Telecommuting removes the need for a centralized, traditional office location but it does not eliminate the need for cohesive relationships with colleagues. The Virtual Vocations blueprint for Creating and Maintaining Relationships with Remote Co-Workers is a roadmap for building and nurturing meaningful, healthy, and productive relationships among telework colleagues, which is best for employees and employers alike.
For convenience and ease of sharing, the contents of our Creating and Maintaining Relationships with Remote Co-Workers Blueprint are available in the attached PDF.
This free download includes two five-point actionable step plans remote workers can utilize to build as well as sustain positive relationships with their remote co-workers. It also includes our expert tips for five best practices remote managers can implement to facilitate strong connections among their remote teams.
Click the report cover image to the left to view and download this PDF or follow this link to view our remote co-worker relationships blueprint.
Creating & Maintaining Relationships with Remote Co-Workers Blueprint
Within our remote work blueprint, telecommuters and remote-enabled employers will learn the benefits of positive co-worker relationships from both staff and business perspectives, discover actionable steps for building and sustaining relationships with remote co-workers as well as learn best practices remote managers can implement to facilitate strong bonds among teleworking colleagues.
The Benefits of Positive Relationships Between Telecommuting Colleagues
Professionals are happier when they have a friend at work, and the evidence is measurable. A Gallup report on the correlation between close companionship and overall well-being showed that among the 30% of employees who stated they have a best friend at work, they “are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being and are less likely to get injured on the job.”
The absence of a close work friend provided a sharp contrast in workplace happiness since “those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged.”
In addition to higher levels of work engagement, employees with positive co-worker relationships are less stressed, more satisfied at work, better integrated into their communities, and enjoy enhanced work-life balance. The benefits of meaningful relationships with remote co-workers also extend to employers. Companies that prioritize and cultivate high-quality company culture and engagement have better employee retention, fewer workplace conflicts, and increased efficiency and productivity.
Further Reading from Virtual Vocations: Navigating Relationships as a Remote Worker
PHASE 1: FORMING REMOTE CO-WORKER RELATIONSHIPS
Human connections are vital at work, especially when that work is performed without the presence of in-person social interactions found in on-site offices. Virgin Pulse and Future Workplace’s “Global Work Connectivity” study provided proof of the power of work relationships.
Surveying more than 2,000 employees and managers throughout the U.S., United Kingdom, India, Singapore, South Africa, Brazil, Poland, China, Germany, and Australia about “their views regarding team communications and relationships at work, as well as their views regarding the workplace,” the study showed telecommuters are more likely to leave their jobs due to factors like low engagement and loneliness. However, these effects could be mitigated by strong work relationships. In fact, “The more friends you have at work, the longer you will stay with your company,” according to the Virgin Pulse and Future Workplace survey findings.
Although every co-worker relationship will differ in context and commitment level, they must all begin somewhere. Within our remote co-worker relationships blueprint, the first phase is to initiate the connection. These are five actionable steps to authentically start the relationship-building process.
5 Actionable Steps for Creating Relationships with Remote Co-Workers
1. Make Personal Connections
Put forth the effort to get to know telecommuting colleagues outside of work. While making personal connections with co-workers does not mean all relationships will result in best friend-caliber connections, sparking conversations about families, hobbies, and non-work interests deepens ties with remote co-workers by highlighting parallels that exist despite generational or geographical variances.
2. Respect Time Zones and Cultural Differences
Thanks to the schedule and location flexibility of most remote work arrangements, recruiters have more diverse talent pools from which they source the best applicants. And if they work for 100% virtual organizations, recruiters can onboard the most skilled candidates from anywhere. As such, distributed teams can span dozens of time zones, which is a brake check on selfishness. Basic virtual etiquette teaches us to consider co-workers’ schedules, customs, and holidays when planning team and department meetings or events.
3. Engage in Team Building Activities
Fellow telecommuters, as well as their on-site counterparts, can learn more about remote co-workers via distributed team building events like online coffee and chat hours, personality quizzes and surveys, virtual volunteerism, photo sharing, and live video work sessions. Keep in mind that icebreaker activities are not solely reserved for onboarding new hires and making ceremonious first impressions. Small-scale activities, such as a virtual happy hour or hometown scavenger hunt could be offered weekly or monthly; large-scale activities, such as meet-ups and mutual charitable endeavors, should be offered at least annually.
Related: Bonding Strategies that Can Work for Any Distributed Team, by Virtual Vocations CEO Laura Spawn, Business 2 Community Contributor
4. Network in Social Media and Career Circles
The leap from telework colleagues to online friends is not a long one. Social networks are an opportune way to create and expand relationships with remote co-workers. With a few clicks, remote co-workers can ‘Friend’, ‘Like’, or ‘Follow’ one another and instantly gain greater access to one another’s interests, sense of humor, and even workday snack preferences (Do it for the ‘Gram!) though they may never meet face-to-face.
