How to build better remote work relationships

4 tips to connect with your virtual co-workers to build intimacy and trust

Photo from Unsplash by Kevin Curtis

Last week I talked about why building relationships is essential for good collaboration. In this post, I want to share a few tips you can use to do that, to build and deepen your remote work relationships.

In virtual teams building personal relationships does not happen spontaneously, which means we have to consciously plan for these encounters to occur.

Add the social exchange of in-person meetings to your virtual meetings

When we attend in-person meetings, people tend to trickle in and we end up chatting with one or the other participant while we wait for the meeting to start. We talk about the weather, get updated on private life, find out about that new project the other person got assigned to and many other things. Importantly, these conversations are private and they are by no means limited to work.

In virtual meetings, people also trickle in but we do not have these discussions. Instead, we (silently) wait for the meeting to start, and dive directly into the tasks that need to be resolved… and lose a great opportunity to connect with our co-workers.

For many people asking personal questions in a space where more than the person I am asking is present and can hear me, is just uncomfortable, if not awkward. Yet, most modern meeting applications have a chat feature, I could use to talk with one other person in private. Use it.

Another way to add a more personal dimension is to make it part of your meeting agenda. Add a check-in, during which everyone in the meeting briefly shares how they are and what is going on in their lives. Not only does it foster relationship building, it also gives people some time to arrive mentally, especially those, who jump from meeting to meeting with little breathing time in between.

Propose team meetings without a set business agenda

Another way to accomplishing the same is to set up recurring meetings without a set business agenda. Everyone can bring their issues and ideas regardless of urgency or importance. This is a great way of fostering creativity and can spur a lot of innovative initiatives, but it also gives a space for the team to get to know each other outside of the task-list and deadline frenzy.

If your immediate need is more that of strengthening relations, you can emphasise socialising even more by making it a virtual coffee break. A regular meeting at a set time, during which everyone who is available gathers and talks.

In presence teams this happens in an organic, ad-hoc way, when people meet over coffee or lunch, or cross paths in the hallways or at the water cooler. In virtual teams this does not happen spontaneously, which means we have to consciously plan for social encounters to occur.

Have one-on-one (coffee break) meetings

In the same spirit, you can also take the initiative and connect with your colleagues one-on-one. Instead of grabbing a coffee across the street, or in the cafeteria with the people physically around you, propose to meet for coffee virtually: each one of you gets a coffee, tea or whatever, and then you meet virtually and get to know each other or catch up, no agenda or objective needed.

If there is good wifi and you have a laptop you can even sit in some other place other than your desk to get into a more relaxed and social mood.

Become more conscious about how you use in-person time

We often take the value of spending time in the same place at the same time for granted. I have seen many remote teams, who see each other rarely in person, use the only 2 days they are together in one place to do work they get done every day working remotely.

So, when you do have little time in person with your colleagues, reflect about the usefulness of different activities. With my own team, we try to maximize socialising (nothing better than getting a coffee, lunch or going out for happy hour together to deepen a relationship), have difficult conversations, but also to take team photos for marketing and product development.

Connecting as humans, getting to know each other beyond work, and thus deepening relationships happens more naturally in in-person teams. Remote teams have to make an extra effort and actively plan for personal interactions. Only this way, will they develop enough intimacy and trust to become high-performing teams.

Are you new to remote work and need help to get organized? I help you navigate this new world of work. Depending on your needs, I can help you improve your virtual meetings, communicate more effectively through email or in online team spaces, conduct difficult conversations, or lead a remote team.

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