How to Build Real Relationships While Working Remote

by | Last Updated: Apr 17, 2022 | Working From Home | 0 comments

Working remote — whether from home, a coffee shop or co-working space — is the norm today, thanks to shifting workplace trends and technology that wasn’t mainstream a few years ago.

I worked in Corporate America for years (I’m self-employed now) and remember when remote work was generally frowned upon, unless you were in a specific role, such as sales rep. Back in 2005, I managed a large team of writers. One day, one of my top-performers (and someone who I just enjoyed being around) pulled me aside to say she and her husband needed to make a move for his job. She asked if she could stay on our team and work from her soon-to-be new home.

I wanted to keep her with us, so I drafted a business case to get approval for her to work remote. Thinking back, it seemed like a lot of effort for a well-known top-performer, but it was a big ask that included getting approval from my manager and Human Resources. Long story short, I got approval and she made the move and continued to do well in her role, just from another state.

Fast-forward almost 15 years later: Today there are many situations where working remote still isn’t accepted or even feasible. But it’s a noteworthy trend around the globe.

According to video conferencing company Owl Labs, 52% of employees around the world work from home at least once per week. And 18% work remotely full time. (You can find more of Owl Labs’ remote-work statistics here.)

Remote Work is About the Relationships

Getting the green light to work remote only takes you part-way to being successful outside a traditional office environment. There’s more that comes into play, like structuring your home office so it’s conducive to work (and work happiness, I might add).

But number one on the “how to be successful at remote work” list is your ability to develop and sustain great working relationships with the people who matter. This could be your manager, co-workers and other departments you interact with. And if you’re self-employed or a contractor or freelancer (whatever name you like to call what you do), you’ll be interacting with clients, prospects and other partners without regularly seeing them in person — and maybe never. (I’ve still not met two of my clients in-person.)

Five Things That Make You a Remote-Work Rock Star

Take it from someone who’s worked remote in various capacities: You can nail this if you have a strategy going in.

I’m currently self-employed with three years of remote work under my belt. Prior to that, there were short stints where I worked remote and longer ones where some of my teammates worked outside the office and I experienced what it was like to work with them. Seeing this topic from both sides informs my view of what it takes to make remote work work

Are you hoping to work remote? Or are you doing this type of work already and want to up your remote game? Master these five focus areas to become a Remote-Work Rock Star.

1. Be out of sight but not out of mind.

I once knew a manager who said that if he couldn’t actually see his employees working, he wasn’t sure he could trust them to get work done from home. While this is a silly and sad perspective, there are likely more unenlightened managers out there who feel the same way.

When you work remote, whether it’s for a company or even for yourself, staying visible to your VIPs and demonstrating what you’re working on is key.

Does your team use Slack? Make sure your online status is set to “active” to show you’re working and available. If you don’t have a nifty communications tool like Slack, you can still get the point across that you’re working via email and phone. This doesn’t mean you have to send an “I’m working!” email every morning. You’ll want to be more subtle and strategic than that.

If you and your manager are in different locations, make a point of checking in at least once or twice a week to share a project update or ask a question. And make time to interact with your other VIP contacts (such as teammates, partners and clients), too. What you’re aiming for is to ensure they never wonder if you’re still with the company, on the team and doing your job.

If it’s acceptable for you to text the people you work with, you could do that, too. You’ll know who it makes sense to text (and what time of day to do so) — and also what’s appropriate to text to a work-related contact. Always err on the side of being professional. (Find more thoughts on this topic here: Should you text with your boss?)

2. Communicate … then communicate some more.

This is related to point 1, but it bears its own call-out. Are you the type of person who already knows the value of communicating, especially at work? Great! Because communicating is even more important as a remote worker, when you’re not face-to-face with people or side-by-side in a cubicle.

And when I say “communicating,” I mean more than just talking for words’ sake — I mean communicating with intention and purpose. For example:

  • Speaking up in meetings so people know you have opinions and perspectives. This is extra-important if everyone else is in the same room and you dialed in to join them. Don’t be that guy that never speaks up, where a teammate has to say into the black box on the conference table, “Hey, are you still with us?”
  • Moving projects forward by communicating priorities, including reminding others about their commitments. Project management requires regular communication and, perhaps, even more outreach when you’re working remote. It’s OK to remind a teammate or client about what they owe you.
  • Giving regular updates on the status of your work. Don’t make people wonder what you’re working on and where things stand. Keep them informed and thinking, I can always count on her to keep me in the loop, no matter what.
  • Acknowledging people for their contributions and how great they are to work with. Discussing the work at-hand is important, but don’t forget the people part, too. Everyone deserves kudos now and then. Tell people what you appreciate and — bonus! — you’ll strengthen your remote relationships.

3. Channel Dale Carnegie to show a genuine interest in people.

If you haven’t read the (dated, yet still relevant) book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, you’ll have missed his classic, oft-repeated advice about how to be liked. And while you’re not necessarily trying to get people to like you — more so to work with you in a way that reflects well on your remote-work status — heed Mr. C’s advice:

“Become genuinely interested in other people. You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you. The only way to make quality, lasting friendships is to learn to be genuinely interested in them and their interests.” –Dale Carnegie

If you’re not familiar with the book, here’s a great (and brief) summary of Mr. Carnegie’s main points. Put a few of his ideas into practice and see how things change for your remote-work relationships.

4. Take your work skills and superpowers to the next level. 

Working remote, especially if it’s for the first time in your career, gives you a unique opportunity to focus on your career. Here’s why:

  • There’s more time to do your job well. Unless you’re regularly prone to distractions, you’ll get more done in eight hours of remote work than eight hours spent at the office. Wouldn’t it be great if people thought you were even more productive and awesome working remote?!
  • You’re more focused on what’s important. Work gets your (nearly) complete attention, when office politics, long lunches and griping about petty problems are pretty much a thing of the past. And I bet others will notice and appreciate your new, improved focus.
  • Work is more enjoyable for you. Working remote isn’t for everyone. I’ve met people who say they’d miss the social aspect of work or get too distracted being at home. But for the majority of my remote-work friends and associates, this work-style makes them quite happy. And nearly all vow they’ll never return to a traditional office environment.

5. Revel in remote work and relationship success follows.

While you may not be in an office with people seeing what you do, they are observing you. They could be thinking, She does a great job and is so happy working from home. Or, He never seems to work from the same place for more than a month or two, yet he’s a rising star in our company. 

No matter your situation — a veteran at working remote or just starting out — you represent the future of work. You’re contributing to society and making a living in whatever physical location you choose. You’re likely saving your company money on desk space. And, by not commuting to and from work each day, you’re helping the environment.

You’re showing people it’s possible to work outside an office and be productive. Your manager and co-workers (or clients and project partners) know they can reach you. They consider you responsive and proactive and know you’ll get your work done. Your relationships are as strong as your remote-work ethics — go, you!

Ready to Rock Remote-Work Relationships?

Looking back at Owl Labs’ remote-work stats again, I’m reminded that 44% of global companies don’t allow remote work. It’s hard to imagine we’ll ever hit 80 or 90%, given the manufacturing, customer-facing and other roles our world depends on. But if artificial intelligence takes off like people predict it will, we may not have humans working in factories and taking our orders at coffee shops — but robots. (Don’t worry. That will leave the more challenging and human-focused work to us!)

Everyone who gets the opportunity to work remote is helping to pave the way for others that follow. That’s exciting to me — and I hope it is to you, too. Let’s show the world how it’s done and rock our remote-work relationships!

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