Remote workers who want more clearly defined boundaries between their personal and professional lives could maintain work-only engagements via career-oriented groups and industry-specific organizations or by connecting on a business social network like LinkedIn, XING, or AngelList. Making meaningful professional connections also heightens professional credibility, increases access to references, and broadens relevant contacts that could lead to new job opportunities.
5. Build Trust by Defining Boundaries
Each person has the right to define their boundaries to best suit the amount of time they are willing to devote to the friendship and what they hope to gain from it. Relationships with remote co-workers need boundaries, especially since all parties must mitigate the daily challenges of work-life integration as telecommuters. Successfully creating and maintaining these boundaries depends on trust, which develops over time when colleagues establish limits then respect them. Relationships with remote co-workers are beneficial and rewarding only as long as they are not distractions from work or home. True friendships should not impact lives and livelihoods or make unrealistic time demands.
Further Reading from Virtual Vocations: Interview Question: How Would Your Co-Workers Describe You?
PHASE 2: NURTURING REMOTE CO-WORKER RELATIONSHIPS
Once positive relationships with remote co-workers have been created, those relationships must be nurtured. Maintaining relationships with remote co-workers reinforces the benefits of these partnerships for both employees and employers, leading to greater chances for individual and business success. Apply the following five actionable steps to sustain relationships with remote co-workers.
5 Actionable Steps for Maintaining Relationships with Remote Co-Workers
1. Participate in Availability Culture
Participating in availability culture is as simple as responding to remote co-workers in a timely manner. Timely responses to instant messages, emails, and collaborative app threads are critical in telework spaces since the rapid-fire communication style of a traditional office is not present in home-based work environments. Remote colleagues cannot pop down to a co-worker’s cubicle for a quick brainstorming session or stop by the manager’s office for a chat during a lunch break.
The silver lining is in technology, which ensures availability culture is easy to adopt for remote work. For example, when using a team tool like Slack, remote co-workers should set their statuses as ‘Available’. This action signals they are present to answer questions in real-time. Basecamp’s ‘Campfire’ feature also allows project collaborators to chat casually and ask quick questions that do not require lengthy answers.
2. Remember the Little Things
Maintaining relationships with remote co-workers is not about performing grand gestures to compensate for a lack of in-person interactions; it is quite the opposite. To preserve genuine bonds with colleagues, remember the little things like offering well wishes on a co-worker’s birthday or sharing a celebratory meme on their work anniversary.
Remember to extend camaraderie when times are not all flowery meadows and rainbows, too. Send an e-gift card for coffee to a co-worker who has expressed self-doubt or offer support and discretion if they want to vent frustrations. When loneliness and communication among remote teams are the two biggest struggles negatively impacting remote workers, small gestures can make measurable positive impacts in the virtual workplace.
3. Be Mindful of All Communication Methods
Remote work attracts an array of personalities, each with unique communication styles. Some remote workers favor text-based messages like email and IMs while some are phone talkers with the gift of gab; some prefer visual communication styles and opt to include gifs, memes, and emojis in their messages; and some like to combine styles by video chatting while simultaneously instant messaging about the video chat currently in progress (Whew!)
Before rushing to judgment about others’ communication methods or transferring personal frustrations onto a message received from a co-worker, assume positive intent from co-workers’ messages. A remote co-worker opting for a differing or unfamiliar communication style is not strange or negative or combative; it simply is. Telecommuters who observe, actively listen, and adapt will endure much less grief and benefit more from meaningful relationships with remote co-workers.
4. Celebrate Achievements Peer-to-Peer
Remote jobs are competitive but remote workers can strengthen co-worker bonds by championing one another’s successes—from exceeding quarterly sales quotas or earning a stamp of approval on a new logo to just making it through the day as a full-time remote employee and in-home caregiver—within their peer groups. Receiving praise from an employer is always welcome; it boosts self-belief and reinforces job security. But receiving praise from a peer feels especially meaningful because remote co-workers have front row seats to the ups, downs, and lulls that accompany any job. Remote co-workers empathize, and that sense of knowing strengthens the validation.
5. Improve Personal Writing Styles
Somewhere between the intimacy and eloquence of penning letters and the immediacy and casual nature of texting lies the happy medium to effectively communicating with remote co-workers. After all, telecommuters neither want to endure double-digit paragraph emails nor be left to decipher the meaning of a string of emojis. Remote workers can improve their personal writing styles and, in turn, their relationships with remote co-workers by examining how they use words to communicate and reflecting on how they would interpret their own writing if they were on the receiving end of an instant message, comment, or email. Steps like reducing redundancies, using active voice, outlining complex messages, scrapping filler words, and proofreading text before pressing send are all ways to help remote workers become more conscious writers and better co-workers.
