How well do you and your virtual administrative professional, or any other remote-based team members, communicate?
In a distanced environment, communication is the foundation of successful working relationships. It’s also one of the most common challenges with working remotely - how do you make sure that communication is strong and nothing falls through the cracks? If not managed effectively, the virtual environment can be prone to miscommunication.
We’ve spent a long time working with executives and virtual administrative professionals, and have noticed a few key techniques that successful communicators use. Here’s our summary:
#1. Agree on a communication system
In a remote environment, clear communication begins with an effective system and channels through which to communicate. Your first step is to agree on what those channels should be. For example:
- Chat communication tools.
- Video communication tools.
- Email messaging.
- Project management tools (including the ability to leave notes and assign tasks).
Once you have a preferred set of tools, it’s important to agree to some sort of system for how to use them. Without a process in place, it’s easy for communication to end up all over the place and for important messages to be missed.
Here are some examples of communication rules that clients have used:
- Any quick messages should go via Slack (or your chat app of choice). Quick messages might include things like “I left you a note here” (with a link to the place the note was left), or brief questions, such as “where do I find …?”
- Any more detailed messages that require a lot of background context or a lot of different to-dos go via email. Some clients set up their own system for subject lines too, so that people are clear when an email needs them to take action. For example, by having “to do” at the front of the subject line.
- Video communication is often only used for team meetings that have been booked. It’s not generally good etiquette to try calling in without a booked meeting.
- Any tasks should be assigned by tagging the appropriate person or people in your project management tool. They may need an email also, particularly if your tool isn’t great for holding a whole lot of detail. Where this is the case, refer to the email in your note on the project management tool, so that people know where to find the details.
#2. Set clear expectations about availability
In a remote environment, you can’t just knock on someone’s door to ask if they’re available for a quick chat. Many people prefer it this way - that’s one of the reasons they choose to work remotely! However, virtual administrative professionals and others still need to be available in a timely manner for some situations.
It’s important to set clear expectations as to when (and how) a virtual AP should be available, and vice versa for the executive. For example, you might want specific hours during the day to be set working hours, or, you might mostly have flexibility, but want a couple of particular hours to always be set aside for work.
You also may want to draw some clear lines around when not to be available. Sending messages outside of work hours can make people feel that they should be responding during their leisure time. Many people find it difficult to disconnect because the technology that allows them to do so is almost omnipresent. Some countries have even created labor laws around this, forbidding work messages outside of work hours.
In the end it’s about being able to successfully communicate while respecting personal and business boundaries.
#3. Use plain language
Most people have misconstrued or misinterpreted messages. This is common across all forms of communication - just look at the mess that social media comments sections can quickly turn into!
For the sake of clear business communication, use plain language as much as possible. For example, if you’re sending out a message as a means of encouraging the brainstorming of ideas, make sure that people understand you’re looking for their ideas and not just expecting them to run with yours.
If you have a “to-do” for someone, make it crystal-clear. One issue we’ve seen frequently is messages so full of corporate speak with “circling back” and “moving the needle,” that the action points of the message get lost. If your message is going to multiple people with to-dos, it’s a good idea to highlight each name in your message along with a clear description of their task. Leave nothing up to interpretation!
#4. Clarify what you think you heard
An important part of communication is clarifying what you thought you heard. This helps to ensure that you’re taking the expected action.
For example, what if an executive were to ask an AP to get “two tickets to the football game” for a client? You might assume they mean NFL and book tickets for a game coming up in the client’s city this weekend, but what if they meant an alternative definition of football? In the EU, UK and many other parts of the world, football means soccer. Context is important!
#5. Encourage feedback
Good communication works both ways in the working relationship of an executive and virtual administrative professional. Being open to feedback and ensuring that your AP knows they can come to you with ideas or suggestions is a great way to ensure you remain in the loop.
One way you can encourage this is through a virtual “open door” policy. Be transparent about what’s happening in the company and hold space for team members to come forward with any questions or feedback. Let them know how you’d prefer to receive feedback. Is it via email? On Slack?
At the same time be disciplined about giving good, clear feedback. If something goes wrong, look at what may have preceded that situation. Was any messaging unclear?
#6. Make extra effort to engage
This tip goes for executives, virtual administrative professionals, and anyone working remotely. You often have to make extra effort to engage with people on your team and encourage open communication.
Your remote team doesn’t have the office printer or water cooler to meet up and casually interact, and it’s those sorts of casual interactions that help to build strong team dynamics. In a remote world, you need to be very deliberate about getting the team to engage.
It starts by being a good communicator, then finding ways to make the team comfortable with communication. For example, you might initiate “water cooler” chat in a Slack channel that is made for that purpose. Ask questions that are open to any answer, such as “what are you looking forward to this weekend?”
Why do all this? From what we’ve observed, remote teams that maintain a friendly dynamic like this tend to be the most successful communicators. They create a level of comfort among the team so that they’re happy to reach out when necessary. (And this makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever had the sort of boss where you were almost afraid to approach them!)
Executives and virtual administrative professionals can have productive working relationships. It takes a commitment to effective communication so that your processes and tasks run efficiently.
Having the right tools is a great start, but you should also have guidelines for when and how to use those tools. Some methods of communication are more effective than others for different types of messages.
Finally, if you’re looking for a virtual administrative professional with strong communication skills and a commitment to your success, Worxbee would love to get you connected. Contact us here.