It doesn’t matter if you’re just transitioning to remote work, a seasoned pro, or working from home partially, there’s one thing all remote workers have to do: build meaningful connections with their remote team members. Because even though you’re an office of one, you’re still a part of a team. And being part of a team means you and your team need to work together to get results.
This doesn’t mean that you have to find new best friends (but it could). And, it doesn’t mean making work front and center in your life. What it does mean, though, is acknowledging that one of the biggest challenges of remote employees face is bonding with coworkers when you’ve got physical distance, a computer screen, and possibly several time zones between you.
Building relationships on any team isn’t easy. And being a remote or work-from-home team makes it that much harder. But with some thoughtful planning, and our helpful tips, you can start building strong relationships with remote coworkers and strengthening your team today.
Tips to Help You Build Strong Connections with Remote Team Members
1. Intentional Communication
Easily, one of the biggest challenges remote workers face is remembering to keep in touch! When it’s just you in your home office (or you’re plugged in at the coffee shop), it can be easy to forget that you’ve got a team that would love to chat with you about work or even life outside of work.
Set aside time once a week to check in with your boss and coworkers to talk shop—or not talk shop. For example, schedule a virtual coffee break or lunch with coworkers. Hang out in the virtual break room and talk about whatever you would if you were meeting in the break room in person.
2. Write Well
Remote workers use written communication more than any other communication format. It’s far easier to have a chat window open for quick messages or send an email when necessary. Sure, you’ll still have calls, but for quick, low maintenance items, chat is most common.
However, it’s essential that when you use written communications, you write well, especially when writing your coworkers. And “writing well” means more than using proper grammar and ensuring your writing is clear (all though, those help).
One of the greatest pitfalls of written communication is that there are no verbal cues. You can’t see how someone on the other end of your email takes your jokes! And, even when you don’t mean to, sometimes, written communications can come off as curt, threatening even, when you stick with “just the basics.” Luckily, there are workarounds to help you build strong relationships with your remote colleagues.
For example, consider adding emojis or other written cues (like “sarcasm”) that show you’re kidding around. This can go a long way toward helping people understand you’re being silly or funny and not serious.
Also, don’t treat written communications as a “shortcut” to effective communications. Make sure you’re “softening” your message, even when you aren’t bringing up a difficult topic. Consider the following:
Ken: I need those numbers by Friday, please. Thanks
Of course, out of context, this message is kind of harsh. But, what if you were Ken, and you woke up to this as the first thing in your inbox on Monday morning? You might be upset or even concerned that you did something wrong. Or, worse, that you’re in trouble. Even though the message says “please,” the overall tone is borderline unfriendly.
Just like you might do in a real conversation, make an effort to be personable and friendly. Even if it’s perfunctory, it can make all the difference in how your message (and you!) are perceived—especially on a Monday morning.
Ken: Hope you had a great weekend! Please have those numbers to me by Friday. Thanks so much!
Ken still has work to do this week. But, by adding a friendly wish at the front, along with a “please” to the request, suddenly, the message doesn’t seem so harsh or demanding.
3. Know When the Written Word Won’t Cut It
The other major pitfall of written communications is that sometimes, it’s easy to get lost in the back and forth of the messages. Whether it’s asynchronous email or a slightly more synchronous instant message chat, it’s easy to lose track of who is saying what. And when that happens, you can find yourself chatting “at” somebody instead of “with” somebody.
You type one thing, the other person types something in response. Then, as you’re typing your response, the other person types a second thought as an addendum to the first one, so now you have two messages to respond to. So, you respond to those messages. But the other person responds to your second thought first, and your first thought second.
Overwhelming? Yes. Confusing? Yes. Frustrating? Yes.
Written communications are the go-to when you’re remote. However, just because they’re common or easier to use, it’s essential to recognize that sometimes, written messaging just won’t cut it.
When written communications—no matter the platform—are getting confused, heated, or no one knows what’s what, it’s time to acknowledge that fact. Then pick up the phone (or start a video chat) to keep clear up any written communication frustrations.
4. Switch to Video
On that same note, one of the great advantages of technology is that video chats are now possible for anyone with the right equipment and a decent internet connection. While video conferencing technology isn’t perfect, it can help to build strong relationships with remote employees when used in the proper scenarios (and yes, there are good and bad times for video depending on the circumstances).
Video has the advantage of giving you those visual cues you often miss with written and even verbal communications. Sure, there is sometimes a lag, but understanding body language can be important to improving the quality of a conversation.
And, just as important, you can learn more about your coworkers as people. Are they neat freaks? Do they have dog pictures up all over their office? Are they coffee or tea people? And, do they have a favorite mug for said beverage? Getting a glimpse into their home office can help you see who your coworkers are as people.
While using video chat might be distracting at first (what is my hair doing?), once you get used to it, you’ll probably find that a virtual meeting is just like being in the same room as your coworkers. And, over time, those video chats will help you grow and strengthen your team relationships.
5. Don’t Be All Business
One of the best things about working in an office (yes, there can be positives) is the opportunity for random conversations to happen. For example, if it’s someone’s birthday, there’s cake, of course. But there’s also the casual conversation that comes with the cake. During that celebration, you might learn that Jane has a dog she crochets sweaters for, and John has two kids that love soccer.
While you might have a virtual birthday celebration with remote coworkers (and you should because cake!), more often than not, your conversations may center more on business topics than personal ones.
To avoid “all work and no play” conversations, make some time in every meeting to have a “personal” chat. Icebreaker questions are a great way to start any virtual meeting to build relationships with remote employees (What’s your favorite food? Where is your favorite place to travel? What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?). They help you learn more about your colleagues as people, and they usually result in far more interesting and fun answers than talking about the weather.
It’s also important to ask the right questions. Specifically, don’t ask yes or no questions. Try to ask open-ended questions that are personal but not too personal. For example, instead of saying, are you going out this weekend, ask if somebody has plans this weekend. Give the other person a chance to talk as much (or as little) as they like. And over time, you’ll find that the conversations help create bonds with your coworkers.
6. Meet IRL
Building relationships with fellow remote employees doesn’t mean that you’re only allowed to meet online. While some companies sponsor retreats and meet-ups, not all do (or can). When that’s the case, see if you can arrange some real-life meet-ups yourself.
This doesn’t have to mean spending big bucks to hang out with your team. It’s possible some of your team already lives nearby, so arrange to meet somewhere in the middle for coffee or lunch. You can do it once a week, once a month, or even twice a year if that’s all you can manage.
Or if you’re headed somewhere on vacation, see if you’ve got coworkers that live at your destination and make plans to hang out (and get a local to show you the sites). You may not want to visit coworkers on your vacation, but spending a few hours with a remote team member while you’re already in their neck of the woods can help you build a strong and lasting professional relationship with that person.
Successfully Building Relationships With Fellow Remote Employees
Remote work doesn’t mean being isolated. Being part of a team means, well, you’re part of the team! Even when the rest of your team is scattered around the globe, remote employees can still build positive relationships with their coworkers. But a team is only as strong as its weakest link. So, support your team and ensure that no one is the weakest link by connecting and building relationships with everyone.
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Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
This is a version of an article that was originally published June 10, 2018.
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Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributor to the On Careers section of U.S. News & World Report…Read More >
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