Your work communication style typically refers to the way you communicate. For example, are you a more direct or indirect communicator? Many organizations use a tool like DiSC or Myers-Briggs or Strengthsfinders to help employees figure out their preferences, and those of their teammates, in the workplace.
While those same principles apply to remote work, when you don’t occupy the same space as your colleagues it’s also important to figure out the actual method you prefer to use for communications.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you come across best in person? Have you ever been told you have an “expressive face” or can’t keep a poker face? Are you naturally observant and able to easily pick up on people’s nonverbal mannerisms?
- Are you a phone person? Your brain works best while pacing or doodling (where your communication partner can’t actually see you)? You enjoy talking on the phone in your free time or have a good deal of experience talking on the phone for previous jobs?
- Do you prefer text communications, over email, messenger, or other online programs? Maybe you like having some time to think about what you are going to say before actually saying it. Do you get nervous or self-conscious in face-to-face social situations?
Determining your own strengths and preferences is the first step to being a better team member. Once you have a handle on your own style, learn what style of communicating your team members prefer. Managers should make it a point to facilitate these types of conversations – either through personality tests, team building or other “getting to know you” activities, or even straightforward polls and questionnaires. Michael D. Watkins of HBR also suggests managers “commit to a communication charter,” which will help guide employees on what and how to communicate, when.
If your company hasn’t organized any ice breaker activities or a communication charter, you may need to pay special attention to the methods the rest of your team is using for day-to-day communications. When in doubt, ask. As we’ve written about before, it’s important that you are open and honest when you work in a virtual environment since the potential for miscommunication or crossed wires is high.
For that same reason, be extra careful not to make assumptions, or take text the wrong way. If you are going to assume anything, assume good intent. Look for the innocence in the action before jumping to conclusions. And if you need clarification or want to smooth things over, opt for a quick call or video chat.
Adapting your communication style for virtual work
Without question, working remotely or as part of a virtual team means you’ll be doing much less face-to-face communication and more text or written communications.
Even if you’re someone who feeds off of face-to-face interactions, it doesn’t mean you can’t be just as successful in a virtual environment. Figure out exactly what it is that you like about in-person conversations and try to replicate those feelings whether you are communicating in writing or over the phone. Consider smiling when you’re talking (or typing), having notes or even a short script in front of you for important discussions, or asking more questions since you won’t have any non-verbal cues to respond to.
Some members of your team may have the opposite challenge – in many ways, working remotely is ideal for introverts. With less office noise, they can focus on the tasks at hand and spend more time listening and strategizing. As Oliver Maskell writes for the Quiet Revolution blog, “When it comes to working with others, networking, and communicating, introverts can often take a less conventional approach but one which leads to meaningful business relationships and creative solutions to problems.”
But introverted employees can still find themselves overwhelmed in meetings or struggling to make their presence known, even on a remote team. Managers should make a point to proactively include introverts in group discussions, or give pre-meeting assignments so everyone has time to develop responses and contribute during the conversation. Introverts themselves should try to check in with coworkers every day (whether by email, messenger, etc.) and find ways to get recognized without being the loudest voice in the virtual room.
Looking for a communication method that everyone can get on board with? Video is the best of all worlds – social folks get their face time in, online communicators can use the message box when they don’t feel comfortable speaking out loud, and phone people can rest assured that their voice will be heard. Additionally, video chat is great for informal communications, which are key in helping remote team members feel connected and supported. There are plenty of ways to incorporate video to help your team get to know each other on a personal level, including virtual happy hours, team lunches, contests, games, and more. Luckily there are several great options for video chat technology available no matter your company size or budget – Slack, Join.me, Zoom, and Google are just a few.
Communication, remote work, and trust
When it comes to communicating with your virtual team remember this, from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology: “At the core of nearly every model of knowledge dissemination within virtual teams is trust in other members.” Simply put: Your team wants to feel like they can trust you, and vice versa. Don’t let miscommunication derail what could otherwise be one of the most productive, effective teams you’ll ever be a part of – distance aside.
Have you ever had to change your communication style for work? For those of you who already work on a virtual team, what has your biggest communication challenge been? Anything that’s helped your team communicate more effectively from afar? Let us know in the comments!