My Story On How I Manage To Build Strong Relationships In A Virtual World
Working from home has made our day-to-day lives more productive and also helped us gain more free time for family and friends. Some people won’t even consider returning to the office any time soon. In fact, according to our recent RTO survey, one in four employees would quit if remote work was no longer an option. Yet, it’s also true that the office is the best place to build strong relationships. Or is it not?
After my recent journey to Greece, meeting up close with my fellow colleagues has shown me that anything is possible! And keep in mind we had never seen each other in person since I joined the company about four years ago.
Speaking from personal experience, even though the office is important for relationship building and collaboration, I’ve discovered that you can create and nurture relationships with colleagues and clients in a remote environment. That, however, doesn’t mean it requires zero effort on our part.
In a post-pandemic world, people want to work remotely. So, it’s not something you can avoid.
Here are a few ways to build strong relationships in remote teams.
4 Keys On How To Build Real Relationships With Remote Teams
It doesn’t really matter if you’re working from home partially, just transitioning to remote work, or if you’re a seasoned pro. There’s one essential thing all remote workers have to do, and that is start building meaningful connections with your remote team members.
Not being in the same room doesn’t take away the fact that you’re still part of a team. And when you’re part of a team, you and your peers have to work together to drive results and achieve goals.
But what does that really mean? First off, you need to acknowledge one of the biggest challenges that remote employees face, and that is bonding with coworkers. When there’s a physical distance and you see each other only through a computer screen, and possibly during different time zones, things get complicated.
Building relationships on any team is not easy, no matter if you’re in the office or working remotely. But the situation gets much harder when it comes to remote or work-from-home teams. Don’t abandon hope just yet; you can start building strong relationships with remote coworkers. The key is to keep strengthening your team day by day. Sit tight as I’m going to share how we managed to build a high-performing marketing team while working remotely.
So, how do you build a strong relationship remotely? Let’s find out.
1. Intentional Communication
It’s safe to say that one of the biggest challenges remote workers face is keeping in touch. When it’s just you and your laptop, you tend to zone out, but many team members would love to chat with you. Don’t reach out only about work. You can touch base and talk about life outside of work, as well.
Be human and set aside time once or twice a month to check in with your boss. Or, even better, schedule a virtual coffee break or lunch with coworkers. Working in an office has its pros, don’t get me wrong. For example, you might have random conversations in the hallway. It could be someone’s birthday, and there’s cake and treats for everyone to enjoy. Or perhaps your boss has arranged Pizza Fridays to keep you happy. Along with all the above, casual conversations are a given.
During those celebrations or by simply hanging out with colleagues, you might learn that Jackie loves cats and buying toys for them, or that David has two incredible twin girls who love dancing. You can discuss and have fun as you would in real life when working remotely. To give you an example, at eLearning Industry, we’ve hung out plenty of times in the virtual break room. Sometimes it was just to enjoy each other’s company.
For instance, celebrating an event like a Christmas party, Secret Santa, winning a business award, or our new strategic marketing plan. Other times, a different department would organize a themed party just for fun, where we would talk about our favorite music or stories from the past as if we were at the office. You can make it a trivia event or just talk about whatever, just like if you were meeting in person.
2. Switch To Video When Written Communication Won’t Cut It
Talking about pitfalls when working remotely, written communication can be one of the biggest. It’s easy to get lost sending messages back and forth. So, if you find yourself disoriented, wait for the other person’s response not to lose track of who says what. It’s easier to send well-thought-out, concise messages to get your point across and avoid misunderstandings—no more overwhelming, confusing, or frustrating endless chats on Slack or whatever tool you use.
Not to say that written communication isn’t fun. Plenty of times, I’ve been able to solve problems really fast with just a few texts when a video call would have taken a whole hour or more. Also, there are people who actually prefer the written form. What I love about written communication is how witty things can get, especially in group chats. Written communication is a go-to solution when you’re remote, but it’s essential to recognize when to switch. If written communication gets confusing or heated, start a video call or pick up the phone. It’s the best way to clear up any mess done by written communication.
When you want to build strong relationships with remote employees, video chats are perfect. If your internet connection is stable and you have the right equipment, video conferencing can be a real savior. Things are so much easier when you can see those physical cues clearly. This is something you often miss with written communication. At times, you can even miss verbal cues. Body language is very important if you’re looking to improve the quality of a conversation.
