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In today’s work environment, we often work with people we’ve never seen, sitting at other locations. Connect warmly to work smoothly!
They can be our colleagues working in offices in other countries, clients or home-based consultants in a city nearby; in a set up of one to one communication, or in team or a big group.
In most cases we use teleconferences and e-mails as major tools to communicate the different requirements of a project.
It can be quite challenging to work with others only through a virtual medium, day in and day out. Maintaining a human face and warmth when you’ve never seen the other person can be tough. Yet, I find that the human connect is often what helps get work done smoothly.
That is where we need to step-up, as to be able work well on a project, creating a comfort level and understanding between the team members is important.
Here are a few tips on how to work with a person you have never seen, from my personal experience in working across locations and time zones.
I find that an initial introduction session with the team members really helps me connect. You can also (or propose this to your boss) send out a group mail with a brief introduction of yourself and your role to all the team members. This provides a platform to gauge the mindset and expectations of team members. I also read up about team members at Linked In before starting work with them on a virtual project.
As part of preparation, I like to know about my role and key areas before participating in a project. Knowledge of the scope of the project and the expertise I can bring to the team are important for me. I find it helpful to prepare an outline of the project and share it with others.
During calls, it is imperative that we speak clearly and attentively, and listen while others speak. I don’t think it is required to use a British or American accent when speaking English unless you are properly trained in these. I have learned to speak in a warm voice, free of Indian regional accents.
I announce my name before I speak on a call. People might not always recognise your voice. I don’t multitask while attending a call (sometimes I feel tempted though!) and I am not hesitant to ask questions when required.
I try to avoid using colloquial or archaic English (e.g., kindly, revert back etc.), passive voice and indirect sentences while writing emails.
‘Thank you, Please, Excuse me, and Sorry’ are the magic words for me and they come in extremely handy during virtual communications. I openly appreciate it if another team member from a different time zone is working extra hours for the team meeting. You will be amazed to see how your genuine warmth reflects back to you.
I take notes during discussions, and these meeting minutes serve as helpful guidelines for me. For long-term projects, these notes are extremely valuable in keeping track of the deliverables and issue resolution. These notes are instrumental for me for many other dashboards.
During status meetings, discussions on issues and progress made are usually part of the agenda. We often face a situation where team members give information verbally without any evidence or support.
Keeping a log of different issues experienced by the team members and keeping the team members updated gives a positive outlook to others.This shows others that we are on top of the problem. Believe me, walking this extra mile really helps!
Latecomers are not appreciated in the virtual world too. We should show respect to others’ time. I inform others if I get caught in another meeting. Also, it is essential that while working from home, we must have fast Internet connectivity to perform well.
I prefer using bullets for long emails for easy reading, and always revise an email and check the attachment before clicking on the send button.
You must keep yourself updated about the state of the project. I try to be open to ideas coming from others and like others who follow similar work ethics.
An editor was once not very sure of an idea I wanted to write about. I persuaded her, being confident about the topic; she accepted my pitch and the article was well received by the readers. We both bonded stronger at work after that and it does not matter that we haven’t seen each other till now.
You might be sometimes asked to do additional tasks on a project. This can be a crucial situation. From my experience, the best bet here is to be polite and tell the team members that you need time to think. Come back with the required information and how do you plan to take in (or not take in) the new activity. I am still learning to do this!
As a freelance writer, I try to keep my promises regarding deliverables and there have been instances when my clients could not use my write-ups as planned, but they have still paid me since I kept my part of the bargain. This is an essential part of working in the virtual world.
We might not always be able to keep our words but the more we do, the more success we would get in working with unseen colleagues.
It may happen that your piece of work gets completely scrapped by others and you need to re-work on it. It happens to all of us and we are bound to feel sad about it. I feel sad too, but then, I try to take a deep breath and a small break from that project. Then I try to understand why the piece got scrapped and try to gather all the pieces together. It works most of the time and I come up with a better result.
I have learned that talking about Bollywood can perk up many an Indian colleague on the call and in the same way, wishing a ‘Happy Halloween’ to an American will make him grin! Having some knowledge of world festivals, a sense of good humour, laughing out aloud and a joke or two about the workload creates camaraderie for me.
I believe others remember the exchange of such personal notes for a long time and will help me re-connect the next time we cross roads with each other.
Following good work ethics and being engaged in the project is the key to keep us happy working even with people we have never seen.
Pic credit: Judy van der velden (Used under a CC license)
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