Virtual vs. Remote Communication

We’re often asked about managing a listener who isn’t in the room with you. And, we ask in return: Well, are you talking to them virtually or remotely? That almost always draws a quizzical look.

To solve the confusion, we clarify how we think about the two communication mediums. Remote communication means a call where the experience between the communicator and the listener is remote or distant. The word itself refers to an experience without connection. And, that’s how we view it. Remote communication is a voice without a focal point, and it’s the hardest way to connect with a listener. It works best with someone you talk to frequently who attaches a previous experience and impression to the remote setting.

Virtual communication gives the listener and the communicator the ability to see each other. By definition, virtual means leveraging technology to make something simulate something else. So, a virtual meeting simulates a live meeting, and a live meeting remains the best communication situation to drive engagement.

We coach people to be successful in either setting and although there may sometimes be technology limitations for choosing a remote option over a virtual one, there’s a clear difference in the listener’s experience and the communicator’s effectiveness.

So, it’s surprising that some communicators still choose remote methods. It may be a sign of putting your preference ahead of a listener’s. And from our perspective, that breaks the golden rule of communication. The listener’s experience should always be the priority.

If you’re still communicating remotely as a leader or a manager, here are some things to consider.


Leaders manage remote teams and as a result, they think their communication needs to be remote as well. When you consider that engagement is the challenge leaders call out about a remote team, it seems odd to ignore the tool that could establish a virtual connection every week.

Teams like to see each other and to see their leader. The visual snapshot helps put a name to a face, which more than doubles someone’s likelihood to be remembered. It encourages participation in a call and shifts the focus from talking to interacting.

Virtual Meetings: We help leaders understand the virtual experience and focus on how to manage the technology. It is more two dimensional than an in-person setting, so leaders learn to focus forward to strengthen the virtual snapshot. Technology can create challenges with shifting cameras and waiting to speak. It takes practice and modifying a few core skills to build a virtual brand.

Impact: When the listener comes back into focus, a leader works harder for a response and a connection. They spend more time on preparation because they feel more exposed and visible. And, in fact, they are. That’s not a bad thing. The bad experience comes in a remote meeting where a leader is more scattered and less focused on a listener. That’s permission to not really listen.

Remote Meetings: Keeping the listeners’ attention is the number one challenge with a remote medium. Leaders feel less pressure and put in less effort, and the remote medium requires just the opposite. It takes even more preparation and more facilitation to involve and engage a listener. And those are the two things we coach to improve results. We look closely at agendas and how they’re outlined for a remote listener. Remote meetings are rarely successful without advance agendas and supporting materials. Without the ability to see non-verbal cues, a leader has to plan for verbal cues. That puts a leader in more of a facilitation role, and it requires a new skill set.

Impact: When we ask teams about remote meetings run by their leaders, they admit that they aren’t always paying attention and they seldom get what they need through this format. However, the remote meeting can be successful if a leader develops a new approach and a more structured flow to a meeting. We help leaders learn how to facilitate these meetings differently and map out specific points of interaction with listeners.

But the best advice we give leaders is to recognize that their choices with these two mediums are often mimicked by their teams. And, that means that customers could be experiencing a real tradeoff.


In most workshops, we talk about virtual vs remote communication. And, I’ve heard every excuse for why managers don’t use virtual options.

  • “I don’t like for customers to look at me when I’m talking.”
  • “I feel more vulnerable and responsible when they see me.”
  • “I don’t have a very professional setting/backdrop for customer calls in my home.”
  • “I don’t like getting dressed for calls.”
  • “Our customers are traditional. They don’t like technology.”

At the core of most comments is what the communicator wants; not what the listener may prefer. I was taken back at one company to hear a group talk about how interactive and collaborative their internal meetings are. When I asked about virtual customer communications, they were quick to say they don’t like using it. So, the collaboration they show internally is never seen by the customer. Isn’t that a mistake?

Of course, it is. Every company talks about innovation and collaboration, and a great way to illustrate it is by leveraging technology for a virtual experience. If you deal with difficult conversations with customers, they are less likely to become aggressive and more likely to listen if they see you.

Virtual Meetings: To a customer audience, they don’t know the difference in an on-site worker and a remote worker. Everyone is remote to them until you go to their location. But, you can leverage a virtual setting to build a relationship with them. Connection is stronger when you see someone, and that’s true of your customers. The attributes that you want to convey in communication…honesty, authenticity and warmth…come through in a visual view of you.

Impact: Relationships move faster and trust builds quicker. In a virtual meeting, you’re a real person to me and not just a name in my email. But, it may take some effort on your part to nudge your customers to this medium.

Remote Meetings: Listeners have also developed bad habits around remote communication. They don’t fully listen, they multi-task and they are much more likely to cancel a remote call. We coach employees how to strengthen a remote call with advance materials and a clear takeaway for the listener. Then, we help them tighten the storyline and focus on clear takeaways that the listener will value.

Impact: A communicator can build interest and drive actions with a remote listener. But, it takes participation, a well-thought-out agenda and facilitation skills to a keep a remote listener active in a conversation.

It’s OK not to be a natural at virtual communication; few communicators are. Most need some guidance to lead it well. But, it isn’t OK to avoid it because it puts less pressure on you as a leader or a manager. You need to leverage virtual communication to focus on your listeners. And, we can help you do that.

SW&A teaches virtual workshops to illustrate the best way to run a virtual or remote meeting. And in 2019, we’ll expand our presence programs to focus more closely on the virtual communicator.

Call us when you need us.