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Remote Relationships: How Far Can You Coast?

I can’t count the number of times my dad’s car ran out of gas when I was a kid. Every single time, it was the same sputtering, then a period of coasting, followed by a full stop (and generally a few disapproving words from my mother.)

While remote workers may not need to worry about a full gas tank, this idea of coasting to a stop is becoming painfully familiar in the workplace as employees are stepping back and asking themselves:

Are my remote relationships running out of gas?

For many, the answer is ‘yes’. Over the past 16 months as millions of people quickly transitioned to working virtually, we naturally relied upon the strength of established relationships to maintain momentum and get the job done. But without the daily face-to-face tending and organic opportunities to connect, these relationships may be showing signs of stress or are simply fading away. And continued work-from-home and hybrid solutions only perpetuate the challenge for many.

Relationships – in one’s personal life and on the job – require attention, intention, and investment. Even more so from afar. So, here are two high-impact strategies to ensure that your important connections don’t coast to a stop.

Consider your communication cadence.

Physical presence. Non-verbal cues. Office jokes. Watercooler gabbing. The cubicle drop-in or drive-by. The significance of these features of a co-located workplace has become clear by their absence. And yet, it’s possible to compensate for what’s missing if you’re intentional around communication.

Healthy virtual relationships tend to require more touchpoints than you might expect. ‘Out of sight’ (or touch) really does leave others feeling that they’re ‘out of mind’. So, evaluate your own situation to determine the frequency of communication that will build energy, engagement and collaboration with each remote colleague. Then consider the tools available to you. It’s not just phone calls, video conferences, and email. Small moments can yield significant results. So, include texting, IM, and the range of internal vehicles at your disposal.

Then create a schedule and even set alerts to remind you to reach out. (Despite it sounding contrite and mechanical, this is a technique used by some of the most effective and authentic people I know.) You’ll likely find that you’ve already beaten the alert on many days. Other days the alert might be just what you need to remind you of something you’d like to pass along or ask. Or, if there’s not a pressing business need when the alert appears, you could use the opportunity to connect on a human level and check in on someone’s day. The key is be intentional as you craft interactions that fuel your remote relationships.

Prioritize the person (as well as the project.)

Relying on technology – even the best and most visceral forms – can have a dehumanizing effect. (Witness how email exchanges escalate in ways that would rarely play out face-to-face.) But even when emotions aren’t running high, how frequently do you get wrapped up in projects or other priorities and find yourself diving right into the business at hand and forgetting that there’s a person there?

Remote relationships require special care and feeding on the human side of the equation – beyond just asking about someone’s weekend (although that’s a fine start.) It requires watching and listening for cues about what’s going on with others and what’s important to them… and then remembering, following up, and acting upon that information. Incredibly small gestures – like remembering a child’s or a pet’s name – send a powerful message that the other person matters; and this miniscule investment of time and energy strengthens relationships.

Sustainable remote relationships also demand that you bring your whole self to the party. Your authenticity, vulnerability and willingness to share more of yourself makes it easier for others to connect with you. Don’t get me wrong; you don’t want to become less professional. Just more human. Turn on the camera – even if it’s a bad hair day. Share experiences. Take the time to really connect – as you would or did while co-located.

Even as some businesses return to work, more and more relationships are going to operate at least partially in the virtual domain. As a result, establishing and cultivating remote relationships is quickly becoming a critical competency. Intentionality, a deliberate communication cadence, and a clear human focus will ensure that rather than running out of gas, your relationships will have you speeding toward success.

This post was originally published on SmartBrief.

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