Communication Skills in the Virtual Workplace
One of the most important skills to have in the virtual workplace is the ability to communicate clearly.
In a virtual environment, chances are that most of the communication with your boss will be conducted via email. It’s important for you to be able to write an email that managers or co-workers can understand, and send a detailed reply that’s easily readable.
To do this, read over your email before you send it. Check for spelling errors and sentence clarity. If your email is urgent, it’s helpful to make that known in the subject line (e.g. “Please read this before this evening” or “Deadline has changed!”). If you’ve been given a new project, it’s helpful to ask about the deadline and whether there’s any specific information concerning the assignment.
When you’re writing your reply, read over the email twice – once when you receive it, and once as you are writing your answer. If it’s a lengthy email, it’s helpful to read over it in sections and write your reply to each one as you go. Respond to every question you’ve been asked, and acknowledge that you understand any instructions given to you. Don’t assume that the recipient knows you understand.
Also, make sure to use separate paragraphs for each topic you’re covering. You may even need to use numbers or bullet points to denote separate points, both in your original emails and your replies. The more organized the email is, the easier and quicker it is for someone to read and understand.
Your time and your manager’s time are both very valuable, so make the most of phone conversations. If there are certain topics you want to cover during the call, such as a project on which you need assistance, write them down. Also, write down any questions or new ideas.
During the call itself, keep a pen and paper handy to take notes or write down new instructions. Managers can sometimes be very disorganized (especially if they are managing a variety of different initiatives at once), and it’s good to be prepared to take notes throughout the call. The same goes for employees; they may have a number of questions or concerns that you’ll want to follow up on, so it’s helpful to take a few notes during the call. This will ensure that the time is well-spent for both parties.
Periodically you will need to write progress updates for your boss; this is especially important for those of us who are working virtually. Without progress updates, our managers have no idea what we’re working on – or even if we’ve been working at all! The report doesn’t have to be formal; sometimes just a few sentences are fine.
When you write your report, make sure to clearly state which project you’re referring to (for example, say “Bob Smith’s article titled ‘New Opportunities’” rather than “the article you sent me last week”). If you can, give your supervisor an estimate of when you expect to be finished with the project.
Communication is crucial to a successful collaboration with your manager and co-workers. It’s even more important in a virtual environment because there’s limited face-to-face contact. Being clear and specific will improve your overall experience and the results earned by your virtual endeavors.