The 5 Ws of Virtual Communication

You're running a virtual team, and you probably already have a well-stocked arsenal of tools to help you do it. You have the project management tool. The collaboration tool. The communication tool. (Maybe all in one?) But now you're stuck: Now that I have all these tools, what's the best way to actually TALK to my team?

Philosophers and researchers have been watching their fellow human beings and releasing volumes of communication tips since before you or I were born. But as our workforce becomes increasingly virtual, there is a need to focus on virtual communication tips.

We're breaking down the 5 Ws of virtual communication so you can make sure your message is crystal clear when you're talking through a screen.

Consider WHO you're talking to.

With virtual communication, it's likely that at some point you will send a message to someone that speaks a different first language from yourself. In that case, you need to modify your language to accommodate a potentially less advanced vocabulary. Yes, they could Google the words you use. Yes, they could probably figure out what you're saying even if they didn't understand it naturally. But why make their life more difficult when you could easily simplify your communication? It's polite behavior, and a little politeness goes a long way.

Watch WHAT you're saying.

How do you read this: "Okay..." versus "Okay!" I'll bet the first voice has a little hesitation, and the second is excited. In person, you'd have the benefit of body language to convey the correct message. Online, not so lucky. You need to choose your words and your punctuation wisely, because they'll alter your message. Since your reader will have the opportunity to dissect every letter, make sure you say exactly what you mean without leaving room for interpretation. Use exclamation points. Add a smiley face to the end of a sentence. Let them know if you're joking. And if you're confused or less-than-pleased with something, fine, use the ellipsis at the end of your sentence...

Choose WHERE to say it.

Does your office have a Communication Guidebook yet? If you communicate with your team over multiple tools, make the different use cases consistent. Use your instant messenger tool for informal chatting. Use your project management tool for all task- and project-related conversations. Use email only to communicate with people who don't have access to your project management tool. By segmenting your conversation locations, you'll always know where to find information if you need to reference a conversation.

Think about WHEN you deliver your message.

Don't message someone at 2:00 PM to let them know you need a task done by 5:00 PM. Don't tell someone on Monday that you won't hit your Tuesday deadline. Not only is this bad communication in general, but with virtual communication you run the additional risk of the recipient not seeing your message in time. Bad planning can have an even more extreme effect with virtual communication.

Also consider timing. Don't send urgent messages when you know your recipient is sound asleep, and it's probably not a great idea to leave bad news in someone's inbox to be the first thing they read after they wake up. Also, try not to hold onto anger for weeks until you boil over; since your colleagues won't have the opportunity to pick up on the nonverbal cues that would typically tell them you're upset, you need to be upfront with your feelings. Timing can be everything when delivering a message, so take it just as seriously when you're online.

Decide WHY you're saying it.

Does it need to be said? As they say, once it's on the internet, it's forever. Before you leave a message in a burst of anger or sarcastic frustration, make sure you'd be comfortable with someone reading your words a week, a month, or a year from now. If there is a kinder way of phrasing your words, that's probably the best route.

Take your time.

Next time you're talking online, consider your WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, and WHY before hitting 'Enter.' Since you don't have the face-to-face pressure of providing an instant response, take the time to revise and edit your messages so you don't stick your foot in your mouth.

Related Articles: 4 Tips for Virtual Team Meetings Everything You Need to Successfully Run a Virtual Team

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