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How to Develop Business Relationships with Remote Workers

February 16, 2017

By: Chelsea Haley, DKI Ventures, LLC

As you’ve read earlier this month, workplace camaraderie can help improve productivity. And, employees agree! According to The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey of 2014, 60.6 percent of workers stated that those around them at work improve their work environment the most.

So, if developing friendships in the office can have a positive impact on overall business performance, how do we build a meaningful relationship with those located 500 (or more) miles away from us?

Remote employment is becoming increasingly more common as technology evolves. Today, we are able to communicate with those hundreds or thousands of miles away through multiple voice chat and video applications. And, remote work is beneficial to a company as it allows the business to expand into more territories – Its sales and marketing professionals can travel by vehicle or public transportation instead of expensive plan trips and customer service can accommodate customer inquiries in all separate time zones. Yet, the downside is it makes it more difficult to develop close relationships among employees.

But, since camaraderie is so significant to a business’ success, don’t disregard just because your employees are miles apart. It’s important that you learn how to work with remote employees to strengthen your company. Here are four ways to help you do that.

Daily Meetings

Have each department hold daily fifteen minute meetings to catch up on each others’ progress and workload. This provides reassurance to managers that their remote employees are working while they’re behind closed doors, and a quick and easy update on where a project is in terms of projected timeline. But, don’t keep the conversation strictly business; open with a quick ice breaker on what was the last movie everyone saw or what is the weather like near them. By creating a daily professional and casual verbal atmosphere, the team can start to form camaraderie among each other, even from states or countries away.

Virtual Coffee Breaks

In addition to discussing work, conversing on a daily basis about life in general and taking a mental break from your work helps people refresh while also building those close bonds among colleagues. Yet, gathering in the break room for coffee and to discuss each other’s weekend plans doesn’t quite work for remote employees. So, what about scheduling five to ten-minute coffee breaks via Skype (or any video chat system your company uses)?

Close your email and any open tabs for just a few minutes to avoid distractions, and turn on your video chat. You can drink coffee, or not; the purpose is to relax and reboot. These virtual “coffee breaks” can be on a daily or weekly basis, but try to use this time to briefly chat with your team about non-work events. If they need a little push to get started, try round-robin saying one good thing outside of work that happened that week, and one thing each other is excited for in the coming week.

Use the Buddy System

New employees sometimes feel intimidated in general, since they lack the advantage of already knowing everyone around the company, what each person does, and his or her strengths. However, new, remote employees have an even larger disadvantage since they can’t simply walk up to other employees to introduce themselves; they have to call or video chat a stranger – It can provoke the same anxiety as cold calling. As you onboard new, remote employees, consider teaming them up.

You can provide a short list of fun facts and a photo for each employee and send these to their “buddies,” then they can set up a quick phone call to discuss each other’s backgrounds, interests, current events in their area, professional goals, etc. Their buddies can also be their go-to person for assistance or information while the new employee is still learning the ropes of the business.

Treat All Equally

There is sometimes the misconception that remote employees perform less than those onsite. From the onsite employees’ perspective, this can be difficult to manage since they do not always see their counterparts’ work. To this point, remote employees can feel underappreciated. Be mindful of this and make sure that all employees are aware of individual and team accomplishments. Recognize all within a team and their individual contributions.

If you give out awards or gifts, make sure the remote employees have a fair chance at receiving these as well. If you choose to treat your onsite team to a coffee, send your remote employee(s) a coffee gift card that either they can use at the same time while video chatting in the coffee shop or even on a later date, to show they’re equally appreciated.

In addition, it can be easy to neglect your remote employees if your onsite team throws a work party, but try to include everyone. If it’s a holiday party, consider flying everyone to the corporate office for a chance to official meet their entire team. If it’s a small potluck though, it may not be necessary to fly everyone in for just a couple of hours, but consider sending your remote employees a live feed to view from their own locations, so they can feel like a part of the “party.”