Further Reading from Virtual Vocations: Remote Work Conflict: An In-Depth Guide for Resolving Issues
REMOTE CO-WORKER RELATIONSHIPS AND THE ROLE OF MANAGEMENT
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Effective leaders inspire. If remote-enabled organizations want their staff to create and maintain strong relationships then they must provide the motivation, environment, and resources necessary to achieve those goals. Team, division, department, and upper-level managers can look to this list of five best business practices to help them formulate their plans for encouraging and building positive co-worker relationships among remote teams.
5 Best Business Practices for Remote Managers to Build Co-Worker Relationships
1. Provide Remote Teams with Collaborative Tools and Technologies
During the onboarding process, connect remote workers with the collaborative tools and technologies they will need to be fully integrated into their workflows and company activities. Depending on a company’s internal policies and the employee’s contract terms, this could include a computer or mobile device, VoIP technology, or a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Distributed teams also typically use virtual business communication and/or project management platforms like Slack, Google, Asana, Dropbox, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, or SharePoint. Remote managers need to provide telecommuting colleagues with login information for these accounts, or instructions for how to create their own accounts, as well as resources or training materials for learning to use any necessary collaborative tools and technologies.
2. Communicate Regularly as a Team and One-on-One
Remote managers should develop collaboration and engagement plans that build open lines of communication from the employee to the manager, within defined teams, and throughout departments. Plans should incorporate elements like informal daily chats, weekly check-ins, and periodic team meetings as determined by the needs of a specific project or group.
While it is understood that most communication exchanges within remote teams occur via text, text-only communication plans are discouraged. Stronger relationships with remote co-workers will develop through communication styles that also use video meetings, voice chat, and phone calls. These mediums breathe life into words via facial expressions, body language, voice tone, and inflections that give context and can inform future interpretations of written communications between remote co-workers. Diversifying communication styles also facilitates a more inclusive workspace for professionals with varying levels of ability or remote co-workers who need accommodations for physical or mental health, safety, and comfort.
3. Encourage Employee Feedback Channels
Top-performing telecommuting employees feel seen and heard within their organizations. This return on investment starts with upper management best practices that reinforce open lines of communication, foster collaboration, and do not exclude or marginalize remote team members. Transparent, proactive, and trusting company leaders inspire remote workers to be equally honest, motivated, and reliable.
One way upper management can sustain this level of positive company culture is by encouraging employee feedback through a variety of channels including post-interview questionnaires, exit surveys, department meetings, individual check-ins, and performance management reports or reviews submitted through a digital platform like Weekly10. A remote manager who not only encourages employee feedback but also receives it with an open mind, and learns from it, is a manager who is successful at building relationships with remote co-workers.
4. Enable Employee Resource Groups
Employees should feel not only respected and heard but also empowered. Employers and remote managers can create an inclusive workplace culture by enabling employee resource groups (ERGs) or staff committees. These employee-led groups are inspired by the special interests or affinities of the employees.
ERGs may focus on ideas and causes like mental health awareness, diversity, veterans’ support, mentorship, and community impact. These groups can advocate for their interests within the company and throughout their communities as well as utilize like-mindedness and education to foster engagement, thereby strengthening relationships with remote co-workers. Dr. Shelton Goode, a former diversity and inclusion leadership council chair for The Conference Board, reiterated the importance of ERGs to the Society of Human Resource Management in saying, “At 90 percent of the companies I examined, ERG members helped new employees to get comfortable during the onboarding process…ERGs can be leveraged to acclimate employees and engender a sense of loyalty and belonging to their new company.”
5. Establish Conduct Rules and Two-Way Expectations in a Remote Work Policy
A sound remote work policy will include descriptions of expectations, on the part of employees as well as managers, for behaviors and conduct exhibited during engagement activities like interpersonal communications within company-sanctioned collaborative applications, team building events, in-person meetups, and video conferences or phone calls. When working with upper management to devise or update a remote work policy on conduct expectations related to relationships with remote co-workers, virtual managers should include directives that promote safe interactions as well as protect employees and the company from harm.
Related: How to Craft an Effective Remote Work Policy by Virtual Vocations CEO Laura Spawn, Business.com Contributor
Have you experienced successes or failures in creating and maintaining relationships with remote co-workers? Do you plan to use this blueprint to guide you in future attempts? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and YouTube to share your thoughts on this telecommuting blueprint and find more remote work content and conversations.
Image credits: Canva; PDF designed by Kimberly Back
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