By Laurel Farrer for Nomad City

By now, you’ve probably heard several times that communication is crucial in remote teams. And it’s easy to understand why. It’s the only thing that makes a virtual team. Without messages and meetings with each other, we’re just a bunch of strangers that happen to be working toward the same goal. But communication is tricky over long distances. When we don’t have the benefit of spontaneous interaction and nonverbal language on our side, our ability to effectively communicate is significantly impaired.

In this circumstance, less is definitely not more. More is more. Not necessarily in quantity, but in quality. Any remote worker needs to develop the fine art of communication in order to streamline productivity and strengthen autonomy. So, what is the key to high-quality communication?

In order to better understand what good virtual communication is, it might be helpful to first understand what good communication isn’t. What are your current conversational habits lacking that is creating confusion in your team? First, let’s consider the three most common causes of virtual miscommunication (and distributed company) discord:

1) Using the Wrong Channel

Because accessibility is so crucial, most software includes an option to internally collaborate with others. But with notifications popping up from your email inbox, shared database, community channels, and project management system, it’s easy to miss or misinterpret one during a project. If Marco sends an email requesting urgent information to Sofia, but she only checks her inbox and the beginning and end of each day, the project is going to be delayed. Teams need to be on the same page about what type of messages are sent via each communication tool.

2) Not Defining the Priority

Sure, your project management system tracks the due date of the task, but timeline and priority are two different things. And this discrepancy can cause major frustration. Like when Anna is furious with Evan because he keeps postponing a website design project for her biggest client. But he assumes that this website is just like the last assignment that she gave to him, which was just a brainstorm.

3) Making Assumptions

The biggest (and most common) mistake in communication is not to communicate. When we assume understanding based on limited virtual messages, we ignite a huge problem in the operations and culture of our team. So, in virtual relationships, the rule of thumb is to never jump to conclusions, or as I like to say, “Innocent Until Discussed.” When in doubt, just send a quick ping: “Hey, are you writing this intro paragraph, or am I?” or “That was sarcastic, right?” Three seconds of typing can save days of delay or anger.

To resolve these common concerns and ensure that miscommunication is avoided, there is  a simple solution: confirm that “5W1H” is always addressed in every assignment:

What—What are all of the tasks and responsibilities included in the project?
Why—What is the goal, impact, and importance of this work?

Who—Who are the people that need to be involved, utilized, or updated for this assignment? If any questions or concerns surface, who is the appropriate point of contact?

When—What are the benchmark and final deadlines for this assignment?

Are these dates flexible or strict?

Where—Where should the information and resources for this work be recorded, stored, and shared?

How—Are there any specific processes or tools that should be utilized to complete this task correctly?

These “5W1H” criteria are the keys to a comprehensive message that will help work progress instead of hinder it. If you want to learn more about successful virtual collaboration, practice makes perfect.

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