Conversing Effectively in a Virtual Office

With the emergence of the mobile workplace, employees and bosses alike have found more freedom and control over their time. They have started to shift their focus and goal of at least one accomplishment a day to doing multiple tasks over an eight-hour workday – all without having to come into their places of work. This is especially true for freelancers, since having access to a virtual office allows both workers and project managers to optimize their time in sharing input and multitasking by shaving off (or eliminating altogether) the need to be physically present in an office setup. However, with this newfound freedom comes the main concern for an organization separated by more than cubicles – effective communication.

For leaders, being with their employees and functioning in a common place of work is very important for effective communication. From weekly conference meetings to short talks at the water cooler, workers often deliberate ideas, plan courses of action, and carry out their duties from face to face discussions.

How then can you effectively get your ideas across if your organization meets frequently over the Internet, and not at company headquarters? While it is true that you can telecommute and hold meetings via Skype and other programs with both video and audio options, it is still much different, and rather difficult, to emphasize a point if all of you only see each other on screen.

This is where conversational leadership comes in. Having this, according to the Institute for Conversational Leadership, is to have “…keen attention, self-discipline, and a certain kind of artistry in engaging and communicating with others.”

In their book, “Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power their Organizations”, Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind enumerate the key components of an effective conversational leader:

  • Intimacy. Personal nearness and reading body language is ineffective for a company where offices are separated by continents. Particularly true for those working from their homes, Groysberg argues that intimacy in this instance requires emotional or psychological closeness. Trust, authenticity, and sincerity can still be built from virtual meetings by keeping in mind that all of you share a single vision – making it work together and contributing to growth.
  • Interactivity. Communication being two-way is not particularly true. More than just talking back and forth, meaningful conversation evokes not just straight answers from participants in the course of a meeting, but the thought of having insights long after the dialogue took place. An evocative Skype call will have you continue to send emails to each other on ways to improve a draft long after you logged off.
  • Inclusion. Traditionally, managers often get feedback from immediate subordinates, and messages more often than not get tailored to suit certain needs. For a virtual organization, the concept of a managers-only meeting can be achieved by having a closed thread, inviting only manager-level contacts. However, a leader can also get unfiltered content straight from the grassroots level by having conversations with employees, giving them freedom to share their unfettered views free from a corporate setting. This will give everyone not only a chance to air their insights, but a feeling that they too, are important to the business.
  • Intentionality. While meetings and instructions over the Internet might sound like talks between friends, an effective conversational leader always keeps the agenda in mind. Set the tone and the direction. You might schedule a pitch for the next round of finance write-ups and it segues into talks about house mortgages. You will always be the one to steer the talk back to its course and draw out the goals for that meet.

With most of exchanges today happening virtually, the power of conversation has already shifted. From reading both overt and subtle reactions from face to face talks, effective communication now measures how successful you are in getting your point across wires and distances. Being an effective conversational leader will give you a significant advantage when working in cyberspace.

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