This is a guest post for Skills You Need.
Want to contribute? Find out how.
How to Build Relationships with Co-Workers
While Working Remotely
Working remotely is becoming more and more the norm. As technology becomes more accessible, and millennials get their way, some managers might long for more face-to-face interaction as this can actually be quite beneficial.
Some employees use a natural environment to foster creativity, while others feel more productive in a coffee shop.
Remote employees can complete tasks in the best environment for them. Additionally, employers can hire the most qualified candidate without worrying too much about geographical proximity or transportation. Traditional brick-and-mortar businesses pay a price when vital employees move away, or during natural disasters, like the infamous Boston snow storms of 2015, that prevented employees from traveling.
But for all its disadvantages, coming to a central location every day does have one important advantage: it allows employees to foster important relationships.
Now, while no one wants to deal with employees growing too close, having close relationships with co-workers can be extremely beneficial for the company as a whole. Not only does it increase employee engagement, thereby reducing turnover, but it also promotes cohesiveness and productivity.
When co-workers have good relationships, they are more likely to share ideas, console one another over mistakes, or give helpful pointers. This is exactly the sort of behavior that you want in your job, but it can be difficult to do when you only have a profile picture to interact with.
So, how can you have healthy co-worker relationships when you work remotely?
Facilitate Daily Conversation
People will never be able to be able to fully connect as co-workers if they can’t get work done in the first place.
While they may temporarily bond over shared frustrations, these sort of complaints can run thin after a while, especially if you’re not forced to see each other every day. So, the first step is making sure that you have all the tools necessary to get work done and communicate with your co-workers effectively.
Whether you use email, Slack, or some other messaging service, it’s essential that you’re able to communicate easily with your co-workers, preferably instantly. Immediate communication will allow you to respond to work problems in the most efficient way possible, but it will also let co-workers bond over jokes that are only funny in the moment or vent about an issue that they’re having right then.
Additionally, it’s important to have longer conversations as well. You don’t want your entire interaction to be short instant messages.
Make sure to pencil in some phone or video calls too. This can be increasingly difficult the further you are apart globally as time zones and international calling can be difficult to navigate. If possible, find a time that fits both of your schedules. Use Skype or call over Wi-Fi to have extended conversations without adding to the company’s expense report.
Facilitate Meaningful Conversation
Of course, this will come naturally for some. Extrovert employees will enjoy meaningful discussions whenever possible, but introverts are often left on the side lines.
Make sure that everyone feels welcome and comfortable. Some will naturally remain guarded longer than others but, with time and the right environment, people will come out of their shell.
Since you can’t throw a holiday party or take a long lunch break with them, you’ll have to promote meaningful conversation in others ways.
Make sure you occasionally have some interaction about topics that aren’t work related. Whether that means video conferencing during your break, watching a YouTube video together after work, or joining the same online forum, it doesn’t really matter, as long as you are building rapport. This is harder when you’re not together in person, but it can be done.
Actually, there is some evidence that shyer people are more sociable online, particularly with video games. Talking online can be less socially intimidating than in-person. So, doing activities together online might bring out a different side of you or your co-workers. You might end up building a rapport with someone that you never might have in a physical office.
However, just like in real life, there might be people that you just don’t “click” with. While it’s important to maintain cordiality, there’s nothing wrong with realizing that you have very little in common with a particular co-worker.
Facilitate a Meet Up
Interacting daily online in a meaningful way is crucial towards building relationships in the office.
However, nothing can really compare to matching a face to a person. Being able to read their body language can bring a whole new dimension to their personality.
If possible, arrange some sort of meet up, even if not everyone can attend. Getting to know your co-workers better as people can help you realize their strengths and weaknesses in the business world, so the occasional social meeting is encouraged. On the other hand, you ought to meet up face-to-face for business as well, preferably often and regularly.
When given the option, though, many employees will choose working remotely over coming to a meeting.
If you want to promote participation, these meetings should have a clear agenda, feature free refreshments, and moments of humor and socializing as well. Additionally, if the company is not picking up the tab for travel expenses and the meet up is within a reasonable distance, employees could still be eligible for mileage deductions on their taxes to help offset the cost of driving to the meeting.
Working remotely has a definite advantage for the individual employee, but overlooking the communal benefits of cooperation is a mistake. The most productive cooperation can’t be achieved without knowing your co-workers; in order for employees to be open, innovative, and motivated, they need to feel comfortable with the people they’re working with.
However, just because you can’t physically see your co-workers doesn’t mean that this type of cooperation is impossible. Rather, it means that your interactions have to be more deliberate.
Relationships between co-workers that work apart rarely happen naturally. Instead, you will have to put in some effort to make sure that you're building a positive rapport with your co-workers. After all, you are all working towards the same goal. You might as well have a good time doing so.
About the Author
Dayton Uttinger writes for several online publications, putting her highly relevant college degree to use. She enjoys researching in the dark, writing at daybreak, and drinking copious amount of coffee to get her through the in between.