How to Overcome Virtual Environment Challenges

In my last post, I wrote about the communication vacuum created by virtual environments. It featured a client who was making recommendations that didn’t land because he got no prior input from his company’s leadership, most of whom were not located in his office or region. He had not worked to close the distance gap through communication. That’s what we will look at in this post.

Virtual Environments Challenge Our Relevance

Have you ever completed a virtual call/meeting and asked yourself:
“Did we accomplish anything?”
“Was I heard?”
“What will people do next with this issue?”

Communicating in a virtual environment challenges our relevance! All of us want to contribute, all of us want to be affirmed. But doing so solely by electronic means (email, text, calls, etc.), limits how you can directly communicate with your teams and leadership. However, many people see the solution here as more video calls or more frequent trips to the corporate office so that you can stay “top of mind.” While that can help, I believe people should focus less on the methods in which they are communicating and paying far more attention to HOW they are communicating. Are you having meaningful conversations or just surface-level, tactical ones? The former establishes you as a trusted advisor and leader; the latter creates the chance that you will be commoditized…just one of the pack with little relevance.

Research the Key Issues

One assumption my client from my last post made was that he already understood the key issues facing the leadership team. At one point, he may have. But let me ask you…have your priorities and goals ever changed? Of course they have. So, it is imperative that you find out the current “keep me up at night” issues your audience is facing. Do they have new challenges? If they have the same challenges they’ve had before, why is that? What makes them persist? Probing about key issues will be paramount to your being able to make a solid recommendation. And please…do NOT have this conversation via email or text. At a bare minimum, have a phone call. Video chat would be next and then, best of all, a face-to-face. Via the last two, you will be able to assess facial and body language, which will help you really get to the root of the issues.

Empathize but Don’t Agree

Maintaining trust in a virtual environment is difficult, to say the least. If you aren’t having meaningful conversations with your team and leadership, your status will start to erode. Remaining in communication is very important but the communication you have also has to have substance. If you’ve established trust, the person you speak with will reveal deeper issues that will seem very real. You can empathize with the person and acknowledge that they believe these issues to be critical. However, your job is to help them, so it does not help if you accept a “there’s nothing we can do” attitude. There likely is something to be done and you will work to discover what it is. It’s important that you remain calm and confident. Do not lose your cool or your patience. Reach to realize your listener’s struggle but don’t get caught up in the downward spiral. Stay separated enough that you can bring a new perspective.

Communicate with Questions

Virtual environments create communication time gaps. What I mean is that many times, you might realize that you haven’t communicated with a team member or supervisor in many days. And while you may not have a critical issue to discuss, reaching out and asking them a question about the challenges you already know about (see above!), is a good way to open up a communication line. It’s the best way I know to cheat on the test, meaning it gets underneath the core issue driving the person’s behavior with your sincere curiosity. And do it often. It will further establish the trust they have in you, your leadership, and your desire to partner to solve the issues.

Check-In

In both one’s business and personal life, knowing that someone is thinking about you and is concerned about your issues goes a long way to maintaining a healthy relationship. Check-in with your team often but remember to also do the same with your boss. People want to know that you have their backs. Doing so in a virtual environment is actually far EASIER than before when we didn’t have all the technology to do so. Firing off a quick email or text to ask about how they are progressing with known issues just lets them know you haven’t let the issue go since your last conversation. It is top of mind for you, too, and you are still working on solutions. Your staff will appreciate that you are “going the extra mile” with them while leadership will see you as someone not just concerned about his/her own silo…rather, as a team player willing to help wherever needed. And don’t we ALL want people like that on our team?

Virtual environments do present a lot of challenges, but most of them can be overcome with communication. As we’ve discussed here, though, it’s not just the method and frequency that matters (though they DO matter). It is the substance that matters most. Make sure you are having meaningful conversations with your team and leadership. If you struggle with how to do this, give me a call (ok…you can email if you must!).

 

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