How to create strong workplace bonds when your employees are remote, according to a GM who's led all types of offices
Courtesy Dan O'Connell
- More than 70 percent of employees around the world work remotely at least once a week.
- For these employees, authentic interpersonal relationships can be the difference between feeling disconnected and stagnating at challenges or proactively overcoming them.
- Fostering trust, showing appreciation, being accessible, and allowing vulnerability can help.
Fostering strong workplace relationships is a key part of building a unified team. Although difficult at times, it's never been more important than now - in the age of the anywhere worker. Today more than 70 percent of employees around the world work remotely at least once a week. For these employees, authentic interpersonal relationships can be the difference between feeling disconnected and stagnating at challenges or proactively overcoming them. Research also shows that connected employees tend to be happier and stay in their jobs longer, resulting in increased morale and continued success for the company.
In order to build and maintain these positive relationships, organizations must invest in creating a larger culture of genuine connectedness across workplaces and offices. Here are some tips on how.
1. The basics
Trust is the foundation of every successful employee relationship - remote or not. Establishing trust increases speed, efficiency and, in turn, performance. Yet many businesses take trust for granted, with 58 percent of people saying they trust a stranger more than they trust their own boss. While you can't always control the level of trust across your entire organization, you can act in ways that promote trust across your immediate work environment. One of the most important things to remember about a person is their name, and you can make a point to show that you care by getting this right from the start. After that, focus on getting to know the people on your team and letting them get to know you. Carve out time to catch up with those you work closely with, and create the expectation that a quick walk for coffee to learn about someone on a personal level is never a bad idea. Lastly, never underestimate a hand-written, congratulatory note for a job well done. I once saw a VP of Sales write 85 handwritten holiday cards to his team. It was a small gesture, with immeasurable impact.
When you make it a priority to find common ground with each coworker, listen to what's on the minds of those doing the bulk of the work on each project, and find small ways to go above and beyond, people notice. Doing small things well leads to big things.
2. Show your appreciation
A recent study on employee motivation showed that 50 percent of people consider lack of recognition of work as the biggest hindrance to their productivity. This means managers should make it a priority to regularly express gratitude and deliver compliments, especially with a cross-office or remote team.
When a colleague impresses you or goes above and beyond, email their manager and CC them as a common courtesy. During your next meeting, thank them directly for their great work or offer to treat them to lunch the next time you see them. Making the effort to show even just a little extra appreciation and acknowledgment benefits everyone in the long run.
3. Be accessible and communicate well
You may have heard that only 7 percent of communication comes from the words we use; 38 percent is through tone of voice, and 55 percent is body language. If your team doesn't get to see you on a daily basis, build confidence by being virtually present and over-communicating. Use all the digital tools at your disposal to stay connected throughout the day. For example, send a Slack when you need to step away and won't be immediately available for more than 30 minutes or offer to hop on the phone or an UberConference line to talk live through project edits and feedback. Maximizing video calls for strategy and planning sessions is also a great way to help keep remote team members engaged. Dedicating the time to more personal communication will not only reflect your commitment them as a colleague, but as a friend as well. And if you're a manager of a remote team, always do your 1:1's over video. You have to find ways to make up for the hallway conversations that remote employees miss out on. Those are critical moments where ideas and concerns are shared, and deeper connections are made.
4. Allow for vulnerability
In a time where social media depicts peers as perfect by highlighting the best and most curated moments, showing humility and sharing difficulties (big or small) can do wonders for building healthy working relationships. To echo my first point, being vulnerable opens up greater levels of trust and encourages a culture of empathy between leaders and employees. You can do this by holding yourself accountable when you make a mistake and being comfortable asking for help when you don't know how to do something. It also helps to consistently deliver on commitments, and avoid overpromising.
When dealing with remote workers, being vulnerable also means adapting your communication style in order to relate to your employees. In your next one-on-one meeting, discuss work styles and preferences. Ask questions like "what do you care most about in terms of how work is done?" and "what are some ways that you tend to communicate?" Depending on their feedback, adjust your management style. When you're not able to video or see each other face to face, share emojis and gifs to express emotion and lighten the mood. In times of conflict, those with strong relationships will succeed.
While every business is different and will vary in terms of culture and management style, establishing authentic work relationships are universally important. Building genuine work connections will take time, but it's worth the investment - and becoming fundamental for businesses who want to succeed. As more and more of the workforce works remote, it's critical to overinvest in relationship building and communicating. We inherently know who are the people that care about us, it starts by making the extra effort.
Dan O'Connell spent his early career building the Google AdWords Inside Sales organization under Sheryl Sandberg. After Google, he joined AdRoll as the Vice President of Sales, scaling a 150 person global sales and support organization. This early experience in sales highlighted the critical need for businesses to understand their sales and support conversations in real-time, and became the catalyst for joining the team at TalkIQ as CEO & President. In May, Dan spearheaded the acquisition of TalkIQ by Dialpad, joining the team as a board member and Chief Strategy Officer.
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