Virtual happy hours, remote office tours, online show-and-tell—everyone loves to get creative with virtual team building activities to bond and play from afar. So what’s the best virtual team building activity you can do? Create a plan for better communication.
Sure, it’s not as exciting as beating your boss in a video game or as funny as your icebreakers, but the most meaningful, long-lasting and authentic team building happens during your day-to-day communication, not during virtual events and games. If you’re still returning to the same problems after a good laugh—missing teammates, zero face time, cryptic emails, chat overload—then it’s time to try something new to get to the heart of your virtual team’s weaknesses.
If you want to be able to ask for help and receive it, be confident that your teammates are executing their piece of the pie and feel comfortable bringing up concerns, then you need a battle plan for making your team communication work from a distance.
The Core of Teamwork: Communication
According to studies, qualities present in effective teamwork include trust, social sensitivity, shared goals, an understanding of processes and roles, emotional intelligence and personal bonding. All of these qualities rely on or are strengthened by daily team communication.
Each time you reply to an email in a timely manner or give an update on your project tasks, you assure your comrades that they can trust you to complete your part of the puzzle. And every time you give constructive feedback or praise for ideas, you cultivate not only trust but also an openness that contributes to greater sharing, brainstorming and ideation.
Ongoing communication at work helps you learn not just what your teammates’ favorite foods are but what their work values and productivity styles are, which helps you build respect and a sensitivity to the way they work. And non-work communication helps you develop better team rapport and form more memorable, positive impressions of each other.
However, communication just so happens to also be one of the greatest challenges for virtual teams. That’s why you need a communication strategy.
Getting Strategic About Team Communication
So what exactly goes into a team communication plan? Some of the key points you need to consider are:
- Frequency: Virtual teams most often need to over-communicate to compensate for working apart, but does that mean your team should be available 24/7? Think about whether your virtual team needs closed-door time for productivity, how often you need formal status meetings and how quickly teammates need to respond to chats and messages.
- Methods: To curb distractions and waste less time, many teams (virtual or in the office) use asynchronous communication, like email and team workspaces, but relying too heavily on these methods means you’re missing out on personal interactions. Decide how much you want your virtual team to interact with an inbox or stream of updates vs. your teammates’ faces and voices.
- Tools: Most in-office teams move around to communicate, and so should your virtual team. One tool is not enough to provide a place for urgent updates and casual conversations. Consider incorporating more than one type of technology into your communication plan to cover your bases.
Take Action Today
Here’s what you can do right now to start rebooting your virtual team’s communication:
- Identify the needs of your team. Every team has distinct challenges, strengths and personalities to plan your communication strategy around. Download PGi’s eBook “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” to learn more about creating the right communication structure and collaborative culture for your unique virtual team.
- Audit your team’s communication. Survey your virtual team on what medium(s) they use now to resolve conflicts or brainstorm ideas, how often they communicate, where they’re managing projects and how many tools they’re using.
- Form a communication plan. Start thinking about what you want your team communication to look like after pinpointing your biggest goals and challenges and assessing whether your current communication is able to fulfill and overcome them. Don’t forget to get everyone’s input—after all, this is about teamwork!
The way you communicate with team members might seem more like common sense than strategy, but too often teams, no matter where they are, fall into bad habits that result in poor communication. By making a conscious communication plan, you have the opportunity to eliminate the distractions and miscommunication that even in-office teams experience and build a virtual team that doesn’t just survive the daily challenges of virtual work but operates more successfully by working apart.