Six Ways to Build Relationships With Remote Workers

Worker on hammock at beach

Remote working is fast beco­ming the norm, rather than the excep­tion, thanks to the fact that it offers many bene­fits for employers and workers alike. The 2015 After­Col­lege Career Insight Survey found that 68% of job seekers, who happened to be millen­nials, would prefer the option to work remo­tely. Today’s young work­force are more inte­rested in compa­nies that offer flexible, profes­sional work envi­ron­ments. And it’s only good news for employers too: remote workers are 35–40% more produc­tive, while 6 out of 10 employers expe­ri­ence cost savings as a result of tele­com­mu­ting. But how does a manager build rela­ti­onships with indi­vi­duals when the team is scat­tered across the world, and how does he or she encou­rage cohe­sion and create a team culture?

Over the decades, employers valued face-to-face commu­ni­ca­tion with their employees, but today, teams commu­ni­cate and colla­bo­rate computer-to-computer. While this is quickly beco­ming the norm, it is under­stan­dable that for some this way of working can create chal­lenges, such as discon­nec­ted­ness, miscom­mu­ni­ca­tion and a lack of team spirit. In this post, we provide tips on how you can best manage your remote workers, help them stay connected, and estab­lish strong working relationships.

1. Hire the Right People

While remote working propon­ents love being able to work from home or wherever, it is just not suited to ever­yone. Ther­e­fore, buil­ding solid rela­ti­onships with your remote workers depends, first and fore­most, on you hiring the right people. Someone might like the concept, but they may not be cut out for it, so look for someone who:

  • can self-manage their time and deadlines
  • is willing to be held accountable
  • has the ability to pace themselves
  • is comfor­table working independently
  • has solid commu­ni­ca­tion skills

By hiring the right people, your team will consist of members who embrace the culture and who are willing to put more effort into buil­ding rela­ti­onships with their co-workers.

2. Learn to Accept (and Even Encourage) the Small Talk

People are social crea­tures and need a certain amount of enga­ge­ment to stay connected. In the tradi­tional office envi­ron­ment, this is done by means of water cooler chit chat, and drop­ping by colle­agues’ cubicles. However, in remote working envi­ron­ments, there is no physical proxi­mity and we have to find diffe­rent ways for teams to develop relationships:

  • encou­rage employees to connect soci­ally outside of work time, via social media or messa­ging apps
  • use video calling to catch up
  • allow them to chat via instant messa­ging when working
  • make notes of birth­days and congra­tu­late them next call or via an email

While it’s natural to want to share more infor­ma­tion with people in your imme­diate vici­nity, try to make an effort to share more with your remote workers – both offi­cial and unof­fi­cial infor­ma­tion. Be open to listening to them as well. For example, when you have a call with a remote worker, allow a few minutes for a casual catch up before jumping into the serious work-related discus­sion. A simple ques­tion about the past weekend or recent holiday is one idea.

Working at home

Some colle­agues here at Mikogo will share Christmas or other personal photos via our Dropbox account – this is a great and easy way to catch up on what colle­agues are doing outside of work which faci­li­tates small talk later, and hence streng­thens the remote working rela­ti­onship. Think about these methods as a way to repli­cate those quick coffee break conver­sa­tions you would normally have in the office.

As a remote worker, you can develop important commu­ni­ca­tion skills that will go a long way when inter­ac­ting with your remote colle­agues. When chat­ting to a colle­ague, be sure to listen without any inter­rup­tions, and ask open ques­tions. Take the time to enjoy those personal catch ups and then shift the conver­sa­tion to the work at hand.

3. Allow For Emotional Expression

You might have heard that commu­ni­ca­tion is only 7% about the words we use. Thirty-eight percent of what is perceived in commu­ni­ca­tion is through the tone of voice, and 55% body language. This was accor­ding to Albert Mehrabian’s book, Silent Messages. Remote workers simply have to adapt the commu­ni­ca­tion style accor­dingly in order to clearly commu­ni­cate their inten­tions through email and instant messa­ging. How do remote workers accom­plish that?

  • Read and re-read messages before you send them, and encou­rage your team to do the same.
  • Allow workers to use emoji and GIFs to express emotions to distin­guish between humor and seriousness.