Don’t overdo it, though. There are times when you can get dragged into consecutive pointless meetings. There’s the right time for everything, and time-wasters should be avoided.
3. Don’t Be All Business
It’s great to be able to learn more about your coworkers as people. During a video call, you might notice they have dog pictures or puzzles all over their working space. That gives you more insight into their personality and can start an interesting conversation, leading to a deeper connection. What I’m getting at is that a glimpse of your coworker’s home office is great to get to know them better.
Once you get used to video chatting, you’ll probably realize that virtual meetings resemble meetings held in the same room as your coworkers. And, as time goes by, video call after video call, you’ll all manage to grow and strengthen your team relationships.
That said, more often than not, your virtual meeting conversations center more on business topics than your personal lives. However, “all work and no play” conversations don’t help you build strong relationships with remote workers. So, taken from our meetings, adding a personal touch to your meetings is good. For example, in the first five minutes, you can talk about what’s going on in your lives and ask some icebreaker questions. Doing so is an excellent way to start any virtual meeting.
If you don’t want to talk about personal matters, you can build relationships with remote employees by asking them general questions to get to know them better. For instance, you can ask:
- What’s your favorite movie?
- Have you discovered any great music lately?
- Do you have any upcoming travel plans?
Questions like the above can help you learn more about your colleagues. It will show that you’re interested in the human aspect and that you genuinely want to get to know them as people. You’d be surprised by the exciting and fun answers you might get even when discussing the weather.
4. Meet IRL
Fellow remote employees want to build strong relationships, just like you. Thankfully, building relationships is more than just meeting online. You may be one of the lucky ones, and your company sponsors meetups and retreats, but not all do (or can afford it). Take advantage of such opportunities to get to know your colleagues. And if that’s not possible, you can always arrange real-life meetups with your teammates. I’m not saying you have to spend big bucks to hang out with your team, but if some of your team members live nearby, you can meet somewhere in the middle. It can be something as simple as having coffee or lunch. If you do that once or twice a month or even twice a year, you’ll manage to build strong relationships and grow as a team.
I was lucky enough to be invited by our CEO in Greece and get to know the whole team in real life! We got to combine business with fun, as it was an excellent opportunity for some vacation, too. You can also combine meetups with vacation time. For example, you may have coworkers that live at your destination. In that case, you can plan to hang out and have your teammates show you around. On my trip to Greece, we had a blast walking around the center of Athens, discussing Greek philosophy, and getting to know the best places locals go to. It felt as if we’d always been working in the same space.
Maybe visiting coworkers during your vacation is not your cup of tea. Yet, spending a few hours with remote team members is crucial. That is if you want to build a strong, lasting professional relationship with specific people. Trust doesn’t come easily; you need to invest in it.
How To Build And Maintain Client Relationships Remotely
When you don’t meet in person, it is hard to keep customer relationships strong. However, you can build and maintain your customer relationships even in a remote work environment.
First off, you have to ensure every customer gets the most value out of your business. If you ask me how I do that, I’m most passionate about establishing and building trust. As a marketing consultant for eLearning Industry, I spend most of my time meeting with clients. Thus, building customer relationships all around the world is my main focus. During all these years of dealing with them, I’ve learned a lot about deepening connections with customers.
What’s most important is to focus on building an inclusive, empathetic culture from the top down. It’s vital that you and your team listen to customer concerns and show that you’re really there for them.
So, how do you build strong client connections in remote environments?
Here are a few steps you can follow to keep clients happy when working remotely.
1. Establish A Routine
When it comes to building strong relationships with clients on a remote basis, you have to create a communication plan. And, of course, stay on track. If it’s a new client relationship, you can have an open discussion to decide how often you need to contact them and in which format. Make sure that everyone on your team knows about this agreement and is compliant. No need for missed conversations or pestering clients with too many unnecessary meetings or questions that have already been answered.
Of course, you must make sure that you have compatible technologies to avoid frustration due to technical issues. So, agree on a shared tech stack and squeeze in a little face time when you can. Most importantly, you should set clear deadlines and expectations and be an active listener.
