Recently a myGreenlight community member asked how they can build effective relationships over email and through conference calls to create the experience of intimacy building that typically happens in person. I personally empathized. I also work in a remote office situation and love finding new ways to break the glass ceiling of technology’s capabilities to facilitate some of the benefits of face to face human interaction.
My experiments to reproduce the fundamentals of daily office and team communication have produced the following best practices to bridging that gap:
1. The Weekly Huddle: Being able to connect briefly with each team member’s weekly “to do list” helps me stay abreast of the teams wins, challenges, and in progress pursuits. It’s the kind of information that allows me to be helpful, to understand how someone’s current schedule may affect my time lines and in general what mood everyone is in. This takes us 30 minutes with 10 team members every Monday and really serves to set a positive and informed tone about the week’s activities.
2. Get in Their Time Zone: Ideally and when possible, I schedule regular visits to the team office. Within the first 6 weeks of my time in this role I spent a week in New York with my team. That provided time for candid discussion, an opportunity to observe their work style, and time for impromptu discovery of mutual interests. In lieu of that option, I made the decision to mirror my co-workers office hours on the East Coast. This means waking up and starting earlier in the day, but it helps me stay in rhythm with the team and not begin each day feeling behind everyone else. It was a decision mandated by my desire to feel a part of the team, but also to minimize challenges with timelines and work flow.
3. Be Interested: I purposefully find something in common or something that is of personal interest with each person on the team that connects us beyond the work we’re doing together. It can get very easy for all of my conversations to become strictly business focused, so I make sure that at some point in a week, I touch base with at least one co-worker on something personal. I challenge myself to create the kind of talk that would normally happen in the lunch room or the hallway. How was your recent vacation? How are things with the new puppy, class, apartment, or eating plan?
4. Skype. The new water cooler. This is my first time using Skype as a communication tool in the workplace. I love it. When that little green available check mark lights up in the morning, I feel present for my team and know that they are present for me. The Skype chat facilitates the kind of easy question and answer time and conversation that you don’t want to waste email or a phone call on. I have some of my best conversations remotely. The people in my LA office probably think I’m crazy because I’m laughing out loud at conversations I’m having with a co-worker over Skype.
5. Use video for intense conversations. One of the things I’ve noticed is that just as the telephone used to be the golden rule for intense conversations in years past, video serves a greater purpose today. In moments when additional communication cues of facial expression, posture and vocal tone are required, video provides more contextual cues than email, chat, and text can offer.
The bottom line is that you have to take ownership of the experience you want to have in a remote work situation. Relying on someone else to make the move to connect with you won’t do in these circumstances. You must go out of your way to be available and interested in building a relationship and over time that pattern will be recognized by the team. It’s an evolving process of observation and application. Keep trying different approaches until you have a recipe for success that works with each individual on the team.
Kibibi Springs is myGreenlight’s Community Director. Connect with her @KibibiSprings