Although remote work has its perks, it can be difficult to communicate and build relationships.
A survey of 1,000 new remote employees showed that 61 percent thought they’d be able to build better relationships in an office. Another study revealed that 51 percent of remote workers had concerns about having a limited connection with their colleagues. These are valid concerns. However, there are ways to build better relationships with your colleagues while working remotely.
This article breaks down how remote workers can start building better relationships in the workplace.
The Importance of Relationships in the Workplace
There are lots of reasons to prioritize relationship-building in the workplace—particularly when it comes to remote teams.
Research at Gallup has found a link between having a best friend at work and the quality of effort that people exert in the workplace.
"When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business–actions they may not otherwise even consider if they did not have strong relationships with their coworkers."
When you have stronger relationships at work, you're more engaged in your job and produce higher quality work.
Building strong relationships at work improves collaboration.
When people trust and respect each other, they're more likely to work together effectively. And this is especially important on a remote team. Most people will agree that it’s easier to work alongside someone they know and trust.
It stands to reason that strong workplace relationships would lead to improved collaboration and problem-solving efforts.
Improved Employee Morale
A study from the National Business Research Institute found that employee satisfaction rates increase by nearly 50 percent when workers have close relationships on the job.
Having strong bonds with co-workers can make people feel more connected to their jobs and proud of their workplace. When employees feel good about where they work, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work. Close relationships among employees can also lead to better communication and collaboration, allowing the organization to be more effective and efficient.
Finding ways to facilitate closer relationships at work will benefit every organization.
Improved Retention Rates
Employees who have more friends at work are less likely to jump ship.
If you have a strong network of friends at work, you’re more likely to feel supported and connected to your job. This sense of connection and belonging is a key factor in employee retention. If someone offers you a job, you'll be less likely to leave.
If you want to maintain higher retention rates and avoid the expense of high employee turnover, you need to take relationship-building seriously.
Typical Relationship Challenges for Remote Workers
Remote workers face unique challenges when it comes to communication and relationship-building, including the following:
- Trouble understanding tonal differences—not knowing when someone is being sarcastic, telling a joke, etc.
- Language and cultural barriers.
- Poor meeting structure that doesn’t allow for everyone to participate.
- Lack of employee appreciation and recognition.
- Infrastructure issues—poor internet connection, subpar camera or microphone quality, etc.—can also contribute to poor communication and trouble with relationship-building.
How to Build Better Relationships While Working Remotely
Building relationships while working remotely might be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Here are some tips to help remote workers build better relationships with their colleagues:
1. Regularly Scheduling Video Meetings
Video conferencing gives your team a chance to talk face-to-face more often.
Consider scheduling a weekly, or biweekly, video meeting with the whole team. That way, everyone has a chance to see each other, put faces to names, and talk more freely than they can via email or chat.
This regular interaction will help build familiarity and trust.
2. Start Meetings with Small-Talk or Ice Breakers
Allow a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting for small-talk.
This helps coworkers to feel more comfortable with one another and get to know each other better. It also makes the work environment feel more relaxed and friendly. You can also ask an ice breaker question and give everyone a chance to answer before diving into the meeting agenda.
Set a positive tone in the beginning and watch the energy in your meetings improve.
3. Make Yourself Accessible
When you lead a remote team, you often need to work harder to make yourself available. This can be tricky.
You want to be available, yet still have strong boundaries (a balance we aim to achieve at Undock). The key is to find a happy medium. Let your employees know that you’re available to chat, whether it’s via email, chat, or video call. But ensure that you're not burdening yourself with too many meetings, preventing you from accomplishing your priorities.
Accessibility, coupled with boundaries, will help foster stronger relationships.
4. Seek Feedback
Encourage team members to give you feedback and suggestions–whether it’s about the work they’re doing, the company as a whole, or how you can improve your leadership.
Make it clear that you want to hear what they have to say. Let them know that their input is valuable. This will help build trust and respect, two essential ingredients for strong relationships.
You can also send out surveys regularly to get more feedback about what’s working and what isn’t.
5. Create a Place for Water Cooler Chat
Consider creating a Slack channel—or any type of group chat—for casual, “water cooler” conversation.
This gives team members a place to chat about non-work-related things, like their favorite TV show, weekend plans, sports, or any topic that resonates with your team. These types of conversations help coworkers get to know each other better and build relationships.
Make sure to encourage employees to use the channel, but also respect their decision if they don’t want to participate. There's nothing worse than feeling like you're being forced to socialize.
Make sure you lead by example and jump into this chat regularly, too, so team members feel more comfortable using it.
6. Create Pairing and Mentorship Opportunities
You may also want to pair team members together to work on projects or create mentorship opportunities for new hires.
This will help coworkers get to know each other better and build relationships. It also makes the work environment feel more relaxed and friendly. As a result, the collaboration and efficiency of your team will skyrocket.
It can also improve the onboarding process (in the case of new hires) and gives current team members more chances to get to know one another on a deeper level.
7. Say “Thank You” More
When you work in person, it’s easy to make an announcement and celebrate someone’s accomplishments or let them know they’ve done a good job.
When working remotely, you often need to be more intentional about thanking people for their hard work, showing appreciation, and recognizing employees who go the extra mile. Shout people out in the group chat, spotlight them in the monthly newsletter, or send a private message letting them know their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
A little appreciation can go a long way.
8. Provide Quality Equipment
If infrastructure issues are getting in the way of remote relationship-building, help your employees out.
Provide them with quality equipment so they can connect more easily and avoid interruptions. This could include a good computer, webcam, microphone, or internet connection. If possible, reimburse employees for any work-related expenses, like a home office setup.
This will show that you’re invested in their success.
Next Steps: Start Building Better Relationships Today
Strong relationships are essential if you want your remote team to maximize productivity, stay engaged, and enjoy their work.
Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of relationships in the workplace, are you ready to make some changes? Follow the steps outlined above so you can help remote employees foster stronger relationships and create a more collaborative, higher-performing remote work environment.
If you’re looking for tools that help you build connections from afar, check out Undock.
It instantly suggests meeting times based on your preferences, scheduling behavior, and availability. It’s a great option to help you build deeper connections without letting meetings take over your life.
Sign up today to see what Undock is all about.