If you have ever attempted a long distance relationship, you know it can be as trying as it sounds. As the topic comes up, people’s commiserative facial expressions are as blatantly obvious as a wood floor creaking in a noiseless room. And just like most loving relationships, the largest contributing factor with failed working relationships is basic communication — or the lack thereof.
I have been working semi-remotely for many years now, and as a result, I’ve experienced both successes and failures while collaborating with teams. Whether you’re the one living away from headquarters or if your entire team is strewn across the globe, this can be a great perk for people if the housing costs aren’t affordable or the top talent resides elsewhere.
Although a lovely perk, working remotely can be very difficult. Teams often times fall apart while letting the distance come between them. Let’s face it, it’s easy to blame failure on the fact that you’re not physically present enough to grow the relationship beyond what becomes that routine, nightly phone call echoed by those three magic words your significant other loves to hear so much.
“I love you.”
It’s also important to note that people aren’t always empathetic towards others for being remote in the first place. Sometimes people will–albeit unintentionally–signal that it’s an inconvenience you’re not actually there with them. Your absence can quickly make you become out of sight, and out of mind. You need to make it your responsibility to accommodate others more than you typically would in day-to-day work life.
To do that, you need to be proactive. In person, it’s easy to get together to talk so you can move on from the situation. But, in a long distance relationship, there are many speed bumps to overcome just so you can even start the conversation, such as: time coordination, method of communication, dropped calls, poor data connection, calling back to a busy signal, phone is almost dead, transmission latency, and so on. The same goes for dialing into work meetings.
Here are 10 helpful ways to be effective at working remotely:
It’s always safe to assume people don’t know what you’re thinking. You’ll find the more you communicate with others, the more they will reciprocate. If you don’t tell them, they will simply just never have known. Ask them questions, tell them what you’re doing, be responsive, and get over that you think you’re bugging them too much. The more you communicate, the shorter the physical distance between you appears. One short messaging conversation can equate to a two hour email thread.
- Share Frequently and Get Feedback More Often
Constantly send screenshots and ideas. People like this. Give them a glimpse into your head throughout the day so they can see your creative process. Make it known that you should share your unfinished work in progress. A single reply from a teammate can steer your entire project in a better direction. Get feedback on your work early on so you can evolve sooner.
- Move Quickly
Having a quicker turn around time constantly reminds people you’re on top of the task and they have nothing to worry about. When people can’t physically see something happening around them, they don’t know whether it’s getting done or not. Burn through the ideas quickly to show your progress, get feedback, then continue refining from there.
- Build Trust
Being remote doesn’t mean you can’t build a strong rapport. Build trust in your team by constantly reminding them how dependable you are. You can do this by being the first one to respond in threads, providing your feedback, leading initiatives, and not just delivering your work on time, but delivering it early.
- Openly Voice Your Opinion
Be the first to respond. People have short term memories, so keep hammering it in that you’re here and you have an opinion. Provide feedback on other people’s work and be convicted, without ego. Be understanding and find that balance in the difference of opinions without ending in a dreadful compromise.
- Be a Leader
One of the qualities a leader has is that you actively know what to do next, without being told to do so. You need to take the initiative to drive the team. Do things like having something exciting for everyone to see when they look at their phones as they wake up in the morning. Set their tone for the rest of the day.
- Set Expectations
Although you need to take more responsibility on yourself, this is a two way street. It’s up to you to make sure your team knows how to work best with you, as well. If they aren’t regularly sharing progress with you, bug them. Ask them questions every day. Make it known that your awareness matters a lot, and affects the outcome of the project.
- Get Physical Face Time
In the end, working with people face-to-face is the most ideal experience. People will learn to appreciate it when you are there. Sometimes seeing people less makes the time that you do have together much more effective. Distance really can make the heart grow fonder. If you can’t physically be present, have your closest teammate be the eyes on the ground for you so they can keep you informed of hearsay.
- Understand Video Conferencing Etiquette
Every person on a video call needs to understand this: the microphones are your lifeline and they pick up everything. Granola bar wrappers sound like they’re a crinkling thunderstorm, pens tapping on the table sound like the building foundation is about to give out, and side conversations sound like a conference hall of 1,000 people. Respect that the situation is unique and different. Everyone’s goal should be to walk out feeling like it was just as productive as any other meeting. Video conferencing is the new normal, whether your company has accepted that yet or not.
- Get the Best Equipment
A half second video lag feels like it might as well be a five second lag. It ruins every conversation. Get the fastest internet. Get a fast computer. Get a good microphone. Get personal space. Get decent lighting. Make it feel like it was just as effective as sitting next to each other in a room.
Remember, working remotely isn’t a get out of jail free card. It means that you need to be more vigilant and proactive. Just like in your long distance relationship, sometimes a simple message will make you a much better team.