Communication is everything – especially for a virtual workplace. It is literally the lifeline and foundation of any business operation that uses an offshore staff.
In an office-based setting, there’s a number of ways you can ensure attendance and interaction with your staff. Traditionally, you can just get everyone up for a quick huddle, have them sit through a meeting, pull them out and talk to them shortly in the hallways… etc.
There’s also something comforting about seeing the person you’re talking to face-to-face. You can perceive all the verbal and non-verbal aspects of the conversation. You can have a better guess if your message is received and perceived well.
Fortunately, technology brought us the means to have virtual conversations that mirror our normal face-to-face ones. Even if our work is divided by geographic location and time zones, we can make our mode of communication function well.
I have been leading businesses that are based offshore for over 4 years. In this article, I will show you how I deal with communicating with virtual staff.
1. Open Communication
Encourage your staff to communicate with you directly and openly.
Firstly, you’ve got to be able to “know” the person you’re working with.
Set aside your first 1-2 hours with your staff and just talk about your lives. Learn their living situations, and share some personal experiences.
Share your business vision with them, try to make them understand why you built the business and what goals you want to achieve.
Likewise, ask them about why they want to work with you and where do they see themselves in your company.
You’ll find yourself genuinely invested in the lives of your staff and you get them on board with your business goals. It’ll be easier to approach them and make them put extra care on the task they do, simply because you are no longer a stranger to them.
Remember that what you’re trying to build with them is a relationship that will be as secure and genuine as in real life.
2. Regular Staff Meetings
Holding regular meetings is important – even if there’s no solid agenda on hand.
Meetings are essential in building your staff’s sense of accountability for the tasks you give them.
Taking it from Stewart Bell, founder & CEO of Audere Coaching and Consulting, he said that these are ways to optimise adviser communication with your staff:
- Early Monday Meetings – Detailed discussion on what you’re planning to achieve in the week.
- Friday Debrief – A recap of what you’ve done, and a chance to explore any bottlenecks or challenges.
- Daily Catch-ups – A daily update you send to each other (through a quick call or emails), sharing what you have accomplished in the day.
- Team Voxer Catch-ups – You can download the Voxer app, which provides you with secure, real-time communication in one powerful push-to-talk (PTT) app.
You can leave a voice message and get your staff to respond to it – just like a handy walkie-talkie! It works with an iPhone, Android, and the web.
3. Mode of Communication
Communications, instructions, or messages must always be clear when relayed to your staff. Ensure that there are no meanings or words that will be lost in translation. Be mindful of the medium you use to communicate.
Here are a few effective ways of classifying how messages must be carried out:
Strike a balance where your approach will tread when communicating with your virtual staff. Being too formal may seem awkward at some point and might be perceived as being too unapproachable.
Changing the tone to something more accommodating could prove helpful to allow open communication.
4. Use Shared Systems
Having a shared system is critical to any business. This allows easy access to important documents, processes, etc.
Choose offline and online tools that are easily accessible to the staff – Like Dropbox or Google Drive.
Be very clear about the rules you have once you give them access to the most valuable information stored on your site. Emphasise how you like to impose data and privacy protection and make sure that they fully understand the limitation of the use of these documents.
5. Use Apps to Check Milestones
While working with remote staff, you might understandably be concerned about knowing whether your team is really working. When you don’t have the means to stop by their desk to check, it can be challenging to follow through.
This is where task-managing apps come in handy. I’m using Trello and Google Calendar to keep track of my staff’s tasks and check their milestones.
Using these as part of your team’s workflow can give you some peace of mind. Not only can it serve as a motivational and accountability tool, but it can also function as an unsynchronised way for team members to stay updated on tasks and projects.