Virtual Communication: Challenges & Best Practices

Chris Carnduff
June 7, 2024

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has transformed from a rare perk to a widespread norm. Employees have discovered the myriad benefits of working from home, leading to a significant shift in workplace dynamics.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 60% of respondents with a job they can do from home would prefer to continue that way. This statistic underscores a critical need for organizations to adapt to this new reality by mastering virtual communication. 

At CoffeePals, we understand the importance of communication, especially among remote teams. Today we’ll explore what virtual communication means, the challenges organizations face while communicating virtually, and how they can make the most of communicating virtually.

What Is Virtual Communication?

Virtual communication refers to the ability to interact with other people online or remotely. This can be done over the internet or through phone calls and involves anyone from a client to a colleague. 

Communication is an essential aspect of every job. For example, companies must inform employees of expectations, give progress reports, and share the organizational vision. 

Not everyone is already capable of communicating effectively in physical environments. Therefore, when such deficiencies are carried over to virtual team communication where there is a lack of non-verbal cues, it causes friction. 

For example, instant messaging or project management applications are often made via text, making it tough to understand the context. A lack of coordination may result in people doing the same tasks. Conflict may arise from misunderstanding. Since communication is so vital to business productivity, learning how to communicate virtually is crucial.

Why Is It Important to Get Virtual Communication Right?

Most people understand how poor communication affects relationships, but few know how it affects businesses. A survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees showed a loss of $62.4 million annually due to poor communication. 

According to a survey done by David Grossman, smaller companies with 100 employees lose $420,000 to poor communication every year. When employees can communicate well, the business thrives. 

Excellent communication allows employees to share ideas and provide feedback. In turn, this enables faster decision-making and fosters trust among employees. 

One of the problems with virtual communication is that an employee can quickly feel isolated. The extent to which this happens might vary depending on the company's size. However, the larger the organization is, the harder it will be to ensure that everyone gets a chance to share their ideas and opinions.

Finally, the quality of communication at an organization will likely affect its output. Most organizations consist of people from diverse backgrounds, and this diversity means that there will be ideas and opinions. Harnessing these contributions is essential and could help businesses develop innovative ways of solving problems.

Challenges of Virtual Communication

While virtual communication has opened up new avenues for remote work, it also brings a unique set of challenges that organizations must address to ensure smooth and efficient operations. Understanding these challenges is the first step toward mitigating them and fostering a productive remote work environment. From navigating different time zones to managing productivity and interpreting non-verbal cues, these obstacles can significantly impact team cohesion and performance.

Let’s explore some of the most common challenges of virtual team communication and discuss strategies to overcome them effectively. 

Different Time Zones

One of the best things about remote work is the ability to hire from any part of the world. However, this may lead to problems related to coordinating communication remotely, as teams might be spread across various time zones, making it difficult to harmonize company operations.

For example, if a team member works from Belgium while other members live in Texas, the time difference could affect how quickly they respond to messages. In some cases, this difference could mean that while some team members are starting their day, others may be going to bed.

Different time zones don’t just affect messaging; they could also affect meeting schedules. Consequently, managers must learn to adapt to these changes or risk letting the business suffer.

Managing Productivity and Distractions

One of the biggest criticisms against remote work is the inability of managers to track the productivity of direct reports. With team members away from the eyes of managers, they often wonder how they can ensure everyone is focused on work. But you can also fix this issue by hiring more effectively and having a system for identifying people who can work with little or no supervision.

Inability to Interpret Body Language

Experts agree that most communication is non-verbal, which poses a problem in virtual team communication. In physical interactions, you can quickly tell how a person feels, but that could be difficult when you have to interact over text or video.

For example, how do you tell that everyone on a video call is actively listening during a meeting? You may find the person looking around or bored in a physical meeting, but it may be hard to detect in virtual meetings.

How To Get the Best Outcomes While Communicating Virtually

One thing is clear: many employees prefer remote work, and organizations must adapt to ensure business operations run smoothly. Here are some of the best practices regarding virtual communication.

Schedule Informal Meetings

Let’s start with something light: fostering casual conversations remotely. 

One of the benefits of working in a physical setting is the ability to build relationships with co-workers. These relationships are valuable and often play a significant role in job satisfaction and team cohesion. However, with remote work, team members are likely to only speak on work-related issues, which can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of camaraderie.

