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The Top Virtual Communication Mistakes–and How To Avoid Them

November 25, 2019 | By | 104 Replies More

virtual communication mistakes

Photo courtesy of Jason Rosewell

 

“We need to learn a new set of rules—like learning to communicate in a new language.”

 

As a child I was taught how to greet someone on the telephone and at the door. I was told how to address an adult, and not to interrupt others’ conversations. I was shown how to introduce new people, and how to write thank-you notes.

 

No doubt most of us were taught those things by parents who wanted us to function well in the world. But how many of us were taught to interact in a world where much of our communication is virtual? I’d say, not many.

 

Communication, at least for a remote worker, is 90% virtual. We chat online. We give updates via email or text or instant message. We conduct meetings over speaker phones. We even mingle around virtual watercoolers.

 

With 70% of the global workforce working at least one day a week from home, it’s safe to say that most communication is virtual. It’s no doubt, then, that even the most courteous of us make communication faux pas from time to time. But these mistakes, especially ones that affect our careers or relationships with colleagues, can be avoided with a few helpful manners even mama never taught us.

 

 

“We need to learn a new set of rules—like learning to communicate in a new language.  The virtual pushes us to invest in multiple different worlds, often simultaneously. These new worlds come with new, vague codes of conduct and create new needs…The digital world forces us to re-wire our unconscious communication habits for conscious success.” -Nick Morgan, Public Words

 

 

With new ways of communicating comes new rules. Without them, we will become communicators who are insensitive, egocentric, and, at times, crass.

 

 

Top virtual communication mistakes

Below are some of the most common communication blunders made in virtual communication. As more of the workforce becomes remote, we need to be aware of these errors and how to correct them. And, as you’ll see, when it comes to such mistakes, I’m not immune!

 

  • Talking in public places or while in transit
  • Trying to multitask
  • Talking on speakerphone
  • Forgetting team members’ time zones
  • Being ignorant of cultural or religious differences
  • Not considering others’ communication comfort zones
  • Being unprepared for phone meetings
  • Failure to prevent disruption
  • Writing chain letters
  • Sending texts or emails impulsively
  • Not using common sense
  • Assuming readers know  how you feel

 

>   Communication Mistake: Talking in public places or while in transit

Have you ever tried to have a telephone conversation with someone only to have their voice drowned out by a passing train, airplane, or loudspeaker? How annoying! Or, how about if they’re en route from one place to another and reception fades in and out and you only get half of what they said?

 

talking on phone in loud area

Courtesy: Daniel Nieto

 

Sometimes this can’t be avoided. If you call them, for example, you can’t always expect them to move somewhere private. However, if you’re in a public place or in transit do your best not to make calls until you’ve reached a quiet place. Not only will the person on the other end appreciate a clear conversation, but you will be less distracted.

 

 

>   Communication Mistake: Trying to multitask

You’re on the phone with someone, and you hear paper rustling or the sound of clicking keys on their keyboard. What does that tell you? Well, it could tell you anything from: they’re not interested in talking to you, you’ve interrupted their work, or you’re just not a priority.

 

Furthermore, because they’re multi-tasking, they can’t concentrate on anything. So, they say things like, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Or maybe you hear them sigh or curse under their breath because they messed up their work because you distracted them.

 

“[People] may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buehner

 

 

Likewise, if you’re busy when a call comes in, stop what you are doing, or tell them you need five minutes to finish what you’re doing so you can give them your full attention.
 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Talking on speakerphone

When you put your phone on speaker, it has a tendency to make you sound like you’re in a tunnel. Although not detrimental to the call, it’s still rude. Unless you’re driving, using the speaker implies you’re in the middle of something else, and you don’t want to stop, even for them. (Similar to multitasking.)

 

However, if you have to use the speaker, inform the other person immediately. It took one of my children a while to learn this, and it got to where any time either of us called I’d have to ask if I was  on speaker. Not very pleasant—or polite!
 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Forgetting team members’ time zones

True story: I was fundraising for a non-profit company and part of my job was to confirm the attendees for an event. Even though I knew that a particular sponsor was in Greece for the week, I picked up the phone and said that we were looking forward to seeing him at our event. He was briefly silent, then asked me if I realized it was 6:00 am for him.

 

“The fastest way to alienate [people] is to treat one-time zone as being correct for everyone,” writes Ellie Coverdale for Zangi.com. There is no “correct” time zone, so whether your team members are in Greece or just across the country, we should consider time differences before picking up the phone.

