How to Preserve Relationships Remotely

Remote work can be lonely. Here are some practical steps to take to ensure that everyone feels connected on your team.

In 2016, I was an anomaly at my company – one of a very small handful of people who were approved to work remotely. I may have been one of only two managers attempting to work full time remotely. I’d been at the company for 17 years and my family and I were looking to trade in Midwest winters for warmer climates.

It was a bit of a gamble at the time, for the company and for me. What if my management changed their mind when I was now 600+miles away? What if I lost touch because I wasn’t in the office anymore? I’d spent 17 years building some fantastic working relationships and building my professional reputation. Was I putting that all at risk?

Fast forward to the big shift, and now all my coworkers are working remotely with no immediate plans on moving back to the office. I guess you could say I’ve had a head start on this process.

What I can tell you between 2016 and the shift to remote in 2019, was that I had built a very strong remote work foundation to ensure that where I was geographically had very little bearing on those relationships that I’d built over time. Interestingly, I’ve found that maintaining relationships when you’re the only one working remotely is much easier than when everyone is remote. Now everyone has to take that extra time to make and maintain those connections.

As so many are now looking at long term remote, how can we ensure that these relationships are maintained and even strengthened? How can we be sure to create new relationships with people who we’ve potentially never met in person?

An introduction can really help open the door for new relationships. My work allows me to interact with a variety of teams, so making these connections early sets a good stage for future interactions that may not occur on a day-to-day basis. When I see a new manager has joined our organization, I’ll email a personal introduction and lay out what my team does. I am also quick to include an “open door” invitation to reach out with questions, whether they are related to my specific role, or just our company in general.

Technology affords us many ways to stay in touch with those we’ve known for longer periods of time. When promotions, retirements or work anniversaries are announced, I’m quick to send a quick “Congrats!” or “Happy Workiversary!” to celebrate those milestones. If I see a familiar colleague in a meeting I’m also attending, especially if I haven’t spoken to them in a long time, I’ll reach out afterwards via instant message or email. It never fails to put a smile on my face when I get a pop up “hello!” from a fellow colleague just to catch up. I also set up periodic on camera meetings with some folks for “coffee talk”.

We take a somewhat more aggressive approach to staying connected for my immediate team, and it’s worked out well for us. Every morning we have a 15-minute standup meeting where we look at new work that’s come in since the previous workday, we look at the day ahead, and we take a minute for any personal updates that may call for some celebration or consideration. We have weekly meetings in which I share any news from our upper management, and then take time to catch up on other items that need to be addressed or review any challenges that might be hindering progress.

I also meet every two weeks with each member of my team individually to catch up. I allow them to use that time for anything they want to discuss, be it business or personal. Lastly, we meet every Friday at the end of the day to look back at the week, make sure new work is in its proper state, get reporting completed as a team, and chat about upcoming weekend plans.

Our team has only been in existence for three years, and we are a tight knit crew. Late last year, our team of four grew to five and our meeting schedule helped to ensure that our new teammate felt welcomed and included from Day 1.

We didn’t work in a vacuum before, so why should we now? Partnerships are important and should be nurtured regardless of our geographic proximity to each other.

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