Improving Remote Relationships

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Have your relationships at work flourished or floundered since remote work became a regular part of working?

Back in March, when we were sent home to figure out how to get our work done remotely, some of us were secretly jumping for joy! Working remotely was a dream come true for many: no more traffic, no more parking, no more fighting crowds on mass transit. We were thinking of the money we would save by reducing our expenses just getting to work, the clothes we needed to wear to work (after all, one pair of yoga pants five days in a row is far less expensive than our professional dress code), no more expensive coffees or fast-food lunches to buy.

And then, we got lonely. We missed the casual conversations that kept us in the loop with what was happening at work and with work. Those “Hey, have you got a minute?” drop-ins were no longer thought about with annoyance but with a strange longing. We missed people, information, interruptions, and the office!

Remote started to mean isolated. The dream of working from home was quickly becoming a nightmare for many. Remote felt like we were stranded on an island with the only connection to others through Zoom or Teams. And we quickly came to hate Zoom or Teams meetings as they just weren’t the same. For some, relationships suffered. If you started a new job this year, it felt impossible to create working relationships.

We know that things are not the same, but that doesn’t mean they are worse either. It is possible to strengthen your relationships while working remotely. Your team still needs to work together to get results. We need to figure out how to bond when our only connection is through a computer screen or telephone.

CTT: It won’t be easy to improve remote relationships, but it is possible.

It won’t be easy, but it will be possible if you follow these steps:

  1. Intentional Communication. My grandson lives 450 miles away. We have a family Snapchat group where I get several photos of him per day. They make my heart melt, and I love that, but it isn’t the same as intentional communication. We may chat in our family group easily, freely, and regularly, but we also make a point to have video calls too. I can speak directly to Theo (and his parents), and it has far more impact than the casual chat of Snapchat.

The same is true at work. You may exchange several emails and texts during the day with your executive and team, but it isn’t the same as intentional communication. Intentional means we know we are going to have a conversation. I can prepare for it as I know it is happening. It is similar to those one-on-one meetings many people talk about having. If we don’t schedule them, we feel like we are missing something; because we are! “I’ll call you today at 4 pm” is very different than an impromptu phone call. Make some of your communication intentional, scheduled, and planned. Perhaps you need a daily scrum, a weekly update, a regular appointment. Make it deliberate and create a predictable feedback loop or connection time.

  1. Video vs. Telephone. I know that most of us are “Zoomed” out (replace with “Teamed” out if you use MS Teams) because it feels like we are on video conferencing all the time. Sometimes the phone is better, and sometimes video is better. Think about what the goal and purpose of the connection is.

Perhaps having a telephone (hands-free) conversation while you or a team member are driving may be a better use of time than a video call. It feels more casual on the telephone. Video feels like work! The telephone has less pressure to be “camera” ready, therefore a more relaxed conversation. Think about the timing and the expectations of your call. Video is more formal, often better for those serious business-based conversations. The telephone is more convenient and often better for personal discussions. Which makes sense for your relationship and the conversation you need to have?

  1. Don’t be all business. Take a few minutes to chat socially. Social relationships matter! I know that many people say they are not at work to make friends, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly. Ask about the kids, the pets, their home life. Show an interest. Working remotely may be a struggle for your teammate, and taking a few minutes to offer support can be helpful long term.

Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

CTT: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care… Theodore Roosevelt. Do your remote relationships show you care?

You don’t need to be all business all the time. Create a remote relationship that is based on business, but be friendly to create a positive relationship.

  1. Say thank you more often. These are unprecedented times, and people are working within new territories each day. Relationships need to be strong and resilient, but they need to make people feel safe and valued. Show appreciation and acknowledgment of what other people are experiencing too. If you want to improve your remote relationships, be thankful by saying thank you.

The return to work is not clear for everyone. Remote relationships will be the ongoing norm for many organizations. We will need to create relationships that are supportive and effective. Complaining about the changes and difficulties won’t get us anywhere. Taking control of the situation will put you in a better position to do your job. Having a great remote relationship will help you feel more satisfaction every day.

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