When you are working remotely, either part- or full-time, it can initially feel like you’ve won the labor lottery. No more getting up at the crack of dawn to fight rush-hour traffic; no more putting on coats and ties or pantyhose and heels; no more staying late at the office and getting home well after dark.
Those reasons are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to working remotely. You also avoid office politics and the daily habits of your cube-mates that tend to drive you insane.
But not being at the office has considerable negatives attached to it as well. It’s like on the reality show Survivor. When a player wins a reward and gets to enjoy a big meal away from the camp, they feel refreshed and rejuvenated. The problem is that back at camp, everyone else is together, thinking of ways to get rid of them.
Not being physically present at your place of employment means you also aren’t there for the natural relationship building that comes from being with the same people 8-10 hours a day, five days a week.
You miss up 99% of the jokes, all the birthday parties (and free cake!), and the big announcements. Some of those common problems for remote workers include communication breakdowns, earning respect from people who know you only by your email address, feeling left out of a company’s culture, and being on the same page if you’re in a different time zone.
With freelancers, contractors, and remote workers trending towards nearly 50% of the workforce in the next two decades, the breakdowns above are not going away anytime soon.
So how can remote workers continue to feel valued by their companies and coworkers and build healthy relationships with people they might see once a week, once a month, or never actually meet in person?
Here are five top tips and tricks for improving your relationships with colleagues while you’re working remotely.
An introduction might seem obvious, but you need it to go beyond, “Hi, my name is George, good to meet you.” Give co-workers a sense of who you are, not just a name and a job title. Exploring commonalities is how we build bonds with the people we meet.
When you come in contact with new coworkers, invite them to network with you on LinkedIn or encourage them to visit your blog or your website if you have one. Even simpler is to write up a short bio about yourself and send it to everyone with whom you’ll be working.
Tell them where you’re from, what your family is like, what some of your passions are, and what sort of work you’ve done in the past. If you have a love for beagles and post it in your intro, that other beagle owner in the department is going to have an instant connection with you.
Embrace the Face
Previously, working from home was a bit like being a recluse from society. You were off in some undisclosed location hunched over a keyboard typing away.
Digital technology has changed all that with the creation of Skype, Slack, G-Chat, GoToMeeting, and a slew of other video conferencing and instant messaging applications.
If you appear in avatar form to coworkers, invest $100 and have a professional headshot taken. You’ll get the result almost instantly, and you can use it in every professional setting you encounter for the next decade or so.
When coworkers see a pleasant, professional person looking back at them, it gives them confidence that you know what you’re doing. When you know you’re going to have a video call with a coworker, dress to convey that same confidence. Nobody wants to work with you when you’re in your pajamas.
Is Time on Your Side?
Plenty of remote workers live in different time zones from their employers. This can be done as a result of simple outsourcing or as a tactical move based on the business hours of other markets or financial institutions.
Whatever the reason, make yourself aware of what hours your coworkers are at the office relative to your workday. If your company installs a 5 p.m. deadline in Philadelphia, that doesn’t mean 5 p.m. at your house in Phoenix. If it’s 4 p.m. in Houston and you’re struggling with a graphic for your London-based client, don’t ping your contact there on instant messenger. It’s 10 p.m. in England, and she’s probably asleep.
If tallying time zones is a struggle for you, a great bookmark for your business desktop is Time and Date, which allows you to punch in any two cities in the world and get a side-by-side view of the local time in each place. Being considerate of your colleagues’ schedules and bending your own to fit theirs is an excellent step toward earning their trust and respect.
Mean What You Say
Nobody expects you to be perfect, but co-workers do expect you to be honest and transparent when it comes to professional manners.
An excellent remote worker doesn’t need direct supervision; you can take directives and run with them. Make sure that you are capable of achieving the goals set out in front of you and making the deadlines imposed on you.
Things come up in our lives that can impede those commitments, so be honest about them when they do. Waiting until the last minute to inform a coworker or superior that you can’t do what you initially promised is the quickest way to getting booted from your position.
Ideally, you want your coworkers to think of you as consistent, honest, and professional whenever they interact with you.
Fixing Communication Malfunctions
Research says that only 7% of how we communicate is through the words we use. The rest is chalked up to the tone of voice and nonverbal cues.
Those numbers can be scary to someone who is trying to convey important messages to coworkers and employers. Being physically separated can make communication errors familiar, mainly when you are working with people from another culture or who speak a different native language.
If you feel like a co-worker is misunderstanding you or have done something to offend them, make a plan to connect to them via phone, video chat, or even an in-person meeting if it’s convenient.
Doing this as quickly as possible is beneficial to both parties and the overall productivity of the company. If the other party involved is not willing to meet, consider talking to the person who hired you about the situation and see if they can help mediate a solution.