in Telecommuting & Working From Home — 17 min read

effective virtual team communication

These days, remote work is more popular than ever before. In fact, 63 percent of companies have remote employees as part of their team.

There are plenty of benefits that come with having employees work outside of the office. However, if you want your remote workers to truly benefit the company, they need to have a clear idea of what’s going on.

A lack of communication is crippling many virtual teams and having a negative effect on businesses’ ability to be productive. 

If you’re not satisfied with the way your team is communicating, keep reading. Explained below is the importance of good communication, along with five tips that will make your virtual team communication much easier and more effective.

What is a virtual team?

The term “virtual team” refers to a group of people who have been brought together to work on a specific project. Members of these teams often come from different organizations and have different specialties and areas of expertise. Despite being on the same team for a particular purpose, these people will answer to different managers or bosses.

An example of a virtual team might be a task force or a special committee (such as the White House Coronavirus Task Force). If several people from different teams, businesses, or organizations come together with a common goal in mind, they might use remote work technology to stay in touch. They’re still considered a virtual team rather than a remote one, though.

What is a remote team?

Remote teams are also groups of people who have all been brought together to work on a specific project or to do a specific job. Unlike virtual teams, they all work for the same organization and often have the same boss. Despite this, they don’t all work in the same place.

Remote teams can be spread out across different offices, and their members can also be located in different cities or even countries. Lots of businesses these days have remote teams and employees who work from home, even when they have a central office space. Zapier, for example, has 300 employees working in 27 different countries.

What’s the difference?

At the end of the day, the big difference between virtual teams and remote teams has to do with reporting. Virtual team members report to different bosses. Remote team members are all reporting to the same person, who will conduct performance reviews and assist with problems as they arise.

For both virtual teams and remote teams, their work is often mediated by technology. Since they’re often located in different places and can’t collaborate in-person easily, they rely on tools like project management software to help them stay in touch, remain organized, and keep track of important tasks.

Both types of teams may also face challenges when it comes to team building. Because members are spread out, it may be difficult for everyone to come together and feel comfortable collaborating. With the right tools and team-building practices, though, members of either type of team can overcome these challenges and work together to achieve specific goals.

The importance of a good virtual work environment

The benefits of a positive work environment in an office setting are well-known. Some business managers haven’t received the memo, though, that remote workers also need a positive environment to help them be productive.

Of course, a lot of aspects of the remote work environment are outside of the manager’s control, such as where the team members work or what their offices are like. However, one factor that you as a manager can control is the way you communicate with your team, as well as how team members communicate with each other.

Good communication practices are vital to the success of a remote team. The following are some specific benefits of positive and productive communication:

  • Prevent misunderstandings (about work quality, deadlines, meeting times, etc.)
  • Promote efficient workflows
  • Allow for more collaboration and team-building opportunities
  • Help workers feel valued (which can increase their likelihood of sticking with the company long-term)

These all sound like pretty great benefits, don’t they? If you haven’t been prioritizing communication, you might want to start doing so.

Even if you don’t feel that these are issues for your team, imagine how much better things could be if you took steps to make communication clearer and more effective?

How to improve virtual team communication

There are lots of different strategies you can utilize to improve the way you communicate with your virtual team. The following are some of the most effective options you may want to try today:

1. Provide adequate feedback

When you’re managing a team in a traditional office setting, it’s easy to provide team members with feedback on their latest project or the way they’re working in general. You can call them into your office for a quick meeting or stop by their desk to see how they’re doing.

When you’re in charge of a virtual team, though, you have to be a bit more intentional about making sure feedback gets to your workers. The good news is that, with the help of email and other digital communication tools, it’s much easier than it once was to provide feedback to your team members.

It’s not enough just to send them messages, though. You also need to make sure those messages are received in the correct way.

When you need to communicate with a worker about the way they’ve carried out a particular task, it doesn’t always work to fire off a quick email. That worker could misread your message and become defensive or feel defeated, or they might not understand that there’s a problem and continue doing the same thing over and over again.

This is why it’s important to have a platform for real-time conversation. When you can chat back and forth with your workers and provide them with visual representations of what they are and aren’t doing well, it’s easier to be clear while also being kind and uplifting.

2. Keep everyone in the loop

In addition to providing sufficient feedback, it’s important to also make sure you’re keeping everyone on the team in the loop. They need to know when projects are due, when certain meetings and weekly reviews are taking place, and how everyone else is doing when it comes to handling their part of a group project.

