Building relationships with colleagues who work remotely

Getting to know and work well with your colleagues is much easier when you see them each day.

But with more people working remotely, colleagues who work in different locations, and people working different rosters and shifts, we often don’t get the chance to really know our colleagues and develop a sense of teamwork.

Yet relationships with colleagues are still very important even when people work in different locations. And communication takes on an even greater importance, as it is easy for remote staff to feel out-of-the-loop and for misunderstandings to occur when you don’t see people face-to-face.

So, how do you develop strong, supportive relationships with colleagues who you don’t see every day?

  1. Talk about how you are going to manage your working relationship: Here people need to be more direct, letting each other know what you need for the relationship to work well. Open and honest communication becomes even more important when working with remote staff.  

    Remind each other that miscommunications are bound to occur. And when they do, this will be Ok - to assume the best of each other and reconnect to clarify the steps ahead.

  2. Schedule one-on-one meetings: You might have the luxury of every month catching up in person with a colleague who works in a nearby location, perhaps taking them out for lunch or a coffee. Remember that building rapport and getting to know each other is important for all relationships.

    However, if they are based interstate or overseas, the meetings might be less regular or simply by phone or video calls. Together, decide on the best way to catch up and develop a regular schedule for doing so.

  3. Watch your written communications: Communication can be a challenge in every workplace. Even more so when you do not see your colleagues every day. So, make sure you keep remote staff informed about what is happening in the office. Although most of the communication with is likely to be by email or text message, being personable and chatty in your emails is still an important part of relationship building.

    Given the lack of tone and body language, emoticons can be used to communicate emotion and nuance. Otherwise, make sure you use your words well to minimise the likelihood of misunderstandings. Remember, that sensitive matters are better handled in person or by phone.

  4. Bring people together: It may well be possible to bring people together for shared meetings or professional development. While I make a living delivering customised training for workplaces, I also I like to see colleagues sharing what they have learned from training they have attended.

    Consider also the possibility of providing catering for these events or asking people to bring in a plate to share over lunch. Human beings are social animals and we often like to connect over food (or drinks after work).

    When this is not easily possible to bring people together in person, consider a group phone or video call for such events. If everyone has internet access, I can certainly recommend Skype or GoToMeeting, software that facilitates such meetings.

    Of course, there are also social events, such as going out for dinner or attending a show together. It is important we appreciate that people do have commitments in their personal life, which can make it hard to attend such events. We can make it easier, of course, by scheduling time for team building and learning during work time.

  5. Consider temporary placements or role swaps between offices: You may well have team members who are open to temporarily working from another office or swapping roles with a colleague from another location. This can give the opportunity to appreciate the challenges of working remotely, as well as provide opportunities for relationship building within different teams.
  6. Use social media. Many managers are very sensitive to what is being posted on social media in case it reflects poorly on their workplace. However, social media can also be a great way of staying in touch with colleagues, particularly those who work remotely or are on leave.

    A shared, private Facebook page, which is only accessed and seen by colleagues, is one example of social media used for relationship building and communication. When social media is used well, information is easily shared, there is good humour, and people feel free to easily ask for or offer help when it is needed. For staff in remote locations, it is another way of feeling part of the larger team.

  7. Give regular, genuine, positive feedback. This is important to everyone, of course, even the self-motivated. But it is particularly important to people who work remotely as it is easy for them to feel isolated and wonder if their efforts are noticed and appreciated.

    So, take every opportunity to counter the challenges of working remotely with genuine, positive feedback, whether it is given by email, in person, by phone or at team meetings, when they are there. The absence of acknowledgement of effort or feedback that only focuses on the negative, can be tremendously demotivating. 

Remember, that we all have responsibility for contributing to stronger, more positive, team relationships. So, encourage your team members to reach out to their colleagues, particularly those who are new or working remotely.

To paraphrase a quote by Entrepreneur, Paul Argueta, remote workers alone have to do it. But they don’t have to do it alone.

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