The times they are a changin’ – How to build relationships with your remote workers

Remote working - building relationships

In these uncertain times, one thing is for sure. The rate of change in working practices and cultures has accelerated in a way that would have seemed unthinkable a year ago.  

If we could travel back in time just five years, the workplace would look very different. We’d see little of the home working, the remotely based teams, or the agile workplaces, with their huddle spaces and hot desks, that were already starting to appear in the last couple of years, but have suddenly exploded as organisations wrestle with creating Covid-safe environments for their employees.

Pandemic or not, remote working does offer many benefits to the employer, not least of which is dramatically expanding the pool of people that can be considered for each position. When geographic limitations are removed, the global workforce is available to you. Developments in technology means real-time communication with the next-door building, or the next-door continent, is entirely feasible.

But a remote working culture does bring its own set of challenges for managers. Relationship building is crucial when you don’t get the chance to sit down for a coffee with your team. So, what steps can you take to ensure things run smoothly?

Create a routine

Your team will work better if they are clear what is expected of them. By arranging regular meetings with all members of the team, whether remote working or physically present, each person has the opportunity to present their ideas, and be able to talk to each other and exchange ideas. In-between time, make sure you have decent real-time collaboration technology to allow progress to be visible to all on-line regardless of their time zone.

Communicate with your team

The key to the success of remote workers is to ensure they feel included and that they develop a real sense of being a valued team member. An important consideration is ensuring they have access to all types of information they may need to do their job. This is particularly important, as they won’t be absorbing information as they go, in the same way as office-based employees do. It’s amazing what you pick up as you chat at the coffee machine or get called into an impromptu briefing, information sources that are not available to remote workers. It’s also important to get to know them as people, rather than just names. Again, this takes more effort, but understanding their family background, their hopes and aspirations, their passions will all help to make the relationship feel more inclusive.

Think about recognition

When you are working remotely from the office, it can be difficult to see how you fit into the ‘big picture’. This can lead to people feeling their contribution is not of value. It’s key to recognise both individual and team achievements and ensure it’s done in a way that is equally applicable to all types of employees. For example, taking the team out for pizza won’t work if half of them work miles away. Sending them a voucher for pizza and arranging a fun Zoom quiz while you all eat it just might.

Be open to input

When you work with a physical team, it’s easy to drop in and check on how they are and ask if they have any feedback. Because your remote staff are out of sight, they can get excluded. Find a way to include them in any feedback process. Asking during a group meeting probably isn’t the best way, but you can arrange one-to-one video calls, which are better than phone calls because you can see their body language. Check how they are finding the working arrangements, the collaboration processes and their relationships with other team members. Ask for input on how things could be improved and show that you value that input by coming back to them with action you have taken.

Make time to meet

Finally, wherever your team is based, you should make the effort to meet face to face every so often, and to ensure the whole team gets together occasionally – even if this involves renting a hotel for the day or jumping on planes to do so (when we are able to do that again of course!).

Are you managing remote team members and if so, do you have any tips on how to make the situation work better? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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