Ever been in a virtual meeting and felt like something was… missing?

It’s not just you.

Those crucial nonverbal cues, like smiles and nods, can’t always be seen online, often causing mix-ups and a frustrating disconnect.

But here’s some good news: Overcoming the absence of these cues in virtual and hybrid teams is easier than you think.

In this article, we’ll discuss the nonverbal cues that often slip through the cracks among virtual teams and share some practical tips to help you and your team stay on the same wavelength.


Quick Answer: Virtual teams can overcome the lack of some or all nonverbal cues in team communication by:

  • Communicating clearly and directly, as well as clarifying information when needed
  • Using high-quality video conferencing tools
  • Using positive body language and emoji reactions when appropriate
  • Looking into the camera while speaking
  • Using hand gestures
  • Giving everyone a chance to speak
  • Participating in informal virtual get-togethers

7 Ways Virtual Teams Can Overcome the Lack of Some or All Nonverbal Cues in Team Communication

Here’s a list of seven common types of nonverbal cues that are often missed during online meetings, plus tips you and your team can use to overcome them.

1. Tone of Voice

Misinterpretation of tone can be the result of:

This misinterpretation often leads to misunderstandings, which can result in lower productivity and costly mistakes.

Here are some solutions for tone of voice issues:

  • Encourage transparent and direct communication, both verbal and written. Be extra clear and precise about your meaning and feelings to avoid misinterpretation.
  • Set communication guidelines to clear up any confusion.
  • Clarify intent if the potential for misinterpretation exists. E.g., say, “I’m joking” or “This is urgent,” depending on the scenario.
  • React and clarify quickly if a misunderstanding occurs.
  • Schedule check-ins to ensure everyone is on the same page.

tone usage matters for teams

2. Facial Expressions

Typically, we use facial expressions to show we’re listening or understanding. So, if those are missing, it’s harder to gauge whether others are engaged in or agree with what you’re saying. Here are some specific challenges:

  • Reading expressions on small screens or low-quality video calls can be difficult. For example, what looks like a frown might actually be a squint to better see the screen.
  • Team members may also be uncomfortable with constant video usage, resulting in them not turning on their cameras for virtual meetings and making it hard to read their emotions.
  • There’s also the concern of Zoom fatigue, which can impact people’s facial expressions and unintentionally make them convey the wrong messages.

Here are some solutions for facial expression issues:

  • Use high-quality video conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. Here’s a nice list of the top hybrid meeting tools.
  • Create a comfortable environment for video usage, and encourage team members to use their cameras. This shouldn’t be a challenge since 62% of remote employees prefer to be on camera during video calls, and when asked why, 67% said communicating is easier when they can see others’ expressions.
  • Use other visual cues, like shared screens, presentations, or virtual whiteboards, to help convey information and emotions.
  • Use emojis, reactions, and GIFs since they add an element of emotion or tone to written communication — and, as a result, partially substitute for facial expressions and gestures.

3. Body Language

Video calls limit the visibility of full body language. This makes it difficult to:

  • Show agreement or disagreement since we usually nod, shake our heads, or use hand gestures to agree or disagree.
  • Determine whether team members are engaged, paying attention, and understanding what’s being discussed in not only meetings but also remote collaboration. As a result, managers might find it challenging to assess team morale and stress levels.
  • Build trust and team spirit.

Here are some solutions for body language issues:

  • Actively show engagement by nodding, smiling, or using a thumbs-up during video calls.
  • Take regular breaks during longer meetings since team members might get too tired to use body language.
  • Use virtual reactions in video conferencing tools, like hand raises, claps, or thumbs-ups, to show agreement or ask questions.
  • Speak clearly and expressively.

body language

4. Eye Contact

It can be challenging for team members to maintain eye contact through a camera due to the camera angle or quality. This can result in the following challenges:

  • Meetings conducted via video call may feel less personal or engaging because where to look isn’t always clear.
  • It can be hard to show you’re paying attention and gauge reactions properly due to not being able to see where the team members are looking.

These things can make interactions awkward, negatively impact teamwork, or even hurt team relationships.

Here are some solutions for eye contact issues:

  • Look directly into the camera while you’re speaking.
  • Place your camera at eye level and close to your screen where the video feeds are displayed.
  • Use “Speaker View” on your video calling software.
  • Normalize looking away since that’s natural in a virtual environment.
  • Encourage active listening and verbal feedback. E.g., use phrases like “I see,” “Got it,” or “That makes sense.”

5. Gestures

Visibility of gestures on camera is limited, and this can lead to reduced expressiveness, less interaction and feedback, and awkwardness. Here are some of the main challenges of expressing gestures on video:

  • Poor video quality or delays can make gestures hard to see or understand. For example, team members might not see a thumbs-up, or a nod might come at the wrong time.
  • Gestures might be culturally misinterpreted.
  • A lack of gestures in virtual discussions can lead to misunderstandings or less dynamic communication.

Here are some solutions for gesture-related issues:

  • Adjust your camera so that those in the meeting can see your hand gestures.
  • Verbalize your gestures. For example, say, “I’m nodding in agreement” or “Thumbs-up from me.”
  • Be mindful of cultural differences in gestures.
  • Encourage everyone in the meeting to actively participate while using relevant gestures.
  • Describe emotions verbally. E.g., say things like “I’m excited about this” or “This concerns me.”

gestures

6. Silence

Silence — or a lack thereof — can be another easily misinterpreted nonverbal cue since it can indicate several things, such as being in thought, agreeing or disagreeing, confusion, or technical issues. If the issue is tech-related, a simple muted microphone or lag in connection might be the culprit.

