If I look back on my last work experience in Vietnam, I remember with sadness an unhealthy work environment, very unproductive and overwhelming for the whole team.
Partners had contrasting—often contradictory brand vision and approaches to work. All of this way of “living the office” was obviously reflected in every day tasks with clients and colleagues.
I’ve found that collaboration in the digital era has relationship challenges, but “distributed work” (when team members work remotely) includes another level of complexity:
How do we establish a feeling of connection with colleagues and clients who aren’t around for a coffee or a quick chat?
I truly believe that remote workers can lead to greater employee engagement, higher productivity and efficiency, lower stress and a boost in morale.
I’ve discovered, however, that it’s more difficult to establish a connection with faraway team members. The logistical efforts required to coordinate across time zones or book a Skype meeting are greater and more distancing than in-person connections. These elements, as well as the actual lack of face-to-face time, can create walls that inhibit the bonds we make more easily with colleagues in closer proximity.
Get to know each other as people
Instead of jumping right into an agenda, allow some time at the top of the meeting for an open-ended question, like “What’s your plan for the weekend?” It’s an easy way to build connections and establish a relationship.
Sometimes it’s just easier to be face to face. Managers should provide clear guidelines and opportunities for team members to travel for in-person meetings. On a video call, express reactions to colleagues ideas noticeably to indicate they’re being heard. When you do have the opportunity to meet for face-to-face interactions, be mindful about reinforcing the connections forged virtually.
Communication is key
A misunderstandings about deadlines or deliverables erodes trust quickly. We maintain a shared online space with clear responsibilities and deadlines to avoid confusion.
Respect everyone’s time
Of course this is also true for face-to-face meetings, but it’s especially critical with distributed work. Be prepared. Have documents ready to share in advance.
As with any meeting, one or two people can sometimes dominate the conversation. With remote meetings, it’s especially important to draw everyone into the discussion.
Be present and an example for the others
Close your email. Silence your phone. Make eye contact and listen actively.
Be generous with gratitude and praise
It requires extra effort to collaborate over vast distances and through different time zones. Recognize the efforts and inconveniences. And when praise is earned, give it.