Connection and Communication with Remote Colleagues

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Connecting and Communicating Across the Distance 

RISC is thrilled to have guest contributor, Chris Coladonato, return to share her insights on building better communicationChris-Coladonato-CPLP and connection among distanced or remote work teams. 

Chris is a learning and development consultant at Farmers Insurance and a rock star at helping distanced teams connect and engage. With more than 15 years’ experience as a talent development professional, she specializes in virtual facilitation; developing employees through social and collaborative learning methods; and helping distributed teams connect and stay connected. Chris is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP). Connect with her via Twitter: @chriscola.


Why does it feel so hard to build relationships and connections with colleagues who work from home or in a different office? If we’re being honest here, a lot of it has to do with the fact that you aren’t seeing them in the office on a day-to-day basis. You don’t bump into them in the hallway and have those water-cooler conversations. You often don’t “see” what they are doing, thinking or how they are reacting to what you are saying. So how do you build a strong and engaging relationship with your distanced employee or manager?

I’m sure you have heard of the phrase in real estate that it is all about “location, location, location.” Well, in building distanced relationships, it’s all about “communication, communication, communication.”

As with any relationship, you need to get to know the other person and continually connect in order to keep your relationship healthy. Distance relationships can make that difficult, but not insurmountable. When you are working with someone at a distance, you need to be more intentional about when, how, and why you’re communicating with them.

When you are working with someone at a distance, you need to be more intentional about when, how, and why you’re #communicating with them. #teamdevelopment Click To Tweet

Here are five tips to build a habit of regular communication with your distanced colleagues:

  • Discuss HOW you want to communicate. It may sound odd to have a conversation about something as simple as communication, but by setting some guidelines that you both agree to, neither party will be left wondering – HOW should I communicate this message? A few questions to consider discussing:
    • Do you both prefer instant messaging tools or text to email for quick check ins?
    • How do you want to communicate regular work? Email? Project tool? Enterprise Social network?
    • How often do you want to have one on ones or check-ins? How do you want to have those meetings? Video chat? Phone?
  • Get personal. Start meetings or phone calls with distanced colleagues with a quick and fun check-in. Part of building relationships is getting to know each other personally which helps to build trust with each other. We often skip this step when working at a distance. We get right down to business and skip the personal connection. Take 5 minutes at the beginning of a meeting to have a quick check in with everyone. People can share how their day or week is going in one sentence, share their favorite thing that happened this week so far or start by asking a fun question.
  • Be present during your communications. In this age of distraction, it can be easy to multi-task when you are on the phone with a distanced colleague. They can’t see you, so they won’t know, right? Wrong. Trust me when I say that you can tell when someone is distracted on the phone. And when the other person feels that you aren’t fully listening, they start disengaging and trust starts to break down.
  • Do the unexpected! In the office, you regularly bump in to people in the hallway. In the distanced environment, you have to manufacture these moments. Here are a few ideas:
    • Use text or IM tool to say “hi” in the morning and check in on how their day is going so far.
    • Send a handwritten note to let the other person know you are thinking of them.
    • Schedule a phone call or video chat on a regular basis instead of always using text based communication tools to communicate.
  • Get some face time! Use video when it makes sense and when possible. Don’t solely rely on text based communications. It’s important to see each other and reconnect on a regular basis. For example, if you are in a meeting via a webinar tool, use your webcams! If you are discussing performance and giving feedback, use a video chat tool…even if that means meeting on your webinar tool in a private meeting.

I know that this may sound like a lot of work, but it’s easy when you get in to a distanced communication habit. By communicating regularly about more than work, using a variety of tools, being present and “seeing” your distanced colleagues, you are starting to build a connection with them. This connection will help build in some psychological safety for your distanced colleagues, help them feel important and let them know that they are seen. When people feel that they have a voice and are seen, they are more likely to share ideas and be engaged in their work.

When people feel that they have a voice and are seen, they are more likely to share ideas and be engaged in their work. #EmployeeEngagement Click To Tweet

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