How to Build Strong Relationships with a Remote Team

Even before COVID-19 magnified the work-from-home movement, 47% of Canadian employees worked remotely at least half of the time. Still, working with a remote team isn’t easy. Managing and collaborating efficiently from afar can be tricky as a small business owner. And trying to maintain a shared sense of culture while doing so only adds to the challenge.

In most cases, building strong relationships with a remote team hinges on frequent, credible, transparent communication – especially during times of disruption. Here are some suggestions for developing a solid group infrastructure when face-to-face interactions are limited.

Establish a Remote Communication Structure

One of the easiest ways to create structure around your remote communications is with a daily check-in call. Speaking one-on-one with team members at the same time each day provides an opportunity to ask and answer questions, resolve problems, and offer advice and direction.

To improve collaboration throughout the work day, meanwhile, consider giving your remote employees access to:

  • Group email and a shared document platform (think G Suite or Office 365) for written communication efficiency
  • Video conferencing (try Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams) to encourage brainstorming, group discussions, and more personalized connectivity
  • A team messaging app (like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Zoho Cliq) for quick collaborations

Keeping your team on the same page in terms of expectations for communicating remotely can improve productivity. You may want to establish standard operating procedures, for example, around when, how often, and by what means team members connect with you and one another for various reasons.

Encourage Social Interaction

Keeping your team connected in spirit will help keep your company culture intact when employees are working apart. Try creating opportunities to interact socially by setting aside a few minutes at the start of every group meeting for teammates to catch up on a personal level.

You could also consider:

  • Scheduling regular break times for coworkers to chat or message informally about non-work-related topics
  • Hosting group lunches by having pizza or sandwiches delivered to remote employees simultaneously so you can enjoy a meal together online
  • Organizing weekly or monthly virtual team outings like game nights, workout sessions, or happy hour get-togethers

Promoting virtual interactions that keep your remote team engaged with one another will reduce feelings of social isolation and encourage a greater sense of belonging.

Be Proactive About Offering Support

Humans are pretty adept at picking up on signals about each other’s moods and personal situations during face-to-face interactions. When we communicate remotely, however, much of the context supporting those signals – including body language and tone of voice – can get lost.

It may not always be clear when an employee is having trouble adapting to or thriving in a remote work environment.

And since studies suggest that people who work from home experience significantly more stress than those who work on-site, being proactive about supporting and encouraging your remote team is crucial for building robust relationships that boost employee satisfaction.

Here’s a great way to start:

  • Set aside regular time to ask each team member how they’re doing while listening carefully to their concerns
  • Acknowledge employee stress by empathizing with individual struggles that may range from setting boundaries around work schedules to dealing with distractions at home
  • Communicate confidence in your team by using phrases like, “I know things are tough at the moment, but we’ve got this,” or “Let’s look for ways to make this easier by working together”

With the right communication structure and tools, ample opportunities to interact socially, and ongoing reminders of your support, you can build stronger relationships with your remote team that will help them respond to challenges with a renewed sense of focus and purpose.