The secrets to creating connections even when you’re miles apart
You have to work at these working relationships.
More Americans are working remotely that at any time in the past — 43% did at least some of their work outside of the office in 2016, according to Gallup’s last tally. What’s more, about one in five now do all their work remotely.
That trend is likely to increase: “We’re going to see a growing remote and virtual workforce,” says executive coach Ora Shtull, the co-founder of CareerBlast. “We’re going to have to be creative about how we communicate to make it as good as we do in person.”
Developing close ties with your colleagues or even your boss can be challenging if you’re separated by long distances. How do you go about forging the kind of friendships that grow out of getting lunch with a coworker, or making small talk from across the desk?
“Nothing compares to working side-by-side with someone, but technology now, whether it’s or telephone, Skype or FaceTime, has really helped us foster relationships with people who are far-flung,” says Elizabeth Joseph, a news editor at CNN who has worked at bureaus around the world.
“With our headquarters in Atlanta, we also have offices in London, Hong Kong, and Abu Dhabi,” Joseph says. “I’ve had colleagues … I’ve only known by their names or email addresses, and then been sent on assignment [with them], and immediately had a feeling of community and camaraderie.”
Experts say that building a rapport with colleagues who work elsewhere comes down to communication. “It’s like a long-distance romance,” says author and executive coach Marc Dorio, speaking of the hurdles that come with forging friendships from afar. “You have to work twice as hard,” he says, noting that interpersonal relationships with people you work alongside — even if you don’t see them very often — are pivotal.
It might take creativity, but it’s not impossible: “Is it challenging? Yes. Is it doable? Yes,” Shtull says. “You have to be far more intentional and employ technological tools that make it easier.”
So how can you do that? One way is through social media, or building in a few minutes while on the phone with a distant colleague to chat about your personal lives. “In the time that we live in, every one is Facebook friends,” Joseph says. “We can peer into each other’s lives more than we were able to before, we know where they’re going on holiday; there’s more of a personal relationship.”
But, she adds: “No matter what, in the workplace, you have to be able to operate professionally,” noting that getting work done is the primary objective.
Joseph says that regular contact brings people closer together — especially when you can video conference to see your colleagues on the other end. When she spent several years as a supervisor at CNN’s Hong Kong bureau, Joseph participated in daily team calls with colleagues, getting to know them individually whether they were in London or Tokyo, Seoul or New Delhi.
If you to really want to get to know people whom you work with remotely, the consensus is that you’ve got to go the extra mile by making designated one-on-one time. “We’re talking about using things like Google Hangout, Skype, and teleconferencing to have coffee together, have lunch or something to eat together,” Dorio says.
“Don’t let distance stop you from doing things you would do [otherwise].” Asking how a colleague’s vacation went, or knowing when it’s someone’s birthday elsewhere in the world, can really show coworkers you care.
Throughout Joseph’s time at CNN, she’s had colleagues with whom she’s worked remotely that she has never set eyes on in person. But finally, when they are deployed to cover breaking news or a story in the same place, “meeting them in person is such a great treat,” she concludes. “[It’s like] going somewhere where I already have friends — even if that was to an office where I hadn’t worked throughout my entire career.”
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