Remote working offers several advantages like a flexible work schedule for employees and cost savings for employers.
However, it can significantly amplify your virtual team’s communication challenges.
While technology can help with verbal communication, a virtual work environment limits your employees’ ability to communicate via nonverbal cues like body language, facial expressions, etc.
So if you’re wondering how can virtual teams overcome the lack of some or all nonverbal cues in team communication, we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we’ll discuss the three consequences of a lack of nonverbal cues in virtual teams and how virtual teams can overcome these challenges. We’ll also discuss three tips to improve virtual team communication.
This article contains:
(Click on the links below to jump to a specific section)
- How Can Virtual Teams Overcome the Lack of Some or All Nonverbal Cues in Team Communication?
- 3 Consequences of a Lack of Nonverbal Cues in Virtual Teams
- 5 Common Challenges of Virtual Team Communication
- 3 Key Tips to Improve Virtual Team Communication
Let’s get started.
How can virtual teams overcome the lack of some or all nonverbal cues in team communication?
Whether it’s eye contact or hand gestures, nonverbal cues are important for efficient teamwork. It can boost an individual’s ability to relate, engage, and establish meaningful interactions with their coworkers.
So with the lack of such nonverbal cues, your team effectiveness can take a hit.
Thankfully, you can overcome the lack of these cues in your virtual communication by adopting strategic measures. Here’s a closer look at some of them:
1. Establish clear communication norms
Achieving effective team communication in a virtual setting can only happen if you set guidelines for all team interactions.
Setting boundaries around team communication can help your team collaborate, send and receive the correct information, and build mutual trust.
You can establish clear communication norms by taking the following measures:
- Set appropriate hours for any team communication. Choose a common time bracket within which your team members can communicate with one another in a non-intrusive manner.
- Establish rules for your team to respond to each other within an hour or less during working hours.
2. Make information accessible
One of the biggest challenges with working remotely is that information can get lost very easily. This wouldn’t be a problem if you had a co-located team working from a shared office.
A co-located team can catch up on lost information through spontaneous informal interactions.
But spontaneous social interaction isn’t easy to replicate in a virtual setting.
That’s why any distributed team separated by a geographic distance must have easy access to all key information.
But how can you achieve this?
Here are some tips you could follow:
- Establish guidelines for your team to create documentation for every project. The documentation would include product briefs, creative briefs, company policies, etc.
- Update the status of a collaborative task in a way that is accessible to the entire team. You could use any project management tool or a dedicated communication software for this purpose.
- Establish accountability for project deliverables. This practice enables your team to know who’s accountable for what. It also empowers them to take ownership of projects.
3. Prioritize virtual team building activities
Your virtual team members will rarely work in isolation.
Even in a virtual setting, they’d have to collaborate on numerous projects.
Now, you may be working with balanced teams (where all team members contribute equally to a project) or imbalanced teams (members work in different capacities towards a group project).
In either of these scenarios, a sense of empathy amongst team members is key to relationship building and productivity.
Your virtual group can avoid conflicts, build a great rapport, and communicate effectively through good virtual team-building activities.
Here are some team building activities you can carry out:
- Take a work style assessment with your team to find out communication styles.
- Host virtual happy hours to engage your team in informal communication. These sessions can help your team unwind, talk about their interests outside of work, and get to know each other.
- Make use of team-building apps like ReElivate, MyMysteryParty, or Quiz Breaker.
- Use services like Outback’s team building activities for remote teams.
Want to find out more about virtual team building?
Check out virtual team building activities you can try with your remote team.
4. Reassess your tech tools
All virtual teams have a high level of electronic dependence — they rely heavily on tech tools to communicate and collaborate on projects.
But how effectively they use these tech tools can influence the quality of their collaboration.
Here are two ways you can make the most of your tech tools:
A. Build a remote tool kit
Effective teams use a limited but uniform set of tech tools to communicate and collaborate for projects. Build a remote tech tool kit that consists of the tools you want your team to use.
This kit could include instant messaging apps like Slack and video conferencing tools like Zoom.
B. Create tool guidelines
Create a set of usage guidelines for each tech tool. These guidelines can help your team understand what tool to use to communicate in a certain scenario.
For example, you can use asynchronous communication tools like Google Chat to communicate to a single team member. Similarly, you can use synchronous communication tools like Microsoft Teams to address your entire team on a video call.
5. Choose the right communication medium
You might be familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase – “The medium is the message.” The saying holds ground, especially in a virtual team setting.
Choosing the right medium is as important as carefully wording the message.
For example, let’s say you choose to give your virtual team a creative brief over a quick phone call. There’s bound to be confusion amongst team members when they forget the details of the phone call.
In this scenario, sending out an email would enable your team to refer back to the details of the creative brief as and when they need it.
At the same time, using an email to discuss interpersonal relationships would be a bad idea. Interpersonal trust can be better established over a phone call.
3 consequences of a lack of nonverbal cues in virtual teams
Effective communication is rarely ever limited to verbal interactions. Nonverbal cues give us the context behind the message.
The lack of these cues could have significant consequences for your virtual team.
Here’s a look at three such consequences:
1. Misinterpretation of information
Nonverbal communication aids information transfer. The visual cues you gather from a face-to-face interaction can completely alter the meaning of a piece of information.
