From Chat to Meetings: The Virtual Teams Communication Ladder

As a follow-up to our blog on The Ultimate Guide to When Your Meeting Can Be an Email, we thought we’d dig a bit deeper into communication in the virtual office. After all, there are a lot of tools at your disposal from chat to voice calls to video calls to emails to, yes, even meetings. Each one is effective in its way and can play a role in creating an efficient, supportive workplace that makes good use of everyone’s time and energy.

The Virtual Teams Communication Ladder

Think of the communication tools available to you like rungs on a ladder, where you escalate to the next tool as your needs change. This is the virtual teams communication ladder.

Rung 1: Chat

For quick check-ins or yes/no answers, it’s hard to beat chat. They’re a great way to share simple, easily consumed information without cluttering up your team’s inbox, plus you can replicate the real-time feel of speaking in person.

Chat has its limits however, because text on a screen simply can’t be as expressive as a live voice. If your conversation transforms from a quick check-in to a conversation longer than a few minutes, it’s time to move up the ladder.

Rung 2: Phone and Video Chat

The science is in, courtesy of a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin: phone calls create stronger bonds than text-based communications.

When it comes to building team morale and camaraderie, to say nothing of diving into complex topics that can’t be addressed in a few text exchanges, it’s time to pick up the phone. Voice is a powerful tool that can bring more expression and clarity to communication than plain text, helping to avoid misunderstandings and enhance team cohesion.

Want to make absolutely sure you’re on the same page? Fire up your web cam and do a video chat. It’s the best way to gauge everyone else’s responses and make sure you’re all moving in the same direction.

Where both chat and phone calls fall short, however, is in documentation. It can be difficult if not impossible to find information shared verbally or hundreds of chat records ago. The upshot? When you need to reference what was discussed earlier or would benefit from a paper trail, a formal written record is the way to go. Which means…

Rung 3: Email

As mentioned in our previous blog, email is perfect for a number of communications objectives:

• Gathering and sharing information
• Soliciting feedback
• Status checks

Emails are also easy to find later on, making them excellent tools to store and organize information, which is handy for more complicated topics that are too important for a chat or voice call.

Where emails fall short is when it comes to making decisions, deciding strategy, or any interaction that is likely produce a lengthy conversation with more questions than answers. They’re also not great for sharing complicated information that can’t be condensed into a few short paragraphs. Rely on email for this, and the best you can hope for is a messy inbox and a headache to boot.

Which is to say, when all else fails, it’s time for a…

Rung 4: Meeting

If you have a complicated topic at hand, a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, and an agenda, then go ahead – hold that meeting! Sometimes there’s just no better tool for the job than to get everyone around the virtual table and talk through the topic of the day.

When you call a meeting, make sure you invite only those people who need to be there – the ones whose expertise is required or who will be expected to participate. Everyone else can probably make do with an email summarizing the meeting’s outcome. As well, remember the Science of the Perfect Virtual Meeting, like making sure that if even one person attends virtually, then everybody does.

That said, remember that you can use the other rungs on the communication ladder to help plan the perfect meeting. Use the other tools available to gather the information you need and set the right goals so when you do pull the trigger on a meeting, everybody walks away saying, “there’s no way this could have been an email!”

Want personalized advice for how to take your virtual team to the next level? Complete our Virtual Team Performance Survey and get a FREE 45-minute consultation with our training team!