 

 

Two handy websites for checking the time in other areas are TMZNs.com and WorldTimeBuddy. I wish they were available when I called Greece. (Then again, the internet wasn’t around yet.)
 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Being ignorant of cultural and/or religious differences

One benefit of virtual communication is that it allows companies to source the best talent from anywhere in the world. This also helps companies answer the pressing need for cultural diversification.

 

What this means is that we not only have to be conscientious of everyone’s time zones, but we must remind ourselves that not everyone thinks and lives the way we do.

 

If, for example, one of our remote colleagues works from Israel, we cannot expect him or her to talk about or do any work  after sundown their time on Friday through sundown their time on Saturday. That entire 24-hour period is the Sabbath, and is sacred to them.

 

Global workforce and diversification

Courtesy: João Silas


 

This applies to holidays of other cultures, even within our own country. We need to educate ourselves (i.e. broaden our minds) to make sure we respect our colleagues. We would expect the same from them.
 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Not considering others’ communication comfort zones

Whenever someone suggests to me that we jump on video to talk about this or that, I cringe. I hate video chatting. I don’t like Facetime–ing or those other things that use cameras. In fact, many Gen-Xs and Boomers, particularly female, feel this way.

 

We shouldn’t presume that what’s a comfortable communication method for us works well for someone else. While I prefer using email, I know people who don’t. Maybe it takes too long to get an issue resolved, or it showcases a lack of writing skills, or it doesn’t allow them to adequately express themselves. Whatever their reason, they prefer communicating on the telephone or through a video.

 

When you work remotely, be prepared to communicate in any way necessary. Each platform has pros and cons; and when we’re working with a client or a colleague, we need to try to accommodate them. (I’m still working on my video issues.)

 

 

>   Communication Mistake: Being unprepared for a phone meeting

Whether your phone meeting is with one person, or a conference call with several, being unprepared for that meeting can bring things to a dead halt. The could-you-hold-on-a-minute-while-I-grab-this-or-that is enough to send eyes rolling, at best. At worst, it throws off everyone’s agendas.

 

When a phone meeting is scheduled, gather everything necessary ahead of time and get it organized. Double check everything before a meeting ensuring sure your tech is working, relevant websites are loaded, and even an extra pen is within reach.

 

When you go into a meeting prepared you be able to relax and attend to what others are saying. This will help others feel focused, too, and the meeting will be much more productive.
 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Failing to plan for disruptions

Who will ever forget the video of Professor Robert Kelly when he was being interviewed live on BBC News about South Korea? The video went viral not only because it was a TV blooper, but because millions of parents could relate to it so well. I know I felt his pain!

 

 

Most of us who empathize with Dr. Kelly will never be on live television. Still, how many of us have thought we could complete a business call in quiet if we sneak into another room and close the door? As parents we should know that even a closed door and a spouse watching the kids is no guarantee of success because kids never go according to plan.

 

If you work from home and you have young children, leave nothing to chance. Try to schedule your calls when they are out of the house or fast asleep.

 

This applies to pets, too. Don’t assume you’re safe because your pooch is napping peacefully under the warm rays of sun by the window. The minute someone passes by walking their dog, your  quiet conversation will be over. Plan ahead and contain the pets a good distance from where you need to make a call. (Just remember to give them a treat when you’re finished.)

 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Sending chain letters

I’m not referring to those chain letters so popular in the olden days. I’m talking about an email you send about one subject, yet becomes linked to dozens of other topics because it’s just easier to hit REPLY, than to start another email.

 

For example, you send a customer an email about their account. Then you use that same email to ask about their kids, to upsell something, and on and on and on. Thirty emails later you’re talking about hockey, but the subject line still reads, “Please contact me regarding your account.”

 

Not only does this become confusing, but it suggests a bit of laziness. And laziness is not good with virtual communication since it’s hard enough to decipher and keep track of things as is. While chain email lets the writer be lazy, it creates more work for the reader who may want to save and refer back to something later. But now they have to scroll through ump-teen irrelevant messages just to find that one email they need.

 

Mixed stack of mail

Courtesy: Roman Koval


 

Every new subject should have its own email. If you want to chat about your client’s kids, do it in another email with a new subject. Yes, this results in more email in their inbox; but because they have different subjects your reader can choose to read or save them for later—all without you losing your original purpose of contacting him or her, which was to ask about their account.

 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Responding too quickly to texts or email

I admit: sometimes I think I’m very clever when I whip off a response to someone who just made me angry. Unfortunately, the glee I feel after I click SEND lasts only a minute. But proof of my poor self discipline lasts as long as the reader wants to keep my message.

