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Rethinking Remote Relationships


According to a VitalSmarts survey of 1153 global workers reported in Harvard Business Review (April 2018), remote employees feel left out and disadvantaged as a result of their status. And it goes far beyond ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ In dramatically larger numbers than their co-located colleagues, remote employees feel that:

  • Colleagues lobby against them with others
  • Colleagues speak badly of them behind their backs
  • Colleagues don’t fight for their priorities
  • Colleagues make changes to projects without warning

These findings offer leaders who want to make the most of today’s decentralized and distributed workforce an important new focus. For too long, we’ve thought that the key to ensuring results from a remote organizational configuration boils down to technology. The right conference bridge. Video software. Knowledge management systems. Collaboration platforms. But the truth of the matter is much different.

Creating connectivity within remote teams is about tapping hearts…not keyboards or touchpads.

Today, technology is table stakes. People expect to be able to converse from a distance (and most remote employees with whom I’ve talked actually prefer simple methods like the phone over the fancy HD video formats). It’s the nature of the interaction and the relationships that evolve – rather than its form – that defines effective remote teams.

And a leader is in a powerful position to nurture and build the relationships that leave everyone feeling involved, engaged, respected and valued. Consider these best practices for creating the genuine human connectivity that supports a virtual workplace and delivers unbeatable results.

Weekly check-in. Reach out to each individual on your team (remote and co-located) each week. Even if you don’t have a regular coaching or meeting cadence, a quick, simple connection does two important things. It lets others know that they haven’t been forgotten – that they matter. And, it helps you not forget those who don’t cross your paths regularly. Anna, a director in a technology company, has a simple matrix that looks almost like an attendance form. As she connects with each employee, she checks them off. She reports that it forces a constructive management discipline and keeps everyone on her team on her radar screen.

Strategic partnerships. Find ways to intentionally connect remote and co-located employees on key projects or tasks. It’s through the work that understanding and bonds are formed. And, the added benefit is that the individual at HQ can track progress and politics in a way that remote workers can’t.

Distance learning. Create the conditions that demand team members get to know and work with remote employees. A simple and effective way of doing this is to assign training responsibilities to those who are not co-located. This contact allows everyone to get to know those who work at a distance and to discover the value they offer, resulting in greater respect and rapport.

Field trips. While it’s not always possible, remote employees appreciate the opportunity to connect in person. So, make it an expectation that when team members (including yourself) travel to areas near those who are work virtually, they get together. Rotate meeting locations as appropriate to allow remote workers to host events on their turf.

The key to virtual team success involves engineering relationships not technology. And, thoughtful, deliberate and intentional human connections will always trump the coolest new platform.

Image: (c) Can Stock Photo / Oakozhan


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