Working with remote team members can present unique communication challenges. What works in a close office environment isn’t necessarily available with digital colleagues. However, it’s not the burden it once was in today’s world. You simply need the right tools and the right mindset.
Physical distance is the most obvious challenge, but you could also deal with different time zones, work schedules, and cultures. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to build a strong rapport between all of your employees, including those working remotely. Moreover, the tools and interpersonal skills you need are likely already available.
Here are a few ideas to strengthen rapport with remote employees.
Plan for effective communication
It’s easy for remote and on-site employees to feel lost in the shuffle if communication is flawed.
Imperfect communication can arise for many reasons. It can come from a lack of team communication or a manager checking in too often. It can happen when remote workers are left out of impromptu discussions or when on-site workers spend too much time in one-on-ones — isolation and micromanagement impact team performance.
That’s why it’s best to establish a consistent communication plan. And the sooner you develop a plan, the better.
Determine what works best for each employee based on their unique conditions. If the worker is part-time or freelance, be flexible, coordinating around other client work. If they’re full-time, figure out when to communicate in person, over a video conference, or via your team’s chat app. Consider what time of day works best with everyone’s schedule, and incorporate tools that make communicating easy.
Furthermore, be proactive when plans change. Let people know when a meeting or call time needs to change ASAP. This is when tools like your team chat app come in handy. You can send a direct message or use their chat handle to notify them immediately. It’s important to show every team member that their time is appreciated and valued.
Establishing a structure for remote communication is especially essential because remote workers have no other way of knowing what’s going on. So make a plan and honor each others’ time. These steps reassure remote and on-site employees that they are vital to the team.
Be friendly and considerate
It’s incredible how much better conversations go when they start on a friendly note. This is especially important in a digital workplace, but ironically, it’s the most natural medium to forget your manners.
In the case of remote employees, people often forget simple pleasantries, like saying “hello” in the morning or asking how someone’s weekend went before going straight to work. Reaching out to your remote teammates with a nice, “Hey! Hope your day is going well…” works wonders for morale compared to blunt requests like, “Do you have the report ready?” Friendly greetings help remote workers feel like they’re actual people rather than faceless robots at the other end of an app.
When it is time to get to those work requests, try mentioning the time in your message. A few key phrases can let your remote colleague know you’re considering their workload when reaching out. Try these examples next time:
- “Hi! When you have a moment, could you send me that PDF?”
- “If you have some time later, can we schedule a quick call?”
- “Hey, do you have the bandwidth to help with a project?”
Acknowledging the finite amount of time we have each day in requests is a great way to demonstrate that you recognize their work.
Also, don’t be afraid to relax and act casually with remote workers as you would any other employee you work with regularly. Emojis and GIFs have been proven to cut text tension when the moment calls for it. Adding a smile or a wink lets your team know that your words don’t have a harsh tone.
Regardless of the method you choose, listen to your teammates. Ask for feedback. All it takes to build a stronger connection is active listening and consideration.
Additionally, don’t forget to thank them for a job well done. When remote workers go above and beyond, recognize their effort in a message. Small recognitions can go a long way. When combined, all these little gestures help cement a professional bond.
Get to know your remote team
Even when remote workers create strong professional bonds with their teams, they can often still feel isolated from the communal experiences of the rest of the team. It’s essential not just to respect your remote employees but to try to get to know them!
Pause the endless chat about work, and ask about things beyond their role on the team. If you’re worried about asking the wrong question, try sharing something about your interests instead. You never know; your colleague in London could be a massive fan of the same TV show as you.
This approach also works for on-site teams that are struggling to communicate. When people feel more relaxed about sending things over their team chat, people are much more willing to pitch ideas, speak up about potential problems, and ask questions when they don’t understand something.
Remember that you don’t have to arrange a formal meet and greet to encourage your team to get to know one another. Instead, some ways you can promote non-work related team communication is by:
- Creating shared docs where teammates can suggest ideas
- Making a team Spotify playlist
- Creating an ‘off-topic’ or ‘water cooler’ thread for casual group chats
- Starting fun clubs (fantasy football, Game of Thrones recaps, etc.)
Test a few ideas until you find something that inspires your team to bond over more than work.
No amount of rapport building will lead to a high-performing team if all members aren’t giving equal effort and following through on their word. For a remote worker, efficiency-killing moments include:
- Missed meetings
- Incomplete work
- Skipped deadlines
- Lack of feedback or response
No one likes it when these things happen. But when it’s a remote worker many time zones away, it can devastate their workflow. Make sure your team is honest about bandwidth and other limitations. No one needs a hero; they need a reliable colleague.
Lastly, don’t overthink it. Your rapport will naturally grow if you listen to people genuinely and follow through on your work. Be the kind of colleague you want to have: be friendly, say hello, and occasionally drop a Giphy link into your Typetalk chats.