Your remote career deserves the same kind of intentional cultivation you would devote to the networking process if you were working onsite. However, the same tactics that help build a solid network in traditional office spaces may not always apply to the virtual work environment.
Remote Networking: 6 Tips for Building Business Relationships
One of the major fears many remote workers encounter is being left out of progress and passed up for promotion due to their flexible work schedule. Although isolation is a valid concern when working from home, this barrier can be overcome by utilizing targeted communication skills, integrating technology into your tools for collaboration, and deliberately building relationships with co-workers, managers, and other telecommuters.
Research conducted by Owl Labs found that companies who support remote work options reduce their turnover rate by 25 percent. This is a major benefit for employers as the onboarding process can cost 11,000 per employee. No matter what your company’s yearly revenue is, saving on overhead is a great benefit to any business.
Related: Employee Retention: 9 Strategies for Retaining Top Remote Talent
To maintain the joy that comes with telecommuting, you have to feel as though you are making valuable contributions to your employer. Building successful business relationships through remote networking is one way to accomplish this.
Building business relationships in-office can already be a tricky task, especially for people who are reasonably introverted, so add remote work to the mix and navigating the networking landscape as a telecommuter can leave you feeling out in the weeds. However, neither your geographic location nor your personality type has to hold you back from making meaningful connections at work.
You can build your remote networking muscles by challenging yourself to step outside your comfort zone to incorporate interpersonal relationship building into your weekly work schedule.
1. Remote Networking Should Start at the Company Level
Although employees carry the bulk of the responsibility for making and maintaining connections at work, remote networking can be embedded into the company culture to help facilitate these connections. Companies who understand how to hire, onboard and train employees with the goal of retention are usually also skilled at giving employees opportunities to connect.
Remote networking opportunities can be as simple as inviting virtual employees to participate in company activities either face-to-face or by video conference. Companies who employ remote workers must also include their remote teams in recognition opportunities that help everyone in the company understand the value of all team members regardless of location.
Company newsletters and birthday celebrations should all include virtual employees. This provides a doorway for collaboration and remote networking that is not only valuable for the virtual workers but also for the entire company. If you have international workers on your team, consider holding some meetings at a time where they can be involved. Additionally, recording in office activities and sharing them with remote teams can help them feel as though they are a part of the action as well.
In the last two years, the availability of virtual reality has helped to spark a variety of solutions for more immersive, engaging meeting options for virtual teams. Virtual reality can help improve the remote networking opportunities for telecommuters by providing the sensation that everyone is in the same space. Brainstorming sessions can take on new life and color with 3D modeling.
2. Use Social Media to Build Community
Social media gets a bad rap for being a vortex of distraction, negativity, and instant gratification. However, if used responsibly, social media can help you network remotely in exciting ways. The key is to understand why and how you should use social media before jumping in. It is not necessary to be present on all platforms. It’s almost impossible to keep up with them all, and luckily you don’t have to try. Instead, look to engage with platforms that are most relevant to your field.
For example, if you are a graphic designer, Instagram could be an excellent launching pad for your work. Additionally, you can connect with other graphic designers around the world to uplift, share and pursue career-making opportunities. It is common to see professionals reach out to openings, conferences, and networking events for creative industries on Instagram.
In contrast, if you are a writer, Twitter may be a better place to concentrate your efforts. You can share your work, participate in Twitter chats, and find out about gatherings in your city. Having your pulse on the right beat it the first step to establishing roots as a member of a community.
Remote networking is a long-term process and when you first begin your social media engagement it may seem as though you are just posting into the void. Don’t give up! Stay consistent, engage with content that speaks to you, and you will find your tribe.
Another great way to network online as a remote worker is by subscribing and engaging in online groups. You can find groups on Slack, join Linkedin groups or subscribe to a weekly digital newsletter for professionals in your industry. No matter how you choose to participate the key is not to go in looking to gain information without being willing to give and support others. Community building online, like remote networking, is about mutual support.