Kerry Schofield, Chief Psycho­me­trics Officer and co-founder of Good.Co reve­aled some fasci­na­ting findings about meaningful remote working rela­ti­onships from a study done by Robin Dunbar, which focuses mainly on the size of social groups. Schofield’s rese­arch concluded that in-person meetings are more satis­fac­tory than phone calls or text-based conver­sa­tions (instant messa­ging or email). However, in a constantly-evol­ving world with remote work­places, video confe­ren­cing is a highly effec­tive option, as it allows us to display and perceive nonverbal commu­ni­ca­tion, such as gestures and facial expres­sions. Having access to such tech­no­lo­gies makes it easier than ever to main­tain healthy working rela­ti­onships, even when someone is not in your office, or even in your country.

4. Respect Cultural Differences

Virtual teams often consist of people from diffe­rent count­ries, and it could take some time to become accus­tomed to their way of doing things. Some of your team members may have diffe­rent commu­ni­ca­tion patterns and work habits, which may be unex­pected to some remote workers. Language barriers can also create misun­derstan­dings, if one or more remote worker is using English as a second language.

It is important to under­stand those diffe­rences as just that – diffe­rences, rather than reading more into it. In order to help employees under­stand this, it might be helpful to mention to new team members and remote workers that some workers have specific habits, such as available hours, a preferred way to call one another, favo­rite colla­bo­ra­tion tool, or even their personal inte­rests – again to help with the small talk later on. That way, any diffe­rences won’t be taken perso­nally, and better rela­ti­onships can be established.

Goethe said, in The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), “…misun­derstan­dings and neglect create more confu­sion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.” It is usually bene­fi­cial to give someone the benefit of the doubt and ask for clari­fi­ca­tion rather than jumping to conclu­sions – a great prin­cipal to include in your company’s commu­ni­ca­tion standards.

5. Cultivate Availability

Remote workers are gene­rally a goal oriented, produc­tive bunch. Accor­ding to Inc. Maga­zine, remote workers are up to 20% more produc­tive when they work on crea­tive tasks. It is ther­e­fore important to be available and to follow through on commit­ments made to your remote workers. They may become frus­trated while waiting on you to make decis­ions, or to supply them with infor­ma­tion needed to complete a project.

By procras­ti­na­ting, you are impac­ting nega­tively on their produc­ti­vity. A remote worker does not have the oppor­tu­nity to run into you in the office, and may feel awkward about sending you repe­ti­tive follow-up emails. As the manager, you have to set the example for your workers. Not ever­yone works at the same pace as one another: some are faster or slower to respond to emails than others, and at times people won’t be available for calls all day due to meetings or a full sche­dule. However, in order for teams to succeed, people need to be available and respon­sive. Here’s how that can be done:

  • share your sche­dule with co-workers
  • sche­dule regular check-ins
  • plan for collaborations
  • have a weekly virtual meeting
  • do regular team-buil­ding calls

These acti­vi­ties mirror the general office culture to some extent, allo­wing ever­yone to stay connected. As the manager, you are respon­sible for avoi­ding the out-of-sight, out-of-mind effect with your remote workers.

Different city clocks

6. Distribute remote working tools

One of the best ways to build strong rela­ti­onships between remote workers and their colle­agues, is to ensure that ever­yone is using soft­ware tools that enable them to commu­ni­cate and colla­bo­rate toge­ther with ease. Remote workers should have access to all the company tools the in-house employees have, which is important for work morale and produc­ti­vity. Here are the most important tools your remote worker should have access to:

  • Instant messa­ging is a great way to commu­ni­cate quick work-related information.
  • VoIP is a must-have tool that allows workers to speak to one another over the Web for free.
  • File sharing and docu­ment manage­ment systems, such as Dropbox or Google Docs, enable them to share docu­ments instantly and easily.
  • Screen sharing allows for easy colla­bo­ra­tion, meetings, presen­ta­tions, and training.
  • Online project manage­ment system so all workers can see what is being worked on, how is working on which task, and who to contact about certain work.

That’s just a short list. If there is another online tool that you use exten­si­vely within your office with in-house employees, consider giving the remote workers access to the tool as well. These tools are desi­gned to boost company produc­ti­vity and effi­ci­ency, and you want to make sure that your remote workers are working to their potential.

By equip­ping your remote workers, as well as in-house employees, with the above tools you will foster a sense of connec­ted­ness between your employees and help the remote workers feel that they are part of the team.

Working with remote workers may not always be easy, but the bene­fits usually far outweigh the draw­backs, espe­ci­ally when you succeed in buil­ding a powerful team of colla­bo­ra­tors. What are your most valuable remote working rela­ti­onship buil­ding secrets?

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