You can keep it professional and still be able to use your creativity. For example, maybe your client finds news articles or product promotions useful or wants to do something similar for their business. Showing proactivity is a good component of relationship building.
2. Listen To Your Customers And Your Team
Set up a virtual coffee with your team and find out what problems customers are facing. Embracing employee feedback is key if you want to enhance teamwork. Then, you can brainstorm ideas and reach out to customers to help solve their problems.
One of our customers once needed help with lead scoring, and we sat down and figured out a way to help them. Often, customers come to us because they need help with their content marketing strategy. Others are looking for business growth strategies. There are times when I get questions like: Are link-building services reliable? Which lead generation techniques should I try? What do the best content marketing agencies have to offer? Do you have any content marketing ideas for my next campaign? And so on. As a marketing leader, I try to keep clients happy. From competitive intelligence to creating hype-worthy product launch campaigns, me and my team are always one call away.
Even in uncertain times, people always need to do business. Contracts are sent out. Pain points need to be resolved. What you need to do is listen to your customers and show empathy. Always be mindful of your clients’ time. Here, there’s not much space for small talk. Be sure to keep agendas tight and take careful notes. Remember to always send follow-ups, and keep your main focus on how you can help.
You might also like to know how to use LinkedIn Groups for business. It’s a great way to keep in touch with clients and prospects.
3. Acknowledge If You’ve Made A Mistake
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that if you mess up, you must own your mistakes. However, remote workers have a hard time gaining trust and loyalty. So, if you mishandle a bad situation, it will only make things worse. Don’t leave it hanging because, apart from embarrassment, at the end of the day, things might turn upside down.
Everyone makes mistakes. When an error happens, sincerely apologize, take responsibility, and make sure you’ve clarified the impact your mistake had on the client. If it’s going to set you back a few days, let your client know. It’s always good to take accountability and explain what happened and how. Above all, ensure such a mistake will not happen again. When you want to build trust, you have to be transparent about your process and own up to your mistakes.
Make sure to let your clients know how you work. Also, ensure that they understand what they can expect from you. In case any project changes arise, plan ahead and inform your clients. Even if it’s about availability changes, don’t neglect to communicate it to your clients. The sooner they know, the better. Especially when a change might impact the project, your clients need to know.
4. Always Keep Your Promises
If you want to build and maintain strong business relationships, one of the first things you must do is keep your promises. And I’m not just talking about meeting deadlines. You have to deliver on what you’ve promised your clients. And, as I’ve mentioned above, honesty and owning your mistakes is critical.
So, don’t hesitate to reach out if there are any issues. You might be working remotely, but you must ensure your clients are always in the loop. Here’s what you need to do:
- Be clear and concise in your communication
- Be responsive to any questions and concerns
- Make sure you have the right resources to be successful
Being transparent lets you show your clients (and team) that you value their input. When it comes to decision making, keeping secrets won’t get you anywhere.
The best thing you can do for better business relations is to build trust with clients and your remote team.
By building strong relationships, you build trust and help deliver great work. Also, the more empowered people feel to connect, the more ideas they’ll contribute. After all, everyone needs a favor sometimes. Strong business relationships also aid in career opportunities and talent development. Plus, they are highly crucial for internal promotion and mobility. In addition, relationships help protect well-being. We are all human, and strong relationships make work more enjoyable. Everyone needs a work friend or two, right?
Working remotely or not, you’re always going to be part of the team. Remote employees can still build strong relationships even if their team is scattered around the globe. Not only with coworkers but with clients, too. Make sure to have no weak links in your team. To do so, keep connecting and building relationships with everyone. No exceptions. And make sure to deploy team-building activities. That’s how you join the ranks of successful remote workers!
Surely, my personal story has helped you learn more about how you can build connections in remote work.
The important thing, though, is to ask the right questions. Make sure to avoid asking yes-or-no questions when you communicate. Instead, you can keep the conversation going and build better connections by asking open-ended questions. But please don’t overdo it by getting too personal. What’s more, avoid pushing for a conversation that’s never going to happen and try to give people a chance to talk as much or as little as they like.
Remote work doesn’t have to mean isolation. Trust me, as time passes, you’ll see that these conversations are vital to creating bonds with your coworkers and your clients.
That’s it for now. In case you’re working on your upcoming budget, make sure to read this!