“It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.” That might be true if you’re in business with Michael Corleone, but for everyone else, business is personal. Humans are social animals. We need personal relationships in order to thrive. And since we spend more time with our co-workers than our friends, children, or spouses, it’s natural—and healthy—for work relationships to be social. For many of us, our closest friends are coworkers. Watercooler talk isn’t just a side-effect of workplace culture—it’s critical to it.
Personal relationships boost the effectiveness of your team, because they foster trust and collaboration. But what if your team is made up of remote employees? Your team’s relational needs don’t change, even when their geography does. Your virtual team members need to trust each other implicitly, because they can’t pop their head in someone’s office to see how progress is coming on that thing that’s due by noon.Personal relationships boost the effectiveness of your team, because they foster trust and collaboration. But what if your team is made up of remote employees? #remotework #smallbusiness Click To Tweet
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One of the core components of building trust is creating relationships. Socializing at work isn’t merely a tactic to keep employees engaged—it’s a major part of a highly functioning team. So if your remote team is going to trust each other, they’ll need to spend relational time together.
How on earth do you build relationships together when you’re far apart? With some intentionality and creativity, you can create healthy remote teams that know and trust each other—even better than many on-site teams do.
Spend Social Time “Together”
Just because there’s no water cooler to gather around, that doesn’t mean you can’t get to know each other. The most successful teams know and enjoy each other—and that goes double for virtual teams. Some ideas:
- Take time in meetings for personal updates.
- Recognize team birthdays.
- Ask about each other’s families.
- Set up video conferences when your office has a party, brown-bag lunches, or other social event.
- Host an event for the whole team.
Establish House Rules
It’s amazing how much trickier communication and alignment can be when your team is working remotely. Fewer than one-third of virtual teams establish team guidelines to achieve high performance. But agreeing on “house rules” can cut back on the messiness and clumsiness of virtual communication.
Your house rules might include agreements like these:
- Mute your microphone during virtual meetings if you’re not talking
- Schedule meetings with everyone’s time zone in mind
- No multitasking during the meeting
- Turn on your video for every meeting
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Form a Team Identity
Remote employees aren’t just geographically remote. It’s common to feel disconnected from the whole company, and even to feel like an afterthought. If you want your team to blow the doors off expectations, make sure all your team members feel needed. Build a strong team identity. Here are a few things you can do to foster a sense of belonging:
- Name your team. It doesn’t have to be corny, but it helps if it’s not boring!
- Praise your team to each other. Celebrate wins and accomplishments. Be specific. People Headlines during Level 10 Meetings are a great place to recognize a job well done.
- Show enthusiasm for the team and appreciation for each member. Get creative.
- Be quick to publicly recognize individual achievements. Spread the word beyond your team to highlight the importance of their work.
Meet in Person
Whenever possible, bring your virtual team onsite. It’s a great way to get them more integrated into the life of your organization, and to form better working relationships. Your quarterly or annual business meetings are probably the best time to fly them in. But why not find other opportunities? Maybe:
- Company anniversary celebrations
- Major product launches
- Holiday events
- Just because—who says you need a special reason?!
Even if you can’t bring your entire remote team in, think about connecting remote teams that are local to each other. Gather your California team or your New York team a few times per year and share photos with the rest of the company on Slack.
Pro Tip! As long as we’re talking about photos, we highly recommend using photo icons for Slack and email. When you see someone’s face it helps you feel more connected to them when you’re communicating. It’s so much more personal than the stock silhouette most email and social platforms use.
Make Your Business Personal
Business is personal, and building relationships among your remote workers is critical to developing a high-performing team. It may take more intentionality, but it’s doable. We know—Traction Tools is a company of remote teams. Hang in there, give it the commitment it deserves, and you’ll see the payoff!