So how do you fix this? Here are several ways to foster casual conversations and build relationships remotely:

  • Introduce a Watercooler Channel: Create a dedicated channel on your communication platform where team members can chat about topics outside of work. This virtual "watercooler" can be a space for sharing hobbies, weekend plans, or interesting articles. Encouraging casual interactions can help replicate the spontaneous conversations that occur in a physical office.
  • Schedule Informal Calls or Meetings: Organize regular informal meetings where team members can get to know each other better. These meetings could be themed around non-work-related topics, such as a virtual coffee break, a lunch hour chat, or even a virtual happy hour. Tools like CoffeePals can facilitate these meetings by automatically pairing employees for casual conversations over a virtual cup of coffee or tea.
  • Host Virtual Team-Building Activities: Plan fun activities that allow team members to interact in a relaxed setting. Virtual games, trivia contests, or even online escape rooms can be great ways to build rapport and foster a sense of team spirit. Regularly scheduled team-building activities can help break down barriers and encourage collaboration.
  • Create Interest-Based Groups: Encourage employees to form groups based on shared interests, such as book clubs, fitness challenges, or cooking classes. These groups can meet virtually and provide an additional avenue for social interaction and bonding.
  • Celebrate Personal Milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate personal milestones like birthdays, work anniversaries, or other achievements. Sending a virtual card, organizing a surprise video call, or simply recognizing these events in a team meeting can make remote employees feel valued and connected.
  • Encourage Video On During Meetings: Whenever possible, encourage team members to turn on their video during meetings. Seeing each other’s faces can help strengthen connections and make interactions feel more personal.

By implementing these strategies, you can help ensure that remote team members feel connected and engaged, fostering a positive work environment that supports both productivity and job satisfaction.

CoffeePals virtual chat

Choose the Right Communication Tools

There are a plethora of options available to facilitate virtual communication. While some cover the whole gamut of workplace communication, others only focus on a specific task. 

Therefore, an essential part of getting virtual communication right is choosing the right virtual communication kit. Here’s an example of a mixture of tools that you can use to cover different types of virtual communication:

…And so on

Your virtual communication toolkit will depend on your business's needs. You can always run a free trial for a few days to ensure that you understand how the software works.

Provide Training on How to Use Your Toolkit

Some employers assume that all employees can use these tools, but this isn’t always the case.

As soon as you decide on what communication tool you'll be using, teach your employees how to use it. You could record your screen and provide them with the video or write an article on how to use these tools. Alternatively, you can point them to online resources that can help.

Document Work Processes

Working remotely means that employees cannot walk up to a colleague to ask for help. Instead, they have to send a message over a communication channel or set up a meeting. Therefore, you must have well-documented processes that communicate how you work.

Always Have an Agenda for Meetings

Very few people enjoy meetings. In many cases, they run longer than intended and don’t achieve their intended purpose. One reason for this is a lack of planning.

When holding virtual meetings, ensure that you have a plan and stick to it. Additionally, encourage everyone attending to come prepared as this will help speed things up. 

Recognize That Employees Will Not Always Be Available

Although working remotely improves productivity, it is easy for lines to get blurred, and you may find yourself working long after work hours. At such times, you may be offended when a colleague does not respond on time to your requests. Therefore, while you can work after hours, do not expect others to do the same. 

You should also consider that some people may not check communication channels frequently. Therefore, encourage everyone to do so. Depending on the nature of your job, this may be every thirty minutes or an hour.

Have Frequent Check-Ins

Managing expectations is easy when working out of an office, but this gets harder when working virtually. How do you ensure that everyone is on the same page and that every task goes as planned? 

Regular check-ins help you keep tabs on all that is going on in your organization. Schedule short meetings, preferably less than thirty minutes, to request and give progress reports. If you’re a manager, you can also schedule one-on-one meetings with your team members.

Get Virtual Communication Right

Regardless of how you feel about it, remote work looks like it's here to stay. So rather than fight it, look for ways to make it work for your team. One way to do that is by working with tools that make virtual communication a breeze. 

CoffeePals is an excellent tool to start with, as it helps remote workers connect with each other over a virtual cup of coffee (or tea!). earn how CoffeePals can help improve how your remote teams communicate!

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