As companies begin to think outside of the ‘in the office from 9-5’ paradigm, more and more Americans are working remotely. This can save employees long commutes and cut overhead costs for employers. It often allows workers to tailor their day to their needs and adjust their hours to accommodate international clients—it’s catching on fast. Some estimates show that up to 43 percent of Americans work remotely at least some of the time. But the one, major downfall of remote work is the lack of face-to-face interaction with co-workers. It’s hard to really get to know a co-worker, when communicating only through a computer, and build the type of trust that comes from working side by side. Not to mention all that alone time can make some people feel isolated and unproductive. When it comes to remote teams, things only get more complicated—employees might be scattered across different cities and time zones, and text-only communication can lead to miscommunications. Effectively managing a remote team comes with extra challenges. But that’s not to say that relationships can’t be built digitally, it just requires more effort. Read on for our advice on building strong relationships within a remote team.
Up first, the obvious. It’s critical to set time aside to talk when you’re not running into each other in the office; and if it’s not in the calendar, it’s less likely to happen. We all know how even the best of intentions are pushed aside when the to-do list starts piling up. By scheduling weekly team meetings and individual check-ins, you can ensure you address concerns in a timely manner, keep employees in the loop, and even get to know them better.
A great way to bridge the gap between face-to-face interaction and people you only know over email is through video calls. We’re all human, and we’re all tempted by distractions. If there’s a screen in front of you during a call, chances are you’ll look at something unrelated at least once, leading to more distractions and less efficiency. But if you know your teammates can see you, you’re less likely to be scrolling during meetings and more likely to be engaged.
Another good reason to opt for video calls is because, as we all know, things can get misconstrued via text. You can’t decipher tone when you read a sentence. You may not know that the sender meant to convey sarcasm or that your boss doesn’t actually hate you, or that you felt the message should have included exclamation points. By talking things out, you can avoid miscommunication and conflict.
Additionally, the visuals can help you learn more about your coworkers. Does their workspace include a bunch of concert posters? Do they answer calls wearing blazers or hand-knit sweaters? All of these details help you get to know the actual person behind the emails, which can bring your relationship to life.
This probably goes without saying, but if you want to build strong relationships with remote employees, you’ll have to show some interest in their lives outside of work. A good way to start is to check in with everyone at the beginning of conference calls. Ask them about their weekends. Make that extra effort to remember details about their personal lives. If you were in an office you’d likely be making small talk with co-workers throughout the day. You’ll have to make up for those lost interactions intentionally, but it’s definitely possible.
Another way to deepen your relationship with team members is to create a space for people to share non-work related things. It could be a Facebook page where people share local community events, a Slack channel dedicated to memes or as simple as inviting remote employees to happy hour. The more you share about your lives outside of the virtual office, the better you’ll get to know each other and begin to build trust. Just make sure these non-work spaces are still appropriate and inoffensive.
Try to meet your team in person if, at all, possible. If you’re all in the same city, consider monthly in-person meetings. Definitely invite remote employees to office holiday parties and events. If you’re spread across the country this can be more challenging, but it’s still worth trying. If travelling for work, check to see if any of the remote employees are in the area. It will benefit your company mission long term if you can afford to create a weekend or week-long retreat somewhere central and fly your remote employees out there to bond. For example, if you have one physical office location in New York City and a second office in Europe you could decide which remote employees could be flown to each respective team event.
It’s important, in addition to team meetings, to communicate with individual employees often. By carving out time to talk to these co-workers regularly, you can help them feel more like part of a community and a company that cares about them. Plus you can address issues on a weekly basis, instead of waiting for them to grow larger.
When working from home, it can be hard to distinguish between working and non-working hours. Especially with all of the new ways that technology is connecting us, it’s easy to work 24/7. By setting defined “core hours,” during which your team can expect you to be online and reachable, you can have more efficient communication. When they know to expect a delayed response outside of those hours, you’ll be let off the hook to some degree. Expectations will be tailored more to reality, and you’ll avoid burnout.
Sending out surveys, both anonymous and not, is a quick, easy way to collect feedback about your management. It can help identify roadblocks that employees may be hesitant to bring up in meetings or over video chats. Plus, it tells you how well you’re communicating and can pinpoint ways you can improve.
So there you have it, seven big and small ways you can improve your relationships within a remote team. Let’s review