Jun 13, 2020

Building Relationships in a Virtual World

If your organization is like the many companies that have had to pivot quite quickly to remote work you are probably trying to adjust and make the most of it. This shift in office dynamic doesn’t need to be a temporary fix where you are counting down the days to get back to “normal”. This time is an opportunity for you to intentionally pivot your thinking. Shift your mentality to imagine how to set your organization up to thrive in this environment where asynchronous work can yield incredible results. Now is the time to evaluate the way we work and build relationships in a virtual world. The trust that is built internally in your organization is the foundation that is necessary to build outward trust with your supporters. Intentionality in the inputs, the process, and the outputs you focus on will be key to building trust and positive results.

The Input

Leadership & Company Structure

Let’s not think of company structure and the design of teams as a hierarchy to place labels on individuals. Instead, structure must support the delivery of clearly set and communicated organizational goals. When each role has set expectations, the individual in the role will influence reality and create results. In the environment of a virtual organization, the purposeful design will create a comfortable way to share ideas, execute initiatives, and allow different departments or company functions to coordinate seamlessly. 

Culture

Company culture is the shared assumption of values and beliefs. Your company culture should be the driving force in everything you do. When teams are working physically apart this becomes even more important. A strong culture will be the guiding principle for each and every member of your team. The north star or sanity checkpoint when you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder during work hours. Empowering your team to feel the company values deep down in their gut will bring teams closer together.

Training

Never underestimate the value of training your team members. Educating and spending time training will build the confidence each individual has in their ability to contribute to your organization. The precious time spent training is the perfect opportunity to set a baseline for expectations as well as build on company culture and relationships. The “learn as you go” approach is less impactful when the trainee and trainer are in different physical spaces. Setting time aside to meet virtually is a short-term time commitment that will lead to the ability to work independently in the long-term. Train your team well and empower them to be problem solvers, incredible contributors, and go-getters for your organization’s goal.

The Process

Relationships

Community isn’t lost just because there is physical distance in a remote work environment, it has just changed. We’ve all heard the quote “employees don’t leave companies, they leave people”. However, the opposite is also true. Building strong relationships at work boosts the mood and yields greater productivity. Employees who feel more connected to an organization ultimately stick around longer and work harder.

Cohesion

A togetherness, in spirit, and not in physical proximity will propel your organization forward. When the entirety of your team has the same end goal in mind there is no stopping you. Taking time to ensure your team is aware of the “why” will empower them to do great work. A seemingly meaningless task done in front of a computer screen will now have a rich context and purpose behind it. Working in unity and achieving goals together will build strong relationships within your team.

Trust

Trust is fundamental in the workplace. Trust is established over time as relationships are built. This idea revisits the importance of taking the time to build relationships. Don’t limit conversations to professional topics. Build trust with your team by getting to know each other as human beings. Building practical trust amongst your team by following through on what you have said, meeting deadlines, following up, and showing up for scheduled meetings will all contribute to the positive impact of trust. Trust on an emotional level may take more time to build. Your team needs to feel respected, heard, and valued. Be intentional about keeping conversations open and providing feedback often.

Communication & Collaboration

Communication and collaboration may not happen as organically when your team is working remotely but we can’t underestimate their value in building relationships. Make a space for collaboration and utilize tools (chat apps, video apps, etc.) to make communication easy. When we respect and care about the multitude of opinions and perspectives within our team we can create some incredible ideas. In a virtual workspace, it is important to create a rhythm so that there isn't a disconnectedness in workflow. The routine and rhythm of your touchpoints will keep things moving in the same direction.

Technology

What an amazing time we live in where tools allow us to build relationships both personally and professionally in a virtual space. Technology has allowed this workplace pivot to exist and not even just exist, but thrive. First and foremost each team member will need to carve out a workspace in their home. With the lines being blurred between home life and work-life it is so valuable to intentionally create a physical space that will contribute to great work. Setting up the proper computer, desk and possibly a web-cam will take away the pain point of struggling to get comfortable. Decide as an organization what tools you will use for different purposes. Reliability and ease of use is key and will help your team focus on the project and each other instead of fumbling around with tech. Another important thing to consider is the technology fit for each scenario. Video is more powerful than phone, and phone is more powerful than text. Be thoughtful, don’t just default to the lower friction method, use each interaction as a way to build the relationship with the person on the other end of the technology.

The Output

Individual Performance

Keep the communication open when it comes to employee performance. Performance reviews don’t need to be a big dreaded event, but instead an opportunity to help employees set goals, for you to provide feedback, and for your team to stay on course. Schedule in regular checkpoints where you can evaluate and discuss progress and performance.

Individual Satisfaction

Is your team engaged? Measuring engagement and employee satisfaction will be valuable insight into company morale. Not only to collect information but then to take action from the feedback and communicate why if you decide not to take action. When your team feels comfortable and connected they are able to do their life’s best work.

Team Performance and Engagement

Does the performance and engagement of each individual in the team unite to deliver on the organizational goals and mission? Are there specific areas that may need some fine-tuning? Remember to take the time to step back and monitor the holistic situation. There may be specific operational functions that can benefit from a tweak to their inputs and processes discussed above to optimize and energize the team.

The All-Important Feedback Loop

Always remember you can never over-communicate. Make sure that you always provide feedback on suggestions for improvements from the team and performance against objectives. This is key to maintaining trust and alignment.

Building Relationships in a “Virtual World” isn’t rocket science. When we focus on the humans behind the work and on the other end of a video conference connection - relationships will flourish. Be intentional about the steps you take to nurture each relationship and build trust in your organization and good work will follow.