For example, let’s say you send your team a sarcastic text message that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. But because your team can’t study your body language or facial expressions, there’s no telling how they’ll receive your message.
These scenarios can lead to team members missing crucial information, hindering their ability to execute decision-making tasks.
2. Lack of personal connection
A remote work environment leaves little room for face-to-face communication between virtual team members. This can make remote workers feel isolated from their teams.
The isolation can lead to a lack of team unity and adversely affect virtual team performance.
In a scenario where your team is working from the same office, they have multiple opportunities to make eye contact, smile at each other, and start a spontaneous conversion in the hallway. And before you know it, your team members organically build a good rapport with each other.
Replicating this casual atmosphere and making up for the lack of visual cues in virtual team communication are challenging tasks.
3. Hinder collaboration
Nonverbal communication also plays an important role in facilitating virtual collaboration. The lack of non-verbal cues can present some virtual collaboration challenges.
For example, a participant in a team meeting can make small gestures such as nodding or smiling to establish a sense of agreement with other team members.
Nonverbal cues also have other key functions, such as substituting a spoken word, emphasizing something through facial expressions, or judging a person’s sincerity by reading their body language.
A lack of these functions can hinder trust among team members and even result in higher levels of conflict within your virtual group. It can then go on to complicate team collaboration in a virtual setting.
Interested in boosting virtual team collaboration?
Check out our post on the top online collaboration tools for your remote team!
5 common challenges of virtual team communication
Besides a lack of nonverbal cues, virtual team communication is complicated because of other challenges that prevent team cohesion.
Some of the common communication challenges are as follows:
A. Technological interruptions
Virtual teams depend on communication technologies to stay connected with each other. Inevitably, all team members face problems with their internet connection or their computer software. These issues can become an additional communication barrier.
B. Lack of common goals and priorities
Virtual teams can’t get into an urgent huddle to discuss what they need to prioritize on that particular day. That’s why strategic planning and clear communication become essential for virtual teams to work on the same goals.
But with sudden work and tight deadlines in place, this preparation isn’t always possible.
C. Challenges with time zone differences
Your organization may consist of global teams that work from different parts of the world.
Unlike a co-located team, your global virtual team deals with additional challenges of geographical distances and time zone differences. They’ll most likely face problems deciding a virtual meeting time that falls within individual team member’s work hours.
D. Challenges with cultural differences
A cultural difference or a language barrier between virtual team members can be confusing. Your multicultural team may be comfortable speaking in different languages, having different common language accents, or using unfamiliar jargon.
These critical factors can lead to loss or misinterpretation of information.
E. Challenges with work delegation
Unless clearly communicated, virtual teams can face confusion over who’s doing what and who to hold responsible for a certain deliverable. Apart from setting work accountability, a team leader must also avoid the temptation to micromanage their virtual teams.
3 key tips to improve virtual team communication
Effective communication is usually proportional to how productive your virtual employees are. Although more challenging than face-to-face communication, virtual communication isn’t rocket science.
Here are three tips to help improve communication between your virtual team members:
1. Establish inclusive communication
Your remote employees most likely come from different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and experiences. Cultural diversity within the team can prove to be an asset for creative output.
However, in virtual teams, there is a chance that your team members form subgroups based on common cultural factors.
In addition to this challenge, virtual teams can’t depend on social interactions or nonverbal communication to bond with each other. This may discourage team members from speaking up and expressing their ideas.
You can deal with this challenge by ensuring that your communication is as open and inclusive as possible. You can actively ask team members to speak up and demonstrate your willingness to listen to their ideas.
2. Ensure everyone is responsive
Mutual trust is a key factor for any team to execute great virtual teamwork and collaboration. In conventional teams that work in an office setting, team members usually build different levels of trust based on their familiarity with each other.
This scenario isn’t easy to replicate in a virtual environment. The development of trust between virtual team members is usually based on how easy it is to work with someone.
To aid this development, you can encourage your team to be prompt to requests by other team members. It’s important for your team to proactively provide detailed feedback, suggest solutions to team problems, and remain supportive of each other.
3. Enforce effective leadership
Evolving into an effective virtual leader can be a challenge even for an experienced business leader. You’ll find that your virtual team is dependent on you to help form a good work relationship with one another.
Clear and periodic communication between a team leader and the rest of the team can boost team morale, build mutual trust, and increase employee engagement.
To achieve effective virtual leadership, you can create a communication structure to conduct daily check-ins with your team.
These periodic interventions allow you to:
- Help your team identify their goals and priorities.
- Recognize your team’s important achievements.
- Provide timely and constructive feedback.
By communicating openly with the team, a virtual team leader can foster team cohesion and promote productivity, regardless of the challenges of a virtual work environment.
Effective communication becomes the foundation of productivity, effective performance, and team collaboration for any virtual team.
The lack of nonverbal cues can complicate the process as there’s a possibility of a loss of information and a lack of personal connection.
But with the right use of technology, clear communication, and an emphasis on mutual trust, your organization can overcome the challenges associated with virtual communication.
You can go through the details and the tips mentioned in this article and implement communication practices that boost your team performance.
Vaishali Badgujar is a Content and SEO specialist at Time Doctor, an employee-friendly time-tracking system that boosts productivity.