Virtual Communication in Uncertain Times
Camille Cantrell | Georgia Oak Partners | June 16, 2020
The Brave New(ish) World of Virtual Communication
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit around the world this spring, many leaders were forced into a sudden, intense relationship with virtual technology to keep their teams together.
Many office workers will continue to work remotely until the COVID-19 crisis has fully stabilized, months or even years from now. Some teams—having demonstrated their ability to function and even thrive remotely—may not return to the office at all.
As the pandemic lingers and companies take steps toward a new normal, we’re seeing the benefits—and drawbacks—of virtual communication writ large. Good communication has always been critical. Good virtual communication requires a new set of norms and skills.
Lessons Learned & Gaps Identified
In part, the extent to which businesses had adopted remote work pre-pandemic determined the steepness of the learning curve. But even for decentralized, work-from-home veterans, the challenges with communication during social distancing have been numerous.
Examples of what not to do began flooding the internet almost as quickly as the pandemic began. Some have been a punchline: visible employee eyerolls as Zoom calls ended, a worker who took her laptop to the restroom without muting the microphone.
Individual foibles have served as comic relief in a time of crisis and transition. We’ve also seen more serious examples of trial and error, including sensitive conversations handled poorly and platform security concerns leading to disruptions.
But it’s important to note that not all virtual missteps make headlines. Remote work demands more of leaders, and many are struggling to navigate the new paradigm and the skill set it requires.
Where do we begin?
Going virtual fundamentally shifts how we take in information, including context and nuance, and how leaders share information with their teams. Virtual environments reduce the opportunities for informal interactions, which are critical for leaders to gather information and connect with teams.
When scheduling virtual meetings, make sure to provide the context and desired outcome of the meeting, even when a formal agenda isn’t necessary. Teams need to know if they’re participating in a brainstorming session, giving status updates or solving a specific problem.
The short answer: no.
While the new virtual paradigm will become more natural with time, leaders always need to intentionally provide efficient and effective communication. In addition to accurate and timely information, we need to build and maintain rapport and engagement in a time when a high level of trust is essential.
You’ll never cross-communication off of your To-Do List, because the ways to communicate effectively will never stop changing, and the need will never end.
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