Keeping work relationships strong and connected when you work from home

Are you one of the 3.3 million full-time professionals, excluding volunteers and the self-employed, who consider your home as your primary place of work? (Source: GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com)

Working from a home office has changed over the last decade. More tools are available, and most contacts are understanding (or even expecting) you to be working from a non-brick and mortar corporate setting.

Working as part of a virtual team can be as productive — and IMHO sometimes more productive — as traditional F2F teams. These tips will strengthen your connection with virtual colleagues:

Create boundaries and guidelines for yourself

  • Regularly communicate using Skype video or Google Hangouts. Email text can be misconstrued. Speaking F2F via video helps better convey your points.
  • Set work hours for yourself and stick to them as much as possible. Virtual colleagues appreciate and gain peace of mind knowing your regular availability.
  • Dress for work. It’s likely a jacket and tie aren’t necessary, but you’ll feel more productive and be ready for impromptu contact with your virtual colleagues.

Use tools to communicate and collaborate effectively

Here are a few of my favorite tools for communicating and collaborating with virtual colleagues:

  • Skype. The de facto video conferencing, instant messaging, and group conferencing tool.
  • Basecamp. A great project management tool to allow groups to discuss projects, share files, create to-do lists and assign tasks to appropriate team members, as well as calendaring for larger efforts such as social media editorial calendars or project milestone dates.
  • Slack. File sharing, messages, images and more happen in Slack groups, with quick sharing and discussion at the click of a mouse or touch of your finger.

Not in this list: SMS. I get quite a few SMS requests from colleagues and clients, and it’s not my preferred methodology because SMS is not always reliable. You may not be able to avoid communicating via SMS, but consider suggesting alternate tools for communication and connection.

Strengthen your virtual connections

Out of site might be out of mind, so virtual collaboration requires more effort to stay connected and build relationships.

  • Have regularly scheduled conference calls or reviews
  • Send recaps to colleagues so they know where you are in working through group projects
  • Meet colleagues using tools most comfortable to them, and be willing to flex. Slack may not work for some groups. If a system you’ve established isn’t getting used, find out why, and work together to create communication methods that all team members are comfortable with.

Working virtually and keeping strong work relationships when you work at home takes some experimentation, effort, and patience. The reward is enhanced productivity and strong, productive virtual connections.