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Relationships in a Virtual World

I love my commute. I wake up in the morning, I have all this extra time to hang out with my husband, eat a healthy breakfast, and take my dog for a long walk (even through the weirdest Colorado weather). But I find myself with a whole new set of challenges working remotely. One of the most meaningful is the loss of those casual drop-bys in the office. Even as a consultant, I always relied on stopping by to touch base with my colleagues, have a cup of coffee, and get to know them personally. I no longer have those opportunities to build rapport. Over the last year, I have evolved a set of guiding principles to ensure I am still staying in touch with those I now consult with. No hiding behind the screen but staying on top of my passion: mentoring and coaching and providing solid executive counsel to those I am working with. Here are three important tips to keeping your relationships alive during a Zoom-soaked work environment.
Small Talk Let us face it, Zoom is a constant part of our lives and most likely here to stay. Every day I encourage everyone on my calls to foster small talk, and as an executive, I encourage you to build small talk time into your meetings. I always try to show up a few minutes before each meeting and like to spend the first five minutes allowing at least one or two people to talk about their lives. I ask direct questions.
An impersonal, dry discussion depresses innovation, and collaboration, and limits creativity. Those five minutes offer an important opportunity to build further rapport and meaningful emotional connections. It has a very real ancillary benefit of putting each other at ease to transition to more serious topics like productivity, job performance, review of Key Performance Indicators (KPI), and the general business of problem-solving. As I read in a recent Harvard Business Review article, your coworkers don’t necessarily need to know every detail of your life, but it certainly helps if everyone feels like a real person.
Face to Face
As a rule, if I am on camera, I want everyone else to be on camera. It does not matter if you look cute or did your hair; we are not dating. What is important as an executive or manager is to gauge interest through body language to foster group cohesion and understanding of critical concepts, challenges, and goals. A Zoom meeting staring at a bunch of initials is only slightly more impactful than a group email. Having people on camera improves the likelihood the participants will be present and focused on the topic at hand rather than answering emails, talking on their phone, browsing the internet, or taking care of other distracting tasks. While it does not have to be every meeting, make it a regular habit to have everyone on camera.
One on One
In-person interaction allows you to go with the flow. If you see one of your team members struggling, you sit down and talk it through. With online conferencing, the onus is on you to bring more intuition to the discussion, which some of us are more adept at than others. Every week have a clear mission to connect with someone working with you. I personally have chucked all the awkward team bonding exercises in favor of a direct one-on-one Zoom team call. This ensures we continue to build relationships with everyone, including the introverts, who aren’t going to participate in Zoom bingo. We discuss work, of course, but mainly I probe gently and with honest interest for information on how they are doing in their personal life. How are they really handling the remote environment? I have a clear message to my team: I want to know what you are up to and I am here for you. How can I serve you and your success?
As the world opens in the post-rona world, there will be a new normal. That new normal will include video conferencing. Zoom is truly here to stay. The lessons I have learned communicating remotely this past year are appropriate to the closed doors, the heads ducked down in cubicles and the virtual environment. One of the more important lessons want to share today is this: work is why we are together, but the relationships we develop are where we will gain an intangible dividend.
Written by Ruth Lee
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