Cultivating Strong Remote Relationships

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Jenn Koiter

cultivating strong report relationships_woman in teal shirt sitting on a bed with her laptop

It sounds like such an ordinary moment: my colleague and I were in line so she could buy some shoes, and she called her mother and—casually, by way of explanation—said, “I’m out with some friends from work."

But her words made me tear up, right in front of the register at DSW. Because it was true: I was out with some friends from work. The thing is, the friend talking on the phone lives in Amsterdam. The others live in Tokyo and Taipei and Bangalore and Bratislava and Panama. Some of us had never met in person before our team meeting in Austin that week.

Furthermore, as a digital nomad, I’m the most disconnected of all of us: I live nowhere and everywhere; I have no tie to place. So you can see why it would be precious to me, to be out with friends from work.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my life. I chose it, and I continue to choose it. Last year, I worked from San Diego, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Pasadena, Portland, Seattle, Colorado Springs, Long Beach, Santa Clara, and Austin (and don’t think I don’t see you over there, East Coast. Give it a minute.). I am tremendously grateful for the flexibility and freedom my job affords me. I wouldn’t trade. 

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At the same time, my lifestyle makes it that much harder to stay connected, both personally and professionally. I’ve had to learn to be more intentional about it on the road.

As remote work becomes more and more prevalent, I’m not the only one trying to strike a balance between freedom andconnectedness.

I know I’m not alone in that. Even when I worked remotely while living in Austin, I struggled to feel connected at work. It might be more overt for a nomad, but as remote work becomes more and more prevalent, I’m not the only one trying to strike a balance between freedom and connectedness.

So without further ado, here are a few hard-won tips about how to stay connected while working remotely:

1.      Hold regular one-on-one calls

When I ask myself why I feel closer to certain colleagues, one difference stands out immediately: they’re the people with whom I have regular one-on-one conversations. On larger teams, especially, we can check out of group conversations; they’re not enough. One-on-one calls are where my relationships really get built. Monthly chats are good; biweekly is even better, if you can swing it.

2.      Share your good news—and share your struggles, too

It’s not just that I talk to my colleagues; it’s also what we talk about. There’s a warm glow that comes from celebrating our successes together, for sure, but it brings us even closer when one of us is willing to ask for help. For one thing, that willingness to be vulnerable is what makes deeper connections possible. For another, working to solve problems together always creates a bond. And bonus: most of the time, the problem actually gets solved, or at least closer to solved. I learn from my teammates; they learn from me; and our relationship is stronger for it. Everyone wins.

3.      Get on video

I hate turning on my video during calls. Hate. It. And yet, I find that I feel closer to people who turn on their video when we have calls. So put on a ball cap if you have to (for informal calls, that is) and switch on your camera. It really does make a difference.

Working at home in yoga pants is a great gift, but don't put your big girl pants in mothballs.

4.      Grab face time whenever you can

Bet you didn’t see that one coming! But the most obvious lessons are the ones we have to learn over and over. The option to work at home in yoga pants is a great gift, but don't put your big girl pants in mothballs. If, unlike me, you have a physical office nearby – or even just coworkers nearby – don’t let too much time go by between face to face meetings. It can be far too easy to let your work world shrink until you’re the only one in it. Fight the entropy.

5.      Avoid toxic connections

I do have one caveat: the above suggestions are predicated on the assumption that your coworkers are safe to connect with. I’m fortunate enough to have a very supportive team. But if you work with someone who will exploit your vulnerability or use what you share to undermine you, then protect yourself and keep your distance. You don't owe a connection to everyone.

If you’re a remote worker, I’d love to know how you stay connected! Please comment with your own tips—we all need all the help we can get!

Republished with permission.  Click here for the original article.