7 wickedly simple ways to improve virtual team communications


I’ve been interested in remote working since I first worked remotely as a computer book technical reviewer back in the nineties. I’ve put my stake in the ground about the importance of culture for collaboration. Fast forward to today, I’ve had the opportunity to write about some of the platforms and mobile apps that power today’s virtual teams.

Recently, I’ve gotten back to thinking about virtual team communications. Something so simple as communications, can be made so difficult or so it seems.

1. Write emails in bullet points

Email is a cause of so many miscommunications or so it seems in my experience. When communicating amongst virtual team members via email, you should:

  • Make your emails scannable
  • Avoid long winded email threads
  • Remember clarity is your co-pilot

When I was a computer book technical editor, I was taught that a person’s emails and comments needed to stand on their own. That rule should apply to email communications in virtual team environments too. While I’m not without my personal communication hiccups, I try to make sure my emails are scannable.

2. Keep chat system logs “on the record”

I’m certainly a proponent of chat systems in moderation. In the past year or so, I’ve used Slack, HipChat, Lync, and Google Chat or various client projects. I’ve come to see it as important to turn on the logs so you can refer to a conversation later.

Part of being “on the record” is also to know the natural ebbs and flows of a coworker’s day. Chat sessions can be very distracting to some people.

3. Don’t fear the phone

I have one client who reaches for the phone first and I give them lots of credit for it. While we do use Slack and email to communicate, they are my one client that prefers the phone. Needless to say, I rarely experience miscommunications with this client. To them, the phone represents:

  • Team relationship building
  • Real-time decision-making
  • Less back and forth

When I returned to freelancing after a layoff in 2012, I may have gone three months without speaking to any client. I still have some clients I’ve yet to communicate with in real-time. However, I’m the first to say that virtual teams shouldn’t fear the phones for communicating with each other.

4. Use calendars to combat crisis

It’s romantic to some personality types always to be going from crisis to crisis. It makes these people feel needed. The nature of virtual teams can only magnify the drama of real or imagined crises.

My recommendation is to use a central calendar to communicate minor to major project milestones and events. In a virtual working environment, one way a crisis can snowball is an urgent project appearing from nowhere disrupting the flow.

5. Respect team member personalities and communications styles

Respective team member personalities and communications styles can make working remotely challenging for some people. Give other team members space and yourself time to learn how to communicate best with the various personality types on your team. Providing a critique to another team member after they send an email to another team member or client is ultimately counter-productive except in extreme circumstances.

There are merits in being straight to the point in written communications just as there is to being overly friendly.

The thing is, there’s no merit in trying to change one of those communications styles to the other. Trying to bend entrenched personality and communications styles may only get you tuned out the next time you communicate with that team member.

I never understood the terse communications I would get from some editors. It all became clear to me when my email box began to fill up with PR pitches why I got such emails.

6. Think first, Write second

There’s the long-standing advice of never sending an email in the heat of the moment. My advice is to “think first, write second” to ensure that your communications with other team members are clear, on point, and can stand on their own.

7. Democratize project management

Project management factors into the quality of virtual team communications in my experience. The current generation of cloud project management platforms is ideal for virtual project teams because they enhance communications around project tasks with online discussions and social tools. The convergence of project management and collaboration in the cloud enable easy and clear communications around project tasks and scheduling.

Final thoughts

Looking back to my first virtual working experience back in the mid-nineties (dial-up Internet, email, and FTP sites, baby!), I’m excited to see the practice become more the norm now. Unfortunately, some of the same communications challenges remain despite the latest technology improvements.

Image by Luis Llerena via Unsplash.com

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. His writing experience includes writing technology articles for CNET TechRepublic and other sites. Will’s technology interests include collaboration platforms, enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), project management applications, and big data. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.

Foster a culture of SharePoint champions

Image by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash.com

The forgotten player is the success of Microsoft SharePoint is the person on the project team who makes SharePoint work for the team. SharePoint may not even be part of their formal job description but from a combination of prior experience and knowing the potential in SharePoint to solve some existing project-level problem with project management, collaboration, or communications. I call this person a SharePoint champion.

Organizations who take a few simple steps to create a culture of SharePoint champions are going to reap the benefits in their business without a heavy financial outlay.

Here are some things organization can do to foster a culture of SharePoint champions:

Put SharePoint administrator control on the team level. When a SharePoint administrator is ensconced behind multiple monitors inside in an IT department with a hundred other more pressing responsibilities, a SharePoint site becomes an obstacle growing cobwebs. Project teams are either going to ignore or look to circumvent SharePoint sites if making site changes is a web of approvals, Remedy tickets, online forms, waiting and more waiting.

Embrace the SharePoint power user. SharePoint 2010 at Work by Mark Miller has a great write up about how you can work better with SharePoint power users and your user community as a whole. SharePoint power users spread across the project teams in your organization can be the shot in the arm an otherwise lukewarm reception to SharePoint and help dispel cynicism from previous subpar SharePoint experiences. The SharePoint Power User can be a SharePoint implementation team’s best friend or worst enemy as the case may be.

Develop, document, and communicate SharePoint governance policies. Along with putting SharePoint administrator control on the team level and showing the SharePoint power users in the organization some love is time to develop, document, and communicate SharePoint governance policies to the SharePoint user community. The policies aren’t meant to be a buzz kill but rather help set some site standards, support policies, and related policies to help ensure SharePoint meet is potential inside your organization. Lastly, there should be some training and/or communications about SharePoint government policies to empower the SharePoint champions studding out in the various project teams and departments in your organization.

Make SharePoint a central project management platform. Organizations can realize many benefits from centralizing their internal and client projects on SharePoint. Dux Raymond Sy in his book SharePoint 2010 for Project Management describes how to build a very useful (yet, code free) Project Management Information System using SharePoint 2010.

Look for the code free solutions your organization can create with SharePoint. With the right user roles, there are code-free solutions that organizations can create out of the box with SharePoint. With a book like, Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Creating and Implementing Real World Projects and the right roles, there is a lot of non-coders given the right amount of time to use SharePoint out of the box to solve some of their project-level issues and improve productivity. Going the Code Free solution avenue is great for fostering a culture of SharePoint champions because some development direction and tools are in the hands of the people who want SharePoint to work the most.

How are you creating your own culture of SharePoint champions?


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.


Originally published at willkelly.org.