11 tips for communicating with the virtual team

March 25, 2009

These days, it’s not unusual to conduct business with team members in different cities or countries. Recently, I had an opportunity to work on an exciting project along with other individuals who were also outsourced.

We “met” every week through conference calls and our project manager, working from his home office, kept everyone on track. Although we were independents, it was important that we gelled as a team to deliver the best results for our client.

During the two-month project, I learned a lot about communicating with a virtual team as well as with the end client.

Here are a few tips I picked up along the way:

•    Email addresses with the same company name. To communicate with the client, every team member should have an email address with the same company name. Even if the client is aware that you are part of a virtual team, it gets confusing when copious amounts of email related to one project are coming from different addresses.

•    Put all related emails in a sub-folder. It makes it much easier to find mail with specific bits of info like due dates, minor copy changes or last minute instructions. Keep the sub-folder for a couple months after the project is complete in case you need to refer back to it to find a date or piece of information later.

•    Write clear subject lines. Clearly state the purpose or content of the email in the subject line. Use the docket number if one has been assigned. Mention the project name or client as well as what the email holds (layout, copy, timesheets, invoice)

•    Consider who gets what. With so many emails flying around, not every member of the team needs to see every email. Use To: for the team members that need to take action on the email.  Use Cc: for those who should be informed, but who don’t need to reply or take action. Use Bc: rarely. This could lead to problems. Complete transparency is best but if you have to, send the email to those you want to take action and be informed, and later forward it to those you want to send a Bc: with a new introduction as to why they are receiving it.

•    Send important emails to yourself. If the email is very important or time sensitive, type your own address in the Cc: box so you have a copy as confirmation that it was sent.

•    Never be negative. Or talk about other team members or the client in any emails. If you receive a negative email, don’t reply by email. Call the sender instead. If the email was sent to more than one person, check with the other recipients to see if your interpretation is correct. It is easy to misunderstand one’s tone and intent in an email.

•    Avoid sending emails at night. Your client doesn’t need to know that you were working until 2 am on their project. Instead of making you look dedicated, it can be seen as poor time management. It may seem as though you’ve left this important work to the last minute or you’re simply too busy for this client. Also, working late means that things can get a little fuzzy and mistakes get made. Either write the email and save it as a draft to review and mail in the morning – or sleep on it and write it with a fresh brain the next day.

•    Write it. Walk away. Come back and read it again. If there is an attachment, open it to make sure it’s the correct document. Check the attachment to make sure the date, docket number and version number are correct. Press Send.

•    Keep the thread. Make sure your email maintains the thread of the conversation. You can adjust this in your email preferences.

•    Break it up. Use lots of line breaks and double space between paragraphs or main thoughts to make it easier for the reader to read and absorb the content.

•    Activate links. If you add a link to a webpage in the email be sure to add a space or return at the end of the URL. This makes the link active (turns blue), so the reader can just click on it to get to the website rather than copying the address and pasting it into the URL bar.

My thanks to Jeff Nelson at Anduro Marketing for inspiring this post.

What ideas do you have for communicating with a virtual team?

One comment:

  1. These are some great tips.

    One thing that can help with emails is deciding on a keyword to use in subject lines, or even a format. e.g. subject lines like “projectX: blah blah blah” lets you set up filters or labels for “projectX”.

    Getting to know the team is important for gelling. I’ve had some of my remote clients say they really appreciate that my photo is so prominent on my website, that they’ll even look at my picture while talking to me on the phone. So, some way to connect clients and team members on a slightly more personal level could be good. Some social networking tools could help with that, depending on the project and people involved.

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