Valued Communication in a Virtual Workplace

When it comes to virtual workspaces, clear communication is the name of the game. You might think you’re communicating effectively with your team, but, chances are you might be saying more than you think…

I’ve been interviewing people to get input for my Valued Workforce project, and I’ve received some incredible insights. One group that has really stood out to me is the designers I’ve spoken with as they’ve shared what makes them feel undervalued and underappreciated in the workplace.

When Silence Isn’t Golden

Time and time again, I’ve heard that one thing they struggle with is when you don’t hear back on a submission…not immediately, not within a 24-hour period, and sometimes not at all.

Let’s say a designer was hired to create a website. They start the design process and formulate a wire frame. Maybe they just mapped out a sample design, or they even started scoping out the website, giving their client an idea of where the project could go and what that could look like.

Next, they submit the link to the client and are anxiously waiting for a response. And then it’s crickets. Nothing is being sent back. Nothing AT ALL.

At first, they may brush it off and assume the client is busy and probably just hasn’t had time to look at it. Then time goes by, and the next day, they realize there’s still been no response.

By the end of that second day, they’re going to start feeling like the client must hate it because they didn’t even take the time to reply back. The designer is waiting for an indication that their client is ready for the next step — whatever that may be.

“In the virtual workspace, silence is NOT golden.”

No Response Makes You Feel Undervalued

I used a designer for this example, but you don’t have to be a designer to know exactly how this feels. When you don’t get a response, it feels like the client doesn’t value your time, energy, or effort.

Now, I totally understand people are busy. I get it. But when someone, (especially a creative person), puts their heart and soul into developing or creating something then hands it over and doesn’t hear anything for days on end, it feels really crappy.

Even if the response that finally comes back is very, very short, at least it’s something. Getting comments like ”I think it needs editing here, here, here, and here,” or “I think it needs tweaking here and here and here. I don’t think this will work,” provides some direction.

Even if it’s something that’s not going to be positive, that’s okay, because not everything is going to be top notch on the first try. So, if the feedback received isn’t going to be all rainbows and sunshine, it’s all about the delivery. 

Clear Communication = Less Anxiety

When you’re the one giving feedback, you need to consider how the other person is going to feel when they read your response. Yes, it’s business, but you need to put yourself in their shoes.

The longer it is between the time that you’ve had a chance to review the work and the time you’ve gotten around to responding back, the more the tone and delivery have to be taken into account.

Let’s say you’re really busy or maybe you haven’t had a chance to look at whatever has been sent to you. Maybe there’s another person on your team who manages your inbox or a project manager, and they don’t know how you feel about it yet because you haven’t had time to look at it.

There’s nothing wrong with sending back, “Thanks so much. Got the link. We’ll take a look at it and give you notes as soon as possible,” or “We’ll get you some notes by the end of the week.”

“In the virtual workspace, silence produces anxiety.”

The point here is that you need to send back some sort of acknowledgment so the person who sent you the work feels recognized.

This simple gesture can make a world of difference in how the other person perceives how you feel about their value. The other person doesn’t feel like they’ve just sent it out into the wind and nothing’s come back.

If you’re the one submitting the work and waiting for a reply, it’s totally okay to follow up after a few days. A simple “Hey, just making sure that you got this link.” If the person replies, even if it’s just to say they haven’t gotten to it yet, then you’ll feel totally fine.

The point here is that the anxiety the service provider is feeling could’ve been avoided completely had a response been sent in the first place. The truth is, everybody feels this anxiety from time to time — whether they want to admit it or not.

To be clear, this isn’t just a web design or creative thing. It applied to any type of work.

When you don’t acknowledge someone’s communication with you — even within your team — it just tells the other person you’re not paying attention to them, and you don’t really care. It might not be how you really feel but it’s how the other person is likely going to interpret it.

Setting the Right Expectations

Now, before you get all gung-ho and start firing off emails left and right, you need to pause and think before you speak. In a case where you don’t like the work they’ve sent you, you need to take a step back and ask yourself some questions.

Did you give them the full scope, all of the parameters, or enough of a reference point to be clear on what you wanted before they started?

This matters because, sometimes, people will say they don’t like something, but they didn’t provide any direction for the project. No prep work was really done. So, of course, the other person’s going to take creative reins on it because they weren’t given any kind of roadmap of what was wanted!

If you don’t like the work, or it totally misses the mark of what you’re trying to achieve, you can absolutely deliver that feedback. It’s just all about how you do it. A friendly “I appreciate what you did here, however, I was looking for something more in the vein of …” is a kind way to share your concerns.

You need to acknowledge the fact that the work was done, and yet it wasn’t what you had expected to see visually or creatively from your point of view. There’s a way of addressing this without making the other person feel like crap.

Communicating Effectively for Best Results

All of this comes down to the different ways we communicate.

We have to remember that when we’re communicating digitally, everything can be misinterpreted. You might not mean a short reply like “Thanks” to be taken in a bad way, but thanks with a period just feels a little short.

This is why punctuation matters.

If there was an exclamation mark at the end of “Thanks,” it implies an uplifted tone at the end. This might seem nitpicky, and I realize that I’m asking you to scrutinize every sentence that you put out there, but there’s a good reason for this.

“In the virtual workspace, punctuation is EVERYTHING. “

When you’re sharing communication with an online team, how you write, what you include in your sentence structure, and how you use punctuation, makes a big difference on how it’s received on the other end.

You don’t get to see the person’s face, you don’t get to speak to them in person and deliver your words in the way that you mean them. You’re having to type them out, and it can feel so different to the person who’s interpreting your words.

Whenever you’re issuing feedback, regardless of what it is and in whatever manner you’re communicating with your team, I would implore you to pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Make sure that you understand how it might be received and perceived by the person on the other end.

How do you feel your communication is with your team? Have you ever experienced silence in your virtual workspace? Share your experiences in the comments area below!


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