Here are some challenges that can result from silence:

  • Silence can lead to minimal feedback since people usually mute themselves in virtual meetings, making it hard to gauge their engagement or understanding.
  • One person may not have seen a message in asynchronous communication, while the other believes they have, which can lead to frustration.
  • This can also lead to awkward pauses in conversation or even be mistaken for disengagement or lack of interest.

On the other hand, lack of silence can also be a problem since over-talking can lead to a chaotic and unproductive meeting or missed opportunities for input by quieter members.

Here are some solutions for silence-related issues during meetings:

  • Set up a system where each person gets a chance to speak.
  • Check for technical issues. Ask, “Can everyone hear me?” or “Is your microphone working?” to clear these up.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage participation.
  • Check-in on silent members for their input.
  • Normalize pausing to think before responding.
  • Set guidelines for muting to make it easier to give verbal feedback.
  • Use breakout rooms in larger meetings.

As for solutions for asynchronous communication, you can set response expectations for your team so that they know when and how to communicate.

7. Spatial Dynamics

A lack of physical presence can affect team dynamics in the following ways:

  • Collaboration and brainstorming might be less dynamic and more structured.
  • Knowing when someone’s free or busy without seeing them is more challenging, affecting task management in virtual and hybrid teams.
  • The onboarding process may be more challenging without the physical cues and interactions an office environment offers.
  • Training and mentoring lose the benefit of direct observation and informal questions.
  • Managing conflict without physical space to take breaks or read body language is more difficult.

These issues may also lead to difficulties creating a sense of closeness within the team.

According to professors Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley, remote workers have trouble working together because being apart makes it hard to share the same understanding, weakening their teamwork.

In some instances, this can even lead to feelings of isolation and unhappiness.

Here are some solutions for spatial dynamics-related issues:

  • Use virtual team-building activities to create a sense of closeness.
  • Encourage informal virtual gatherings, like virtual coffee breaks.
  • Foster a culture of honest and frequent communication.
  • Use virtual whiteboards, online brainstorming tools, and project management tools.
  • Create an interactive virtual onboarding program.
  • Use status updates on communication platforms to show when you’re available or busy to help with task coordination.

slack

What’s Next?

The best solution for virtual teams to overcome the lack of some or all nonverbal cues in team communication is to create a collaborative hybrid work environment. OfficeRnD Hybrid can help with that.

OfficeRnD Hybrid makes it easy to encourage team members to collaborate in the office with its collaborative scheduling features that allow teams to take full advantage of spatial dynamics. With it, you can book meeting rooms in seconds, meaning your team isn’t always stuck in virtual meetings and can use verbal and nonverbal communication fully.

You can also book desks and spaces in advance whenever you need them and connect with coworkers in the office.

Book a live demo and speak to one of our workplace experts so we can discuss the ideal solution for you. Alternatively, you can start for free with OfficeRnD Hybrid and see how it can benefit your workplace.

FAQ

Why Are Nonverbal Communication Cues Important?

Nonverbal communication cues can increase clarity and create a sense of community among team members. This enhances collaboration and contributes to a better company culture.

What Are the Communication Barriers in Virtual Teams?

While there are many barriers to effective communication for virtual teams, technology issues, a lack of social cues, and language barriers are among the most crucial. These barriers can lead to conflict, confusion, mistrust, and low productivity.

How Can We Ensure Effective Communication in a Virtual Team?

The best way to ensure your virtual team works successfully is by always encouraging clear and honest communication. You can also set goals, schedule regular check-ins with team members, and provide consistent feedback.

How Can You Help Team Members Read Nonverbal Cues in Communication?

You can help team members read nonverbal cues by encouraging awareness of body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice during interactions. Offering training sessions on nonverbal communication skills and promoting an environment of open feedback can also enhance their ability to interpret these cues effectively.

How Can Communication be Improved in Virtual Groups?

Improving communication in virtual groups can be achieved by utilizing clear and concise language, incorporating regular video calls to foster a sense of connection, and ensuring consistent updates through collaborative online tools. Establishing clear communication protocols and encouraging active participation also enhance group dynamics.

How Can Virtual Teams Address the Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction and Build Team Cohesion?

Virtual teams can address the lack of face-to-face interaction and build cohesion by scheduling regular video meetings to foster personal connections, organizing virtual team-building activities to strengthen relationships, and encouraging informal virtual coffee chats to simulate office watercooler conversations. These strategies promote a sense of unity and collaboration.

Why Virtual Teams Have More Difficulty in Communicating with Their Members?

Virtual teams face more communication challenges due to the absence of non-verbal cues, reliance on digital communication tools that may lead to misunderstandings and time zone differences that can delay responses and hinder real-time collaboration. These factors complicate the conveyance of tone and intent, potentially impacting team dynamics.

How Virtual Meeting Facilitators May Overcome Communication Challenges?

Virtual meeting facilitators can overcome communication challenges by employing clear and structured agendas, using interactive tools to engage participants, and ensuring that all members have opportunities to contribute. They can also provide training on effective online communication practices and select platforms that best suit the team’s needs, thereby enhancing interaction and understanding.

Asen Stoyanchev
Senior Content Marketing & SEO Specialist | OfficeRnD
Asen is passionate about flexible working and the future of work. He firmly believes that work flexibility directly impacts one's health and well-being. When he's not writing, Asen spends his time devouring business literature, hiking, and parenting.