Working from home in a virtual team environment is a veritable petri dish for miscommunication with your remote teammates. I’ve been working with remote teams for years, yet in the last two weeks I’ve managed to make every mistake in the book! Why am I making so many mistakes?
Here’s the sequence of events that led our virtual team off track and tips for how to improve team communication skills with your remote team members.
My creative team rolls out a new feature on our website which they report to me by email. They nicely enumerate 5 points in the email; I respond to four points and say I will respond to the last point later when I have time.
Later that day, I respond to the thread with a second email in which I enumerate three issues that need correction and include screenshots of two visual issues.
Mistake #1—My creative team typically is very responsive. They responded right away to my first email, but never responded to my second email. I did not realize this, and thus did not follow up to ensure that the issues I described in the second email were understood.
TEAM COMMUNICATION TIP—Acknowledge receipt of important email; follow up to make sure important communications are received.
I receive an email from my creative team reporting bug fixes. One of the fixes corresponds with one of three issues I had identified. Examining the website, I noticed that they had fixed the second issue.
Mistake #2—I did not follow up on the third issue. I assumed they were still working on it.
TEAM COMMUNICATION TIP —Don’t assume; do confirm!
I receive an email from my creative team on a separate feature that they are implementing. After responding to the contents of their email, I added an update which included a comment that I am looking forward to resolution on issue #3. They respond immediately and note that they are looking into issue #3.
Mistake #3—By adding my comment in response to an unrelated issue, I increase the likelihood of these unrelated issues becoming conflated.
TEAM COMMUNICATION TIP —Create distinct emails for each issue so that email threads don’t become confused.
The creative team’s project manager informs me the following morning that they will address issue #3. That afternoon she sends me an email saying that they do not see the issue and attach an image of what they do see.
Mistake #4—Late that night, I quickly scan my emails before going to bed. I read the text but do not scroll down to see the image that they attached. Had I looked at the image, I would have discovered that the two unrelated projects had indeed become conflated, and now we were looking at completely different things. The following day I am busy with other things and don’t get back to the email.
TEAM COMMUNICATION TIP —Read email when you are prepared to address it and/or schedule follow up. Avoid reading email right before bed.
Not remembering the email from Day Eleven and repeating Mistake #3, I again bring up the issue in an unrelated email thread late Friday afternoon. This time the project manager picks up the phone and calls me. She resends the email she sent on Day Eleven which I read carefully for the first time and discover that we are looking at completely different features! After a 15-minute conversation, we were on track to resolve the issue, perhaps for the first time in fifteen days.
TEAM COMMUNICATION TIP —Sometimes a quick phone conversation can save a lot of email back-and-forth.
Being thrust into working remotely presents extraordinary virtual team communication challenges. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for those of you working from home for the first time and having to learn all the tips and tricks necessary for effective remote collaboration. On top of that learning curve, we are all dealing with the stresses of a global pandemic, being cooped up with others 24/7 or perhaps enduring the loneliness of being isolated. Perhaps we are having to care for kids and juggle home schooling. The pressures are intense.
My creative team and I have been collaborating remotely for nearly 10 years. We’ve never met in person. We’ve never zoomed. We’ve worked on dozens of projects. We practically read each other’s minds! Even we are now susceptible to the distractions of these extraordinary circumstances. We are reminded that we need to slow down, read emails more carefully and be more patient with each other as we navigate these turbulent times. We agreed to memorialize our commitments with this blog.
How are you developing team communication and collaboration best practices? What steps are you taking to stay focused on your teammates and improve your virtual team success factors?