How to build relationship in a remote work setting?

Even in remote work, relationships do matter.

Just like with personal relationships, nurturing work relationships can be a considerable work itself. Fortunately, I’ve got some handy guidelines to ensure you don’t neglect even the tiniest aspect of the relationship with your remote coworkers.

Why building relationships is important in a remote setting

Reinforcing the idea of a real, palpable team is crucial. You’re all in the same boat – you win together, and you lose together as a team. Bragging or finger pointing, installing a blame culture therefore, are no-go zones, and team-wide encouragement should become a part of your daily routine.
It is proven that positive team relationships make employees more engaged, effective and deliver a higher quality of work, this be more productive.

How can you build relationships in a virtual setting?

  1. Start with the basics

When starting your conversation with a team member, you don’t want to start talking about work right off the bat. Instead, you should have a crack at figuring out who your remote team members are on a human level, what makes them tick… Asking them about their favorite food (the food topic never fails), hobbies or if they’ve ever worked in a remote team before are just a few of the many examples of what you could get curious about.

And repeating and paraphrasing answers to these questions proves you were listening… Who doesn’t like to feel heard anyway?

And most importantly, you need to discover what truly motivates your colleagues. If you are a manager as I am, identifying their goals is an efficient gateway to a deeper understanding and appreciation of who they are as people as well as employees and can be the bridge to a more productive relationship with your team.

2. Asynchronous or synchronous communication

You’ve got the holy quadruplet of non-personal communication: E-mail, phone call, texting and virtual conference.

Good old e-mail is an excellent way to schedule meetings and send updates to a group of two or more people and should follow the five-sentence rule; if you can’t write it in five sentences or less, pick up the phone.

Asynchronous communication with the help of tools like Slack allow time to ask questions and clarify things, hence no need for back and forth e-mails.

The most powerful tool for creating and reinforcing a sense of connection is, by all means, virtual conference and the only way to get input and participation from all of your team members at once.

When it comes to giving feedback, it’s recommended to do it in-person, and in a remote environment, in-person means not over email. Zoom, a virtual conference facility or the phone would be the way to go.

3. Consider time zones

The golden middle way of alternating meeting times proves more fair than having one fixed time for all the countries involved.

Making sure everyone’s rowing in the same direction.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said: “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

In the same vein, remote teams operate on a similar principle; sharing the same idea of what success looks like puts you that much closer to getting a taste of your desired success.

The most measurable part of identifying what success looks like is by setting targets, be it an on-time delivery or creating a returning customer, on both a project level and a year-end goals level.

You can think of setting targets as a result of collaboration – the first schedule a brainstorming meeting by utilizing the benefits of a virtual conference room, then hold a follow-up meeting to finalize everything, and after that you can create a so-called “prototype” of your success criteria, that is, some form of visuals that’ll always remind everyone what you mutually agreed on.

It’s worth noting that even set targets aren’t set in stone. Let your remotes know they can modify and recreate them whenever necessary; the success criteria can grow with your team.
A nice side effect of collaborative efforts is that everyone owns the success of what it produces…

…and never falls short of expectations.

Everyone on the team should be on the same page regarding job responsibilities to avoid accidentally duplicating efforts, for instance. As you can imagine, no one on Earth likes to go through the horror show of the conflict that arises from unspoken expectations.
A top priority should be to confirm what each remote’s schedule is; believe it or not, an 8-hour timeframe can take many forms. You can discuss this and other expectations openly and thoroughly by having a remote happy hour via the favorite virtual conference room and, if you feel like it, even create some artwork together; e.g., a laminated poster of the expectations you have solidified.

4. The communication response times protocol

Something especially important in a virtual environment. Whatever your protocol will be is totally up to you, but here’s some guidance you might consider sharing with your team members: one hour response time for text messages when you’re available and three hours when you aren’t, for example. Urgent e-mails should be responded to within four hours, and informative ones can have a 24 hour response time tolerance. Automatic Replies feature can do miracles, too.
As for anything scheduled, be it phone calls or meetings, try applying the five-minute rule. In case you or any of your remotes are going to be more than five minutes late, that person should text someone on the team to let everybody know that they’re running late.

5. Early bird or night owl

And last but not least, be sure to find out whether your remote is an early bird or a night owl, if they need 4 coffee breaks an hour to keep functioning, once distracted, how long it takes them to refocus, etc.… A virtual conference room seems like an ideal setting for sharing and discussing habits, with all the members being present and actively participating. So take time to know your colleagues, with any chance you get, and ripe the benefits of building remote relationship.