Managing relationships is one of the most important roles of a modern-day manager or any team member. When we invest time in relationships with the members of our team, we help to build teamwork and collaboration, improve workplace communication, and establish a sense of partnership in achieving common goals.Finally, with all the plethora of communication technology at your disposal nowadays, remember to also adjust to what you think the other person’s preferred medium of communication is. In addition to group calls, it is also important to schedule one-on-one meetings once a week or bi-weekly with colleagues, seniors, or juniors (especially important for the onboarding of recruits) to build a personal rapport with each team member. Virtual team building is tough. Follow the above-mentioned tips to create solid social connections on a remote team, even from afar, during and after the current COVID-19 pandemic.
In a face-to-face work environment, this relationship-building occurs more informally and organically. But in working with remote teams, this can happen only over digital mediums-mainly the phone, video calls, and online chat. It can be challenging to ensure that our communication remains compassionate and empathetic when it’s virtual. There is also a greater need to ensure frequent and continuous conversations to facilitate open, honest communication.
Here are 7 tips to build strong professional relationships in virtual teams:
1. Don’t assume. Ask for clarification.
When working with a virtual global team, getting lost in translation is a daily thing. Be mindful and sensitive to cultural differences. If you don’t understand something clearly, ask for clarification. You could use lines like ‘Could you please help me to understand?’ or ‘Could you show me an example so I can better understand?’
Create a safe space by asking questions such as: “Do you have any thoughts on this topic?”, “How do you think that meeting went?”, “How is your week going?”, “Is there something I can do to improve things for you?”, etc. This line of questioning can encourage people to speak up, share their thoughts and opinion (positive or negative), and offer valuable feedback. This is especially pertinent for engaging the quiet and silent ones in the team.
2. Balance professional talk with personal chitchat and small talk.Granting your clients and coworkers small glimpses into your personal life helps them to get a picture of your human side, building their trust and comfort with you. It builds a more intimate relationship, provides a potential common ground to discover shared hobbies and interests to bond over, and shows them they can be safe sharing more about themselves as well. This friendly rapport especially helps to make any tough work-related conversations you may need to have down the road go much smoother.
3. Opt for video calls over voice-only conference calls.
Seeing someone’s face and their home/work environment instead of just hearing their voice fosters a deeper connection and increases likability (see the Mere-Exposure Effect). It reveals quirks, facial expressions, and unspoken body language cues as much as possible remotely, and it helps build a more intimate relationship that will foster the success of your current and future projects together.
4. Be facially expressive.
Experts say over 80-90 % of communication is through expression and non-verbal communication. Remember to smile to make your virtual interaction pleasing and positive. Inject some humor into the conversation for shared laughs. Validate that you are listening during your virtual meeting by giving head nods and visible signs you are actively engaged and thinking. For this, make sure there is ample light in your room so the other person can clearly see your face.
5. Pay attention to listening.Be an active listener, tune in to the emotion and tone of voice, listen to what is being said, and what is not being said, and respond appropriately. Point out when something good is said, agree with a suggestion or throw in short cues like “Good point” and “Gotcha.” Rephrase to ensure you have understood correctly and to check out what else you may feel is going on that is not explicit. In remote working, a lack of visual cues might improve our ability to listen deeply. Avoid multitasking to be as present as possible on a call.
6. Help the team socialise virtually.
Be intentional and proactive with informal dialogue between you and your team members and encourage social conversations between colleagues. Design and schedule shared activities and experiences. Examples of these are a virtual coffee break, a beer meet, a treat, or video games online. Randomly pair 2-3 team members every week to have a fun video chat over something non-work related such as books, food, music, etc. These team-building exercises can help to deliberately foster a sense of connection even without a shared location.
7. Kick-off meetings with unique and dynamic ice breakers.
Set aside time and use them as a deliberate strategy to soften the stiffness of a two dimensional, virtual meeting. These questions help break the ice and help people feel relaxed and at ease. Keep a ready bank of ice breaker questions -intriguing, cheeky, lighthearted, fun, or humorous. Make sure they are not dull and clichéd like ‘How is the weather?’ It can be tempting to rush to the agenda for the meeting but the time spent on common courtesies and introductions can help in better engagement later on.