mars Corporation and Burmah Oil (now part of BP). Nigel is passionate about developing leadership capability in leaders of all ages, and writes and speaks regularly on this subject for audiences worldwide. He is the author of ‘5 Conversations’ and leads the associated training programmes which transform trust, performance and engagement at work. Nigel’s areas of expertise include talent identification and development, leadership development and behavioural interviewing. 

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21st Jul 2017 11:13

From my past experience managing distributed teams I support all of that, especially the first point: regular 1-1 discussions with every staff member are essential.

I also found it important to foster good communication between team members. There has to be a sense of community within the team - strong relationships between all its members - not just between the manager and individual staff.

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