To effectively connect, ask early and often of those with whom you deal, "How do you prefer to communicate?" Then use the channel that person prefers over the one you prefer.
One CEO I interviewed for The Virtual Executive has an aversion to cellphones and e-mail and prefers leaving voice messages using his iPad. Another CEO prefers yellow sticky notes left on his desk for incoming messages. And a different one installed—in 2011—a loudspeaker system in his company headquarters over which he broadcasts everything from simple directives to the latest news several times a day.
So one good potential first action to having a dynamic presence in a virtual workplace is to find out the preferred communication channel of the person, or people, you are speaking with and accommodate this preference.
A second action is to strive for the common theme, the "something" that connects you together no matter how far apart—age, experience, culture, language, geography, and the rest that could be separators instead of unite-ers.
A third action is for you to consistently and persistently work to leave a positive lasting impression regardless of the communication channel you use. Although technology enables you to do things more quickly, to bond and connect today you will get further faster by being slower and deliberate in your communication. There is a time and a place for phone calls or texting, e-mails, video chat, and social networks—pick the right one based on what type of information, type one or type two, you are conveying.
With overwhelming technological advances it is easy to lose sight of the human aspect of communication because we do not have to face people and actually see them in the flesh. People attempt to process you and treat you like a commodity or transaction as compared to developing meaningful interaction. It’s up to you to fight that habit in yourself and in allowing others to do it to you. That’s your fourth action.
Mobile devices and smart phones are obviously not just for talking. You can check e-mail; listen to music; play mobile games; watch videos and download and display TV shows; browse the Web; schedule and organize your calendar; get voice guided directions; take and send photos and video. The cell phone is a watch, alarm clock, stopwatch, calculator, address book, and a wallet to pay for purchases with bar code readers—and access about a thousand apps. It’s pretty much up to human imagination as to what one can do with a mobile device today, let alone in the future!
The drawback of mobile devices is that you are undeniably reachable at all times, and you have an obligation to respond. There is a perceived accessibility expected seven days out of seven. Senders hold an implied connectedness whether you want to be reached or not.
A cellphone, however, is for your convenience; you don’t have to be a slave to it or be at its disposal. I overheard some people weighing which bike trail to take and ask, "Which has the best cellphone reception?" I think that’s just not right. Such technology is meant to help improve our lives, not become a distraction.
Unless your phone is bugged, it’s generally a good communication channel to discuss confidential information, touchy subjects, and sensitive issues. If you have bad news or things are getting tense and you need to challenge, correct, or disapprove of someone’s behavior, the phone is better than putting it in writing. If there is anything that could be misinterpreted in writing, or you need to reduce the risk of being misread, phone. Also, though it shows more nerve to deliver bad news in person, it is not always possible, so the phone is the next best option.
With a verbal exchange you have a better chance of getting people to tell you what’s on their mind than when it’s being screened through a written channel; intonation helps convey appreciation for their time and attention.
Excerpted from The Virtual Executive: How to Act Like a CEO Online and Offline by Debra Benton, available from McGraw-Hill.
[Image: Flickr user Courtland]