Matthew 7:12 tells us: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” We often refer to this as the “Golden Rule” as we encourage people to treat others as they would like to be treated, and nothing could be a better truth to put into practice when you’re working remotely.
Building relationships can oftentimes be challenging. They’re challenging because they involve the “trickiest and most unpredictable mammals on the planet” as Matthew McConaughey once stated. No matter how you may think a person may respond or react, there are no guarantees. And, if your life is anything like mine, your hit ratio on predicting people’s responses is nothing to write home about.
Now, add to that work pressures compounded by not being with your colleagues face to face on a regular basis, and you’ve created an environment for building relationships where you will need every bit of Ephesians 5:15-16a, which says, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.
Ok, I probably don’t need to paint much more of a picture for the obstacles you’ll be facing with being a remote worker and trying to build relationships. Let’s get into some practical tips for how you might be able to advance the ball in this area. First, as a preface to these tips, they are all simple, but not necessarily easy. Intellectually, you may read some of them and immediately discount the potential result. I’d encourage you to set judgment aside and give them a try.
- Get to know your colleagues – – be intentional in setting up some time specifically to get more information about who your colleagues are. Everything you possibly can learn about them is fair game. I’d prepare ahead of time with interview-type questions. Everything from facts (where were you born) to opinions (what do you think about “issue of the day”) to work initiatives and projects with which they’re involved.
- Create an “ops manual” in working with you – – just like you want to know everything you can about your colleagues, make it easier for them to figure out how to work best with you. Do you prefer text or email? Calls to your cell or work line? What are your hours? How do you step away from work and how should they approach you if you’re away, etc.
- Say thank you… A LOT! – – Research has shown that we usually only show appreciation one out of seven times we have an opportunity to share it. When you don’t have the chance to “bump into” a colleague in the hallway that may trigger a realization of their contribution to help you in your work, you’ll need to be even more cognizant of the need / opportunity to say thank you more often.
- Birthdays matter – – think of how you feel when someone remembers your birthday. How can you make someone else feel that way? Enough said.
- Assessment tools – – while you may not be the team leader, do whatever you can to influence the team to take the same assessment tool and share the results with one another. While not conclusive, these tools are invaluable to help you discern how to communicate and work with one another. Learn what buttons to push and when to push them.
- Social chats – – Literally schedule time periodically with colleagues with no agenda or ask from them. These don’t have to be long calls…they could be 5-10 minutes to check in. Perhaps they’re spontaneous, but if you’re unsuccessful in catching people, set up some time. No one has established a rule that meetings have to last 15, 30 or 60 minutes.
- Turn the video on – – With the ubiquity of video technology today, don’t waste the opportunity to literally “see” each other whenever possible. Don’t worry about how your hair looks, make up, or shaving…get to see each other as much as possible.
- How does everyone else do it – – ask others how they build strong relationships while working remotely. No one has all the answers, and the more you’re curious about expanding your knowledge base in this area, the more adept you’ll become.
- Catch key events – – did your colleague just have a baby? If so, what could potentially change in your approach and communication with them? Did he / she just receive a promotion? Did they move within their metropolitan area? Do they have an aging parent they’re caring for? The list is significant about the life events people face, and the more in tune you are with those, the better you’ll be able to stage and navigate work with them.
Work projects will come and go. Relationships are the only the only thing with the opportunity to last. I’m experiencing that now with regularly scheduled calls with former colleagues to continue the relationship. It’s worth it! They take time, but relationships pay huge dividends…and not just at work, but in the quality of your life!
Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.
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