5 E’s of Effective Virtual Communication
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many businesses on their heads overnight, as people have had to adjust to remote working. Many industries that had been resisting allowing team members to work at home have, in a matter of a few days, had to pivot and adapt to this new norm.
For both team members and employers, there have been challenges to navigate along the way. Not least of all is that employers have had to trust that team members will do the work. For some companies that had resisted remote working up to this point, I know they had an inherent distrust in their team members and didn’t believe that the employees would do a full day's work. Ironically, I often hear of exactly the opposite happening. Stuck at home with their families, some people are gravitating to work as a means of escape and so are working way more than the standard working week hours. I know my brother is one such person. It’s so easy to go back into this office after his kids have gone to bed and just check email again or finalise that report he was writing.
So, how do we find a happy medium—and how do all parties communicate effectively at this time? I’d like to propose the 5 E Framework as a model for helping navigate this change:
Embed The Purpose
Now, hopefully your organisation has a clear purpose that every team member understands. Purpose provides the raison d’etre for the business and, combined with company values, helps everyone have clarity on where the business is going. It provides the true north of what is expected and therefore can guide team members in how to prioritise their work and decision making, when there are no colleagues directly around.
When working remotely, it is essential that everyone is clear on what is expected of them. Know what the protocol is for answering emails and responding to messages, what the work hours are, etc. Many people I know feel that they have to respond immediately to every notification that pings on their computer, or else their boss won’t think they are working. This is foolhardy, as all these notifications distract us and, in fact, hamper our productivity. Remember the technology should be there to support you, not negatively disturb you.
Empower Team Members
When working remotely, it is even more important than ever to stop micro-managing your team members and empower them to get the job done. Give them a clear briefing; make sure they have understood the briefing, the deliverables, and the timeline; and then, let them get on with it. Continually checking in to see how they are getting on with the project will just demotivate and frustrate them.
Engage and Connect
In the absence of “water-cooler” chat and seeing colleagues face-to-face, it is important to check in with them and make sure they are okay. Everyone is reacting differently to these challenging situations—so, as a leader, spending time to really connect and find out what is going on for your team members, outside of work, is essential. It helps builds trust and connection, and demonstrates empathy.
Ensure that you communicate regularly with your team members when they are working remotely. In this time of rapid change, that might mean a daily check-in call for the team to make sure everyone is on the same page and has all the information they need. It’s amazing how much information you glean when working in an office, and how often people forget to communicate really important things when they don’t see the other person face-to-face. I was recently coaching a client, and her boss had forgotten to tell her the deadline had changed. It wasn’t malicious—it was just an oversight. So, regularly ensuring everyone is on the same page can mitigate this.
Effective virtual communication also means that you need to use the appropriate level of energy. As a leader, it is your job to inspire the team, and your energy and enthusiasm needs to be contagious at this time, in order to keep your virtual team motivated.
I’d love to hear about the lessons you’ve learnt about effective virtual communication at this time!