How to Improve Virtual Communication in the Time of COVID

By Sean Flavin October 20th, 2020

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: We’re spending a lot more time at home these days, including during work hours. As many Americans continue to work from home, we’ve had to re-think how we communicate with our co-workers. For better or worse, virtual communication has become our “new normal.”

Has that sentiment become a cliché? Yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we communicate. Companies must embrace this transition to virtual communication and implement strategies that align with how different individuals prefer to communicate.

To help leaders understand how to communicate effectively in a virtual environment, Captive Resources (CRI) invited Dave Mitchell to present at our weekly Risk Control Webinar Series. Mitchell is a renowned speaker, author of several books on workplace culture, and the Founder and President of The Leadership Difference.

Mitchell covered various topics on communication in the workplace and its evolution since the beginning of the pandemic. Continue reading for Mitchell’s thoughts on how workplace communication has changed and his advice for leaders on how to communicate based on employees’ unique preferences.

A Change in Workplace Communication

In traditional communication theory, there are two main types of communication – formal and informal. Both communication types are essential in the workplace, but the pandemic has created a significant imbalance toward formal communication.

Formal communication is commonly vertical in nature, often involving leadership directives or team member updates. Examples include group meetings (in-person or virtual), individual meetings (e.g., one-on-ones with a superior), memos or emails describing policies, etc.

Informal communication is, as you may have guessed, much less formal. Examples include breakroom conversation, small talk with co-workers, texts/direct messages, and gatherings outside of work. While this type of communication isn’t structured, required, or organized, it can be essential in the workplace.

“Informal communication is — ironically — broader, more efficient, and more fun,” said Mitchell. “Which do you miss more working from home? Do you miss the weekly staff meeting or the chats in the hallway with your work friends?”

But working remotely can make this type of communication more difficult. Sure, you can chat, text, or call your co-workers, but those lack the same kind of interaction as in-person communication. On top of that, Mitchell posited that some leaders are unsure of how to manage remotely and hold employees accountable, which has led to an increase in formal meetings.

“The end result is exhaustion,” said Mitchell. “We’re not getting the rejuvenate effects of small talk, breakroom conversations, and things of that nature.”

To counter this fatigue, Mitchell offered several tips to help leaders embrace informal virtual communication.

  • Promote Small Talk: Plan out times for your team to catch up with what’s going on in their personal lives.
  • Consider Smaller, Shorter Meetings: Keep meetings as personal as possible by only inviting the colleagues who need to be there.
  • Create Social Teams to Touch Base Each Week: Try implementing a version of the buddy system by creating teams of 2-4 colleagues responsible for touching base with one another. Make sure your colleagues know to focus on non-work topics (e.g., how they’re handling the demands brought on by the pandemic).
  • Explore Alternatives to Virtual Meetings: Before scheduling a meeting, consider if you could take care of it by jumping on a quick call or sending an email. “We’ve reached the point where we might want to look at Zoom as a final option, not a first option,” advised Mitchell.

Interactive Style Preferences

Some people have transitioned to virtual communication relatively seamlessly, while others have had more trouble adapting. To explain why this is, Mitchell discussed four main interactive style preferences that individuals typically fall into. Each style has unique attributes and preferred communication methods.

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By understanding how each style prefers to communicate, leaders can develop individual communication strategies.


According to Mitchell, Romantics are probably the most impacted by a lack of informal communication. Mitchell offered up some tips to keep Romantics engaged in a virtual environment like:

  • Start meetings with personal questions.
  • Set up casual touch bases just to catch up.
  • Encourage both audio and video interactions during meetings.


“On some level, I think Warriors kind of like working from home,” said Mitchell. “They thrive with independence and feel like this gives them more freedom to get things done.”

To improve virtual communication with Warriors, Mitchell provided tips like:

  • Evaluate the need for each meeting and consider whether an email would suffice.
  • Begin meetings with deliverables (Warriors are driven by results, not relationships).
  • Avoid over-managing and providing extraneous details.


“I could see this being a very stressful time for Experts,” Mitchell said. “They don’t like chaos, and the pandemic has certainly been chaotic.”

To communicate with Experts, leaders should try to keep things as structured as possible and implementing tips like:

  • Start and end meetings on time.
  • Stick to factual information.
  • Consider recordings of meetings for future reference.


Masterminds were likely the early adopters of virtual communication when the pandemic hit, but this group is likely burnt out by now. According to Mitchell, “after the first three months, they probably grew tired of this and are looking forward to what’s next.”

Here are some tips to help keep Masterminds engaged:

  • Use varied and unique tools like chat polls, videos, and graphics to complement audio and video presentations.
  • Create interaction with open-ended questions and discussions.
  • Make meetings short but high energy.

To learn more about Dave Mitchell’s work, check out and his author page on Amazon.

About the Webinar

This presentation was part of CRI’s Risk Control Webinar Series — weekly installments of webinars to educate the group captive members we work with on topics like workplace safety, organizational leadership, and company performance. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these webinars are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect CRI’s positions on any of the above topics.

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