Fitting in: Remotely

Increasingly, clients, colleagues, and associates ask about how best to manage the unique dynamics of remote workers—employees who are not co-located to the company’s main headquarters. Distances vary from two buildings a few streets apart to offices in three or more continents.

Logistically, companies large and small often leverage technology to assist in remote partnership with sophisticated video and teleconferencing features that facilitate the ability of employees to see and hear each other real-time.  Additionally, frequent travel, email, and on-line communication tools allow people to share information, outputs, decision-making and tactical progress.

But even with all of these aids to people working together across distance and time zones, I frequently hear people frustrated with not feeling connected to one another. What do they mean?  If their work outputs are clearly defined and progress is easily trackable, why are people not feeling connected with one another? And more importantly, how can it best be remedied?

It seems to me that what is often missing is the authentic, emotional connection that is so easy to establish when we are face-to-face with one another, informally passing one another in the hall, catching up after the weekend, and being able to ascertain the unconscious connection that happens on an emotional level. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and others coin the term “resonance” as a dimension of emotional intelligence relating to the ability to become “attuned” to one another, often on an unconscious, subliminal level.  I believe this simple attenuated connection between people gets lost across the distance, completely by accident.

It seems as if our efforts to communicate across the miles fail to provide the one simple element so crucial to partnership between employees, teams and leaders: connection.  We can communicate the cognitive, business essentials easily, but it is connection we miss. Emotional connection, so easy in day-to-day physical interactions, is so easy to miss when we are remotely located.

My suggestions:

Preserve and prioritize time with remote workers for pure connection, not just project status, updates, and details.

Ask questions of one another, such as:

– What is new with you?

– What success are you proud of this month?

– What is getting in your way of success these days?

– How are you feeling about our interactions and the clarity of our roles?

– What are you looking forward to next?

– How is your family?

Take a portion of planned video or phone meetings to offer non-tactical but personal connection.

Use Skype and Video Chat/Google Hangouts as an alternative to phone calls in order to establish a visual connection with one another, and ask not to multi-task with one another on computers.

Remember that establishing an emotional connection takes intention more than it takes time—5-10 minutes of mutual investment in the partnerships that matter across the miles can bridge the gap far more efficiently than reams of emails and project updates.

Jim Morris