If your employees are only aware of what they’re doing and have no idea what their teammates are up to or what you expect of them, it’ll be harder for them to hold themselves accountable (which is especially crucial for remote employees).

When you’re managing a remote team, workers need regular updates (preferably in real-time). Don’t wait until something is past-due or almost due to reach out to workers and see how they’re doing. Stay in touch throughout the project to look for ways you can offer assistance or provide feedback to correct a problem as soon as it emerges.

This can help them avoid feeling blindsided by changes that weren’t communicated to them from the beginning or by a team member who’s working ahead or has fallen behind schedule.

3. Set clear goals

Setting clear goals and expectations for your virtual team members is essential, too. Remember, it’s not fair for you to expect them to read your mind. With remote workers, you need to provide plenty of detail and be clear about what you want to avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings.

One of the best approaches to take when it comes to goal-setting is the Objectives Key Results method. This methodology focuses on the importance of critical thinking to ensure goals are aligned across team members and everyone is working toward the things that matter most.

Using OKRs with Remote Teams to Improve Team Communication and Alignment

This methodology involves setting different objectives for the company as a whole, the team, and each individual team member.

Once these objectives are set, the next step is to connect that objective with a few (usually between three and five) key results. This makes it easier to measure progress and see how team members are doing.

It’s best if the key results can be measured based on a numerical unit (this could a scale of 0-100 percent or a dollar amount, for example).

4. Implement a review system

To ensure workers are on track to reach their specific key objectives, it helps to have a clear and thorough review system in place. Meeting with your team for a weekly review is a great way to check on everyone’s progress, answer questions, and work on setting new goals for the future.

When you meet on a weekly basis, you’re meeting frequently enough that you can stay on top of your team members and how they’re doing, but you’re not meeting so often that the reviews become a nuisance and take away from employee work time or fall into the category of micromanaging.

During your weekly reviews, consider using the PPP framework. PPP stands for Plans, Progress, Problems, and it provides you with a checklist to ensure you’re addressing important points during your reviews.

“Plans” refers to the goals and objectives you want your team to accomplish for the upcoming reporting period. “Progress” refers to how everyone is doing when it comes to working toward those objectives, and “Problems” refers to any obstacles people may be facing when it comes to accomplishing particular goals.

5. Use the right tools

Finally, make sure you’re using the right tools to communicate with your remote team members.

Email is great and all, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on it to keep in touch, especially when it comes to conducting in-depth weekly review sessions (can you imagine what that email chain would look like? Yikes).

There are plenty of other apps and tools for managing a virtual team that will help you communicate on a deeper level and keep up with what your employees are and aren’t doing in real-time.

For example, Weekdone provides managers and team members with visual dashboards and regular reports. This makes it easier to track progress and figure out where everyone is with regard to a particular project.

Using Weekdone, managers and workers alike can also keep track of how their performance is improving or declining over time based on a variety of metrics. With these easy-to-read reports at the ready, regular meetings and weekly reviews become easier and much more productive.

Weekdone allows managers to conduct team and one-on-one meetings as well. This helps managers to stay in touch with team members and stick to the OKR and PPP frameworks with ease.

6. Don't forget about team building

While often seen as something trivial, building a bond via team building is an important step in better communicating with your team. The more you know about your remote team the more you are able to empathize and communicate with them. You might even find out that they had skills or talents that can help with work that you otherwise may not have know.

For example, during an online game of Drawful, we learned that one of our sales team members actually had some art and background in design. Now we have them help with our videos and graphics from time to time.

Thinking of good virtual team building activities is important as well, you don't want to bore your team. We created a list of virtual activities for your team you can try out that will hopefully improve your teams communication.

Virtual Team Building Activities - 5 Fun Ideas for Remote Teams

Change the way you communicate today

As you can see, good virtual team communication is essential if you want your business to grow and succeed long-term.

If you’re not satisfied with the way your team is communicating, or if you just think there’s room for improvement, give these tips a try today. They can have a huge impact on your team’s ability to get things done and avoid confusion.

Of all the tips outlined above, using the right tools is one of the best steps you can take to streamline communication and keep everyone in the loop.

Weekdone is the perfect app to use for assigning projects, monitoring the status of those projects, and conducting meetings throughout the workweek. Check it out today and sign up for a free trial to learn more about how it can benefit your business and your remote workers.