The disruption of COVID-19 made 2020 the year of digital tools. Businesses rapidly shifted to remote work and launched new software platforms for collaboration and project management. While these tools are great for sharing documents and sending chat messages, it's easy for things to slip through the cracks. Cubicle farms and joint work spaces allowed people to go directly to someone's desk or look above a divider and ask a question. What happens when your team is separated and virtual? Here are 5 ways to make your digital communication more purposeful.
1. Be Specific
When it comes to project management, team members want to know exactly what's required, when it's due, and what the expectations are for completion. Be specific in your guidance. Create a calendar of due dates that correlates to the goals of the project that can be used as a reference. Clearly define what it is you're looking for using an outline or rubric. Team members should know how to find, save, and modify documents pertaining to the project. Use standard naming conventions to prevent confusion and conflicted copies. The more specific your process, the less your team will face slow downs from email traffic, chat conversations, and missed deadlines.
2. Know Your Communication Style
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to communication. Learn how your employees function best to communicate with them more effectively. A person may need time to read and digest an email before responding rather than an out-of-the-blue phone call. Another might find chatting frustrating and prefer a phone call to communicate more effectively. Another might have a pile of emails to sift through, so a chat message will reach them faster. Additionally, some employees may want to work independently with minimal feedback while others prefer more routine feedback. By understanding your team members' communication styles, you prevent internal conflicts and promote more effective collaboration.
3. Have a Centralized Location for Projects
With all the emails and chat messages people receive each day, it's easy for information to be missed, overlooked, or lost. Each project should have a dedicated place for chats and team discussions that only include those on the project and do not cross over into other efforts. Chat threads can get long and overwhelming, sometimes requiring people to sift back through dozens of messages to find the information they need. Be strategic in communication using these tools. You may need to host regular meetings about the project to keep everyone on track, providing a way for people to feel like they've "checked in" as they would in a traditional workplace.
4. Make a Plan
A PACE plan is a great way to guide purposeful communication so people know what tools to use and when. PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. By prioritizing communication and having clear guidelines, people can make decisions quickly and effectively when reaching out to their supervisors and colleagues. This promotes a consistent communication flow and prevents bottlenecks or the risk of messages being missed. Put your PACE plan in an accessible place, such as your employee handbook or an online bulletin board for easy reference. Routinely update the plan as your company strategy changes or you adopt new technology.
5. Consider Your Structure
If you have some employees working remotely while others are in a physical offices, critical information may not be relayed to the remote team. Always include remote teams in communication they may have missed by not being in the office. Virtual workers often lack the social element of being in a physical workplace. Host events that include the entire team that are more casual and social in nature. This could be a monthly coffee hour or a group challenge. Use team building exercises to allow everyone a chance for expression and engagement. Team bonding develops trust, which can be a challenge in an all-remote or partially remote working structure.