More and more people depend on virtual communication, which will continue to grow. Buffer has released research that 97% of people are more likely to recommend remote work, and 90% rate their remote work experience as positive. Therefore, virtual communication is a new thing that is becoming normal, and we need to get used to it.
Unfortunately, there are still many of us who need to be more proficient in the world of virtual communication. We still communicate in a real-world way that doesn't always work in the virtual. It means that it is sometimes different from what the recipient receives. They do not see the smile on our faces, the expression and the intention of loving touch. In simple terms, it is rare for emotions to be conveyed correctly and lead the recipient to the right conclusions.
We all know that communication at work impacts productivity. When teams know how to communicate properly, they can get the job done without waiting for a response. Plus, poor communication also affects the health of the company. Nextiva said one in three organisations lost clients due to internal communication problems.
Once again, real-world communication and the virtual world are different. The same rule does not apply. And here are the top five issues of virtual communication that need to address.
1. Lack of empathy
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Believe it or not, the virtual world robs you of true closeness and intimacy. Distance creates conditions in which people tend to misbehave and lack empathy.
We all understand the matter of nonverbal communication in interpreting meaning. When people speak, we need to internalise their body language, tone of voice, expressions, eye contact and, of course, what they say. Yep, science also says that observing other people's emotions can help understand how they feel, a theory of emotional contagion.
For example, when an advertiser sends the results of a Youtube campaign that only generates 5% of leads. The advertiser provides detailed reports on issues that occur. You'll likely internalise his sadness as your own. It makes it easier to empathise with his perspective when communicating with him.
In addition, physical touch also helps in increasing empathy. An experiment by researchers at the Universities of Chicago and Harvard found that negotiators who shook hands achieved better outcomes.
In virtual, our presence must meet four criteria: clarity, completeness, authenticity and consistency.
All of the cases above suggest that nonverbal cues are important for building good empathy. So to boost empathy in virtual communication, we must build trust within the team. How to build trust in virtual communication:
- Communicate transparently and consistently
- Reward team member achievements
2. Lack of feedback
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There are two types of feedback, implicit and explicit. Implicit is all nonverbal, including touch and facial expressions. In contrast, being explicit is direct communication with other people. In virtual, implicit is almost gone.
In the real world, implicit and explicit work together to amplify soft messages and soften harsh messages. When we delete one of them, what happens is confusion, misunderstanding and hurt. To create effective feedback, try the following ways.
- Try to make feedback that is honest but not too harsh. Explain slowly and gently.
- Feedback in the virtual world must be object-specific, performance-related and relevant. Opinions should focus on something other than the subject.
- Create impartial feedback, so the opinions expressed help.
3. Time zone differences
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One of the five biggest challenges is the time zone differences. Do you have a remote team spread all over the world? If so, more than we admit, communication must be a big problem.
For example, you have a project with a deadline of Wednesday at 4 pm. But you have other team members working in a different time zone. So, which time zone do you set as the deadline time? This is the same as when you are in the United States and working in the middle of the day, then ask other team members in Asia to help you. You forget that in Asia, it is rest time.
Then how to solve it?
- Communicate in detail. For example, when giving a deadline, try to detail it with the recipient's time zone.
- Be understanding between teams. You can create two deadlines for your timezone and the others.
- Make a sheet containing the team name, position and time zone details. So other team members can check if they are working or sleeping.
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The virtual world is quite harsh, isn't it? In virtual communication, we have no control over what other people say. So a well-intentioned email sometimes results in misunderstandings and hurtful words.
We have to control our virtual life by creating our self-image. For example, your image is a person who is firm, friendly and often laughs, then does it consistently. So that when you send emails to other people or chat in work groups, people can read your chats/emails in a tone that reflects your image.
Many things trigger this misunderstanding. Everyone can misunderstand, from cultural differences, accents, and work styles to language. Then how to solve it?
- Use office culture to communicate.
- Use clear language when sending emails or chats. Feel free to call or make video calls when the team needs to help understand the email you sent.
- Use double standards in the virtual world. Instil in yourself that everyone is rigid and less forgiving in virtual space. So before saying something, think carefully to avoid hurting other people.
5. Unclear communication channels
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Remote communication requires tools to make it happen, including email, project management tools, group chats or virtual meetings. But which channel should you use first?
Unclear communication channels can hinder work and ruin team productivity. So, you'll need these things as explained below in order to have clear communication channels.
- Project management tools to update progress, comment on projects and upload completed projects.
- Real-time chat to send or retrieve information quickly.
- Virtual meeting to discuss, collaborate and share opinions.
- Email for a more in-depth discussion of ongoing projects.
Share a communication plan and encourage the team to stick to it. When something goes wrong while using the tool, please understand. Use this as an opportunity to learn. Sometimes you can make small talk in a chat or office chat room. A casual conversation will break the tension and make the relationship closer.
Often, there are challenges occur in virtual communication. Many factors can cause these challenges. But one thing is for sure, as you manage a remote team, you need to address them. If not, they can cost the team's productivity. Then your projects will be delayed if your team's productivity is low. Try the solutions given above to handle these virtual communication challenges.