Think about the correspondences you’ve had today: How many were done with people outside your office, whether over video chat, email, or messaging platforms? Increasingly, more and more of our work communications are taking place virtually.
While we can communicate with anyone on the planet at seemingly any time, it’s also resulted in unproductive and sometimes boring (if we’re honest…) conversations. Worse than boring, virtual communications often lead to misunderstandings because they deprive us of the emotional knowledge that helps us understand context, writes Nick Morgan in his new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World.
In his book, Morgan, a communications theorist and coach, addresses the mistakes we make when communicating virtually and provides strategies to facilitate more productive and effective conversations. Consider Morgan’s ideas below as the new rules to communicating in a virtual world.
1. Take the group’s emotional temperature.
“Begin a virtual communication by sending out one of several emoji, or symbols, agreed on in advance by your team, to indicate your emotional state at the start of the communication,” writes Morgan. “Have the entire team check in this way.” This will allow you to assess your group’s emotional state and give you a better understanding of their words and actions.
2. Express yourself.
“Increase your own efforts to be emotionally transparent and authentic. Precisely because the online world is emotionally less satisfying…you have to be clearer in your own mind on what you intend, what you expect, and what you require.”
3. Assign an MC for regular meetings.
“The group can’t run itself without the virtual equivalent of body language. You need someone who’s in charge of making sure that each person talks and that everyone is engaged.”
4. Schedule meetings for the appropriate time duration.
“Have you ever put a conference call on mute while checking Facebook? Then why do you keep booking hour-long conference calls and expecting people to stay focused the whole time.” While we’re at it, do you enjoy cooking, gardening, watching TV, playing the trombone at an extremely high volume, or other such hobbies? Do you sometimes do these while you’re muted on a conference call? If so, break the habit.
5. Share non-work moments.
Those working in offices together often use meals as ways to connect with colleagues and peers outside of regular duties, whereas those in remote locations don’t have that opportunity. So try your own ways of establishing emotional connections beyond the work, like filming a birthday message for a peer on their birthday, or sending another office lunch.
6. Give everyone a role on calls.
“Let everyone lead, train, and be the expert for the rest of the team. Share the spotlight, get everyone involved, and watch the connections become stronger and stronger.” Divvying up the roles ultimately leads to greater investment in the meeting.
7. Don’t go longer than ten minutes in any format without a break.
A call without breaks is like a never-ending email and people will zone out at some point. “The breaks will allow people to reengage. Offer a change of pace.”
8. Never send a brick email at the last minute.
You know what Morgan is talking about, right? Those emails that arrive 10 minutes before a meeting and have a checklist of 37 items that all need to be completed by the time the meeting starts. “I love it,” said no colleague ever. “It shows you care very little for their opinion or perspective,” emphasizes Morgan. Instead, give everyone a reasonable assignment and proper time to prep for meetings.