How to Stay Connected When You Work From Afar
Working remotely is great for work/life balance, but communicating and creating camaraderie with co-workers can be challenging. When you are physically absent from the office, you miss out on those little day-to-day interactions with others, and you lose the context of body language to guide your reactions. For example, if you worked in the office with Sherry, you would see that she likes to have her coffee and 30 minutes to catch up on email before she talks to you. Mike, on the other, comes bounding over to your desk to brainstorm about yesterday’s problem before you’ve even said hello.
So what can you do to keep the lines of communication open?
Visit in person
The best way to build rapport with your manager and co-workers is to visit the office as often as is reasonable. Even just a few visits a year will allow you to know your colleagues better and serve to remind them that you are a part of the team. Make the most of your visits by requesting group and one-on-one meetings. Social outings over coffee or lunch are an opportunity to become better acquainted. Once you know your co-workers better, you can create long-distance water-cooler moments. Noticing and acknowledging the lives of your co-workers creates friendship and trust, which makes work more fun for everyone.
Visit from afar
Second best to visiting the office is to be available for spontaneous video chats or conferences. Especially in a crisis, it’s easy for remote workers to be forgotten. If you have a great connection with a colleague, ask them to be your advocate to ensure that you are included in project discussions or unexpected meetings. Thank your spokesperson so that they feel appreciated and acknowledged for going the extra mile for you. Take them out to lunch when you are in town, send a gift card or give them a shout out.
Use chat platforms
Chat platforms are an easy way to facilitate connection. Jenn Haynes, one of the owners of Work Nimbly, a co-working space in Williamsburg, Va., credits Slack — one of the most popular chat apps — for bringing together all of their busy members. “We have people who belong that we never see, but they are active on Slack. We set up a channel for general information, one for conference room reservations and another for fun, random topics. Everyone is kept in the loop, they can opt to participate or not and it keeps discussions out of your email box.” Twist, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams are other chat platform options.
Know the best way to reach out
Is it best to send the information via email, or is it better to pick up the phone for a quick conversation? Discover your co-workers’ preferred method of communication and let them know what works for you. Can you include jokes and emoticons, or should you stick to a set of bullet points? You are more likely to be heard when you get someone’s attention through their preferred means and style of communication.
Don’t be afraid to over-communicate
Over-communicating is also key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page. You can’t count on minor misunderstandings to work themselves out naturally like they would in the office. Be clear about expectations for deadlines, feedback and availability. If in doubt, go ahead and include the information. Make it a practice to pick up the phone for anything that is too complex to write. Show your manager that you are conscientious by staying in touch frequently, such as with a mid-day update.
Assume the best
Make it a policy to always assume the best about your colleagues, not the worst. If you sense that something is off with a co-worker, pick up the phone and be curious, not aggressive. If a project went awry, make sure you are included in the debriefing. It’s easy to blame the person who isn’t present for any mistakes and you don’t want to miss any crucial information.
Are you worried that someone didn’t get your message? Wait a reasonable amount of time before checking in with them. No one wants an email, chat message and phone call with the same question, and this will only irritate your co-worker.
While it may seem that you are the one at a disadvantage, remember that working remotely is a privilege that your office-bound colleagues do not share. Don’t complain about missing the birthday doughnuts or how hard it is to work with your cat on your lap. Be cognizant of the fact that some of your colleagues might wish to be working from home, too. Everyone at the office has easy access to each other and it might seem that they don’t need you as much as you need them. Make it clear through your hard work and diligent communication that you value them and are an indispensable player on the team.