6 tips for managing non-face-to-face communications
Whether managing teams across borders, cities or offices, or because we simply don’t have time to meet face-to-face, the reality is that much of our communication now occurs remotely. While phones provides audio, we lose the visual cues and context afforded in a face-to-face meeting.
One may think that putting the other on mute while responding to e-mails and otherwise saving the world is a great way to maximize efficiency by multitasking, but the reality is that non-face-to-face communication creates a greater risk for miscommunication by allowing greater scope for distraction and misunderstanding. But given that remote communication a reality of this day and age…what can we do about it?
Acknowledge both the aim and the challenge – if opening a multi-party conference call, frame the aim as being able to understand one another accurately and work together effectively. Actively acknowledge the challenges of losing visual cues, not having the same context for the meeting and together adopt some guidelines for how you can communicate effectively, despite the inherent challenge.
Be their eyes in the room – unless and until you are able to recognize individual voices, it is hard to distinguish who has spoken. If you are on a group call, make it easy for others to know who is speaking by identifying yourself before commenting. For better or worse, facial expression and physical behaviours (nods or other things going on in the room) are usually inaudible on the other end of the line. Help them understand what is going on by narrating the actions.
Check what the silences mean – if you hear silence on the other end, don’t assume that you know what it means. Silence could be their be confusion, consent, distraction or something entirely different. Don’t make the costly mistake of assuming that silence is golden; check your understanding rather than assuming it’s fine to move on.
Work from one text – if you are referencing documents in your conversation, make sure all parties are looking at the same document. Send files prior to the meeting and verify that both literally and figuratively, you are on the same page.
Use the tools available to you – technology now affords a variety of mediums that help close the gap created in non-face-to-face communications. Video conference and screen-sharing, among others, provide visual cues and common data that help bridge the gap. Also, arrange to meet in person when possible. Face time, however limited, can help build relationships and provide data points from which communication calibration can better occur.