Effective virtual communication is a necessity in today’s business environment. It’s common in many organizations to have full-time or part-time remote employees. Some businesses have offices in different geographic locations across the world. Partners and customers do business with organizations in various countries. In order to ensure organizations meet their goals, employees need to understand effective virtual communication practices and put them into action.

Use the Right Technology

There are a variety of technology solutions available to help employees communicate virtually. Aside from telephone and email, businesses can utilize instant messaging platforms such as Skype to enable employees to ask quick questions and keep each other updated. Collaborating with teams on projects becomes easier with tools such as Slack, which businesses can use to better organize project-related communications. Video conferencing with tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting are popular for having a virtual face-to-face conversation.

It’s important to choose the proper technology for the task at hand when communicating virtually. For example, it may not be necessary to have video conference to ask a quick question. That might be better suited for an instant message. Similarly, project management tools such as JIRA are the best place to record project updates so they don’t get lost in your email inbox.

Be Fully Present in Virtual Communication

Multitasking at work helps employees to be more productive. However, in virtual communication, it’s important to be focused on the conversation. Avoid the impulse to check emails while having a phone meeting or text a friend while updating teammates on Slack. Virtual communication requires employees to actively pay attention to the conversation. Since colleagues are often not in the same physical location, it’s vital to ensure all communication is accurate, focused and clear.

State Goals, Intentions and Results

Like in-person communication, virtual communication can sometimes go off track. In order to value everyone’s time, it’s productive to begin each communication by stating goals and intentions and outlining what kinds of results you want to achieve. Treat virtual meetings with the same kind of preparedness as in-person ones. Draft an agenda if you’re leading the meeting and send it out to attendees beforehand. If you’re attending the meeting, review the agenda and prepare your contribution.

For text-based communication, such as emails, messages and updates, be sure to respond to show the sender that you have read the communication. State your intentions to act on the information as necessary. Sometimes, a simple “thanks for the update” is all that is required and tells your colleagues that you have received the message.

Keep Teams Updated

Effective virtual communication requires honesty and responsiveness. Since body language and tone of voice can get lost in certain kinds of virtual communication, it’s vital to be aware of what the recipient can and cannot ascertain from your message. For example, if something in a Slack message has upset you, the sender likely won’t know unless you tell them because they cannot see your expression or hear your voice.

In addition to updating teams with honest communication, it’s important to be available during business hours to respond to colleagues in a timely manner. Many remote teams handle time-sensitive issues, and colleagues cannot wait hours for an email response. As a result, be sure to have the virtual communication channels open on your computer at all times during working hours so you can receive notifications and reply as needed.

Provide Guidelines and Training

If your business doesn’t have a virtual communication policy, it’s wise to establish some guidelines to help employees understand how to communicate effectively. Providing introductory training on how to get the most out of the virtual communication tools helps employees to utilize all the features and realize productivity benefits.