3. Learn the Benefit of Connecting In-Person
Just because you are a remote worker, doesn’t mean you have to be confined to your home. It is important for both your professional and personal health to get out into the world to make connections the old-fashioned way. An added benefit of working remotely is the ability to use your commuting time to attend meaningful events. Meet Up is an excellent website boasting thousands of groups all over the country. You can join an industry-specific club near you to meet others doing similar work.
Check with any local colleges and universities to see if they have any ongoing professional development courses, conferences or events. The campus is not just for students, many educational centers also act as centers of information and continued learning for the entire community. Taking a course on campus to boost your skills or joining a forum on a topic you are interested in, even if it is not directly related to your field is an excellent way to meet like-minded individuals. It is a good idea to grow your social network and build business relationships across industries. Understanding how other markets perform and operate can help you gain valuable insights into your own work.
Your local library is another great resource for networking as a telecommuter. Some libraries host conferences free of charge and open to the community. Remote networking does not have to mean only networking virtually. If you make a connection in person, you can develop and grow your business relationship online.
4. Understand How to Build a Relationship With Your Boss
Building relationships outside of your company are crucial. Nonetheless, your in-house relationships help you to stay motivated to succeed in your current position and provide opportunities for advancement. The relationship you build with your manager is key to working efficiently. The more you build this connection, the easier it is to ask questions, gain insight into the company vision and create a path for possible promotion.
Whether you’ve been a member of your team for a month or a year, if you don’t feel confident in your connection with your manager, you can take steps to improve it. Networking remotely with your boss can feel uncomfortable, particularly as in-office workers have much more access to the boss. Even if your company is 100 percent remote, there can be barriers to effective communication.
Break down these barriers by taking the initiative to reach out to your manager. Everyone has different needs for feedback, however, you don’t have to wait until a problem arises to reach out to your boss. If you do not have an established meeting date at least bi-weekly. Send an email or video message to your supervisor to see how you can go about establishing a regular meeting date.
If you already have a set meeting a few times per month, take better advantage of this opportunity. Instead of only focusing on project progress and areas of improvement. Ask questions that engage your boss in a dialogue about the goals of the team and the company as a whole. Establish your ability to see how your work fits into the bigger picture. If you don’t have the knowledge, do your research first and ask clarifying questions.
Additionally, don’t forget to acknowledge the human side of your manager. Inquire about their weekend, send a holiday card and show genuine interest when personal information is shared. The line of decorum will vary depending on your company culture. Every workspace has different codes of conduct and it is important to understand and adhere to these codes when professionally engaging with your boss.
5. Discover How To Start Meaningful Conversations with In-office Co-workers
One of the easiest ways to engage in-office employees is using a group messaging tool. If your company does not utilize Skype for Business, Slack, or another form of instant communication, suggest an option you are familiar with to your HR contact. Using messaging technology helps build a sense of being present regardless of physical location.
Both project-related chat and small talk are important for building business relationships. Human beings are social and because most full-time employees spend the majority of their time working, a little work-approved fun is necessary. Share a cute meme or invite co-workers to join an online game during the lunch hour. Design a get-to-know-you survey or start a virtual book club. There are endless ways to provide an environment to connect across the barrier of location.
6. Build Community with your Fellow Remote Workers
Remote networking is a tool to connect in-person employees to telecommuters as well as remote works to each other. If you have co-workers spread over the state, country or world, it can be difficult to keep tabs on everyone. You can build support to ward off isolation by regularly engaging other remote workers in your company. Start a blog, online group or forum where you can share stories, experiences, and uplifting material specifically for the virtual work experience.
Take the time to get to know at least one person you haven’t had a detailed conversation with. Ask them about their work, where they live and what remote work is like for them. It may be a bit scary taking the first step, but the more your practice, the easier it becomes to be a remote networker. Before you know it, your virtual network will be blossoming with meaningful relationships.
Take the First Step
It is always intimidating to try new things, especially in the work environment. However, taking calculated risks to increase your network is always a leap worth taking. Start your journey towards more enriching connections today. Join Virtual Vocations, engage with our tips for job seekers and leave a comment or two!
Do you have additional tips for building better business relationships through remote networking? Give us your advice when you connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!
Photo Credits: 1. iStock.com/BonNontawat
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