Remote work is here to stay. Those that already work remotely some of the time expect to work remotely more in the coming years. Those that aren’t working remotely yet expect to work remotely in the near future; Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work survey found that 99% of survey respondents “said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.” Building rapport in remote working teams will be important.
Though it’s not confirmed yet, it is likely that remote work will become the norm in the future. To deal with this, companies are having to rethink their hiring and recruiting strategies, the ways they build and nurture culture with remote teams, how they manage talent, and how to foster collaboration between remote workers.
Because remote work policies are still somewhat new to many companies, managers and remote team members can have a hard time bonding with one another, which can have detrimental effects on company culture, especially if remote workers don’t feel like they’re an important part of the company.
Building mutual trust between remote workers can be challenging. Building relationships through the digital world is not as natural and intuitive as when we do it in person. When we see people regularly in the office, we learn to read cues on their behavior and we’re able to pick up on their tone of voice. When people work remotely, it’s harder to pick these things up, making it harder to truly get to know someone and bond with them. There are also no random encounters during coffee breaks or lunch breaks, which can play a key role in nurturing company culture and strong co-worker relationships.
Still, while it’s challenging to build rapport with remote team members, it’s not downright impossible and there are different strategies that managers can use to build trust and engagement with remote teams.
How To Build Rapport With Remote Teams
1. Make Communication A Priority
Communication is key to remote team success. You should encourage your remote team to use various methods of communication, including text, audio, and video. It is likely that text will be the predominant one, so consider having some text communication policies in place to prevent misunderstandings.
When people communicate via text, one cannot read non-verbal signs and tone of voice. This can lead to issues and misunderstandings between co-workers (i.e. if one remote worker tends to send short answers, the message receiver might interpret short answers as a sign of dislike or coldness towards him or her).
To prevent these types of situations, companies can encourage remote workers to use emojis, gifs, or stickers when communicating. It could also be useful to have an active “fun chat” where people can comment on non-work related topics.
Pro-tip for building rapport in remote working teams: to motivate remote employees to participate in your “fun chat”, consider asking a weekly question so that people share more about themselves (where they are from, what they like to do, they’re favorite places, etc.). Another idea is to have a gif day or sticker day when people share through the chat a gif or sticker that shows how they’re feeling that particular day.
Though the text is a predominant communication method, it shouldn’t be the only one. Consider having regular team meetings and (please, please, please) have people turn on their video. The video will provide visual cues to all team members when they’re talking and meeting. Visual cues are key for effective communication and they can help facilitate a feeling of closeness even when not meeting in-person.
2. Don’t Micromanage
One of the reasons people choose remote work is because of the independence and flexibility it provides. Micromanaging simply does not roll with remote workers and it will prevent you from building rapport with your team.
While your business may need remote workers to work during certain times of the day, give remote team members enough flexibility to work whenever it is best for them (for some it’s in the wee hours of the morning, for others it is late at night). If you need to track staff’s online hours, there are a few tools that allow you to do that, but if you don’t ask the office staff to clock in and out, then you shouldn’t ask that of remote workers either.
If remote employees are turning everything in on time and meeting goals, there’s no need to micromanage and keep close tabs on them. However, trust is a two-way street; so if you notice a remote worker is missing deadlines and goals, then you might want to consider keeping a closer eye on them.
3. Host A Retreat
Though there are ways to make remote teams work virtually, the fact remains that nothing beats face-to-face interactions to build relationships and trust.
Companies that are fully remote or whose workforce has a significant percentage of remote workers tend to host yearly company retreats. These retreats are a great opportunity for remote teams and their in-office counterparts to meet and get to know one another. Not only are they great to build rapport with remote teams, but they are a great way to foster company culture and increase engagement.
These retreats are the perfect opportunity to organize team-building activities and they tend to foster a great sense of community and belonging among employees.
Close Teams = Successful Teams
To make remote work for your company and employees, you need to create a sense of closeness, trust, and belonging. Building rapport is something that takes time and effort, and it is never a done deal, it is a constant journey that needs to evolve as your team grows.
A parting note: organize a short activity before meetings with remote teams to help break the ice and to get to know one another on a more personal level. Some include playing trivia, having a team member share something about his or her own country/city, play guess who with baby pictures, have remote workers take a picture of their desk prior to the meeting, etc. All of these things will help with building rapport in remote working teams