One of the most challenging aspects of telecommuting is the absence of real-life interactions with co-workers. Although it’s great to be working from home, you don’t get to meet many new people, and experience the feeling of being a part of a team. One of the reasons why coworking spaces are taking off is because of the collective desire of remote workers to be around others, even if they’re not working on the same project.
Remote lifestyle helps you avoid the usual interpersonal problems such as internal politics, cliques & rude behavior, that you would normally see at a traditional office. However, it can give rise to new ones. Breakdown in communication, frequent scheduling of meetings around time zones, and difficulty in earning respect from colleagues are the common problems among remote workers.
So how can remote workers effectively deal with these landmines that have cropped up since leaving their corporate life? Here are five best practices you can keep in mind to bolster your work relationships with colleagues and enable you to settle into your new life as a remote worker.
1. Adapt to the New Facetime
While starting out in the remote work space, there’s a lot more you can do than simply accepting everyone’s contact requests on Skype, Slack, Facebook Workplace, or G-Chat. Right from the word go, make sure to put your best face forward with your new coworkers. Start by using a pleasant, professional photo of yourself anywhere you use an avatar. This way, when your coworkers get a message from you, they’ll start thinking about the you in that photo, instead of the Harley Davidson logo or a photo of Darth Vader.
The more they see you as a real person, the more they’ll respond to your ideas, suggestions and needs. As you become a familiar face, they’ll become interested in knowing more about you, and associating with you. Also, think about setting up a quick 10-minute one-on-one introductory call with each of your coworkers. This will give you an opportunity to break the ice, and discover common interests & fun things outside of work, something you might not be able to talk about in your work emails & meetings.
Making a human connection early on will help you gain their trust and go a long way in getting things done smoothly.
2. Respect their time zones
Remote teams are generally distributed across multiple time zones so it’s important to be aware and respectful about it. For example, if you set up a meeting for Monday morning, it might still be Sunday night for your teammate across the world. Similarly, while it may be an office holiday for you, your teammate might be waiting for your email approval.
Know the time zone difference with your coworkers so you aren’t disturbing each other inadvertently. If you’re working with large team and unable to remember all the time zones, use a website like Time and Date to quickly check if it’s an appropriate time to contact them. Also, ensure that whenever you mention a date & time in your emails and meeting invites, you specify the timezone to avoid confusion. You can even go a step further and give the information in the recipient’s’ time zone so that they quickly ‘get it’.
3. Host a 60-second Intro
I was a part of a team that spanned 7 countries in 3 continents. On the first day, we all got together on a conference call and everyone had 60 seconds to introduce themselves.
The results were amazing. I mentioned that I loved Star Wars, played soccer and listened to blues, and all three of those things connected with at least one person from the group. It got to a point that whenever I emailed or IMed them in the next few weeks, they would start talking about the latest soccer game, or popular blues songs. Such organic bonding can be invaluable for your career growth.
4. Be Honest & Transparent
If you want to create a strong work relationship with your teammates, ensure that you’re true to your word. If you say that you’ll meet a deadline, make sure that you do. If you can’t, then give an advance notice to all the affected parties. This will help you gain credibility and trust.
One of the important requirements of a good remote worker is to be able to manage your work on your own, without someone having to constantly ask you about it. When you consistently back your words with actions, your coworkers will see you as a dependable person and value your work.
5. Be mindful of communication gaps
Communication gap is one of the most important reasons why distributed teams fail. In-person meetings enable you to correctly understand the meaning of what others are saying. Non-verbal cues such facial expressions, tone, body language and loudness minimize the chances of misinterpretation.
Since remote teams have to rely heavily on text-based communication such as emails & chats, it can result in misunderstandings. For example, you may have made a well-intentioned joke in your email but your use of irony may not be obvious from your message. Similarly, if your coworker replies ‘yes’ to your suggestion, does it mean she’s enthusiastic about it? Or is she accepting it with hesitation?
It can even be due to various cultural or linguistic differences. If you’re aware of such nuances, then make sure to proactively work on your communication with your coworkers, via IM or video chat.
When you’re working in a remote team, being ‘candid and straightforward’ isn’t just a good-to-have quality. It’s not only essential to maximize productivity but also ensure that every team member is happy. If you’re a manager, establish a candid & respectful culture that encourages team members to give feedback and ask questions. If you’re not a manager, don’t hesitate to bring forth any challenges you’re facing, through one-on-one meetings. Frame it as your desire to do an outstanding job and offer solutions to improve the situation.
Remote workers may seem to lead a totally different life compared to their office counterparts, but in the end you’re both working towards the same business objectives for your organization. Remember that our colleagues on the other end of a Slack conversation are also humans just like us; and that a little bit of empathy can go a long way in building long lasting work relationships.