 

You don’t even have to be angry to send a message you wish later that you didn’t. That’s why waiting until you’re in a decent frame of mind before hitting SEND is the best policy. Do you feel irritated? Wait. Are your feelings hurt? Wait. Are you over tired? Wait. You will thank yourself later.

 

Even if you say nothing detrimental, when you don’t wait before pushing the SEND button you risk looking unprofessional. It’s hard enough as a remote worker to portray the right image to your team, so don’t make it harder for yourself by not double-checking or waiting.

 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Failing to use good ol’ common sense

Some dear friends of mine went out one evening, and I could not go with them. Later, they texted to say they missed me. I didn’t see the text until I woke up the next morning, around 4 am. Touched, I immediately sent off a response to let them know that I missed them, too.

 

About halfway through my cup of coffee, I froze. Did I just ping their phones at 4am? Yep, I sure did. Not being fully awake I ignored common sense.

 


via GIPHY
 

I’ve only done that once (that I recall), so it was forgivable. But what about a supervisor of a remote team that receives several questions or responses late at night or at the crack of dawn?

 

The same goes for email. Many people have settings on their phones that notifies them when they get email. (While we’re on this topic, many people have notifiers for email, texts, for each social media platform, and more. That’s a lot of early morning or late night dinging if people aren’t thinking.)

 

One way to avoid this faux pas is to use schedulers with messages and email. If you have a thought at 3am you don’t want to forget, you can write the message and then schedule it to be sent later.

 

To schedule text messages from an iPhone, this article offers instructions on setting up scheduled texts. Otherwise, you can get a reminder app, which will let you write your message, save it, and then get a push notification at the time you want to hit send.

 

For Android, check out this article. Otherwise, use a push option, like an iPhone.

 

Higher up the programming evolutionary ladder, Google has a great feature for scheduling email. (I’m sure other email platforms do, too.)  CNet.com wrote clear Gmail scheduling instructions in an article titled, Don’t be a jackass. Schedule Gmail messages to send later—Don’t be that guy who sends emails on a Saturday night.

 

I assure you these extra efforts will be very appreciated. (They’ll also make you look super tech-savvy.)

 
 

>   Communication Mistake: Assuming readers know how you feel

Are you aware of how your tone is being perceived in your text and email?

 

For example, I’m often told that I sound too abrupt in my correspondences. I agree. I say what I have to say, without fluff or niceties. In my mind, I’m being efficient by getting my point across quickly, regardless of the positive feelings I may have toward the recipient. I forget that people can’t read my mood or feelings if they’re omitted from my email.

 

 

“People on the receiving end of written communication tend to interpret it more negatively than intended by the sender. Emotions are expressed and received mostly through nonverbal cues, which are largely missing from text-based communication,” write Professors N. Sharon Hill and Kathryn M. Bartol for MITSloan Management Review.  It’s important to express goodwill and warmth in virtual communication.

 

Perhaps you could imagine you are calling the person instead of writing them. You have important information to pass along, but do you jump to the point the second they answer the phone? Probably not. At the very least, you ask the person how they are doing, right?

 

This is an area where soft skills come into play. They help your reader be more receptive to your message because you make a personal connection. Whatever your message, it will be taken more positively than if you omit those few words of warmth.

 
 

Wrapping it up

Virtual communication has come a long way in just the past three decades. We can’t think it of as an optional form of communication; many times it’s our only feasible method of communication.

 

Whether we’re asking a quick question or having a team meeting, there are some important things to keep in mind if virtual communication is to be effective and well-received.

 

  • Wait until you are in a quiet place to talk on the phone.

  • Stop other activities when you’re on the phone.

  • Avoid using a speakerphone when talking.

  • Know what everyone’s time zones are before scheduling or making calls.

  • Be aware of team members’ religions or cultures.

  • Be sensitive to others’ comfort zones with different methods of communication.

  • Come fully prepared for telephone or online meetings.

  • Take measures to prevent interruptions during phone or video calls.

  • Start a new email with each new topic.

  • Double check messages before sending them.

  • Use schedulers for texts and email to preserve your thoughts without disrupting the recipient.

  • Implement your soft skills even in virtual communication

 

You don’t have to be a prolific writer or charismatic speaker to be an effective virtual communicator. Being aware of your surroundings, having restraint, being sensitive to others, and using available communication tools will make you a pleasure to talk to on any platform.

 
 

Your turn: What virtual communication lessons have you learned?

 
 

Let’s talk  more about it. Join me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

 
 
 

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Category: Communication, Featured, Productivity, Work Trends

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About the Author ()

Pamela La Gioia has been researching and writing about remote work since the early 1990's. She is CEO/Founder of Telework Recruiting, the leading provider of technical and professional remote career opportunities.

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