Building Sustainable Relationships in a Virtual World

December 9, 2022

Posted by Lai Han Sam (Ms), PCC

During a session with a client, he announced that he will be taking up a senior role in a large financial organisation. It would be a huge step up as for the last couple of roles, he was an individual contributor. He will be leading a working team of 10 members. 

You might think this was nothing unusual. Here’s the catch.

He started this job at the beginning stages of the COVID pandemic and within 2 days in the role, there was a country-wide lockdown. Full work from home protocol was enforced. He had only met his reporting manager in person and one other team member briefly. He had not met all other team members except virtually.

And for the next 6 months, there were few opportunities to do so.

This has become common in the workplace as the world goes through the throes of the pandemic. Teams working in the same city may not even have met each other and now expected to work together. While this is not new for many global companies, the widespread practice during the pandemic has accentuated the challenges of building and maintaining relationships in a virtual world. 

Remote work is here to stay so here are 5 ways you can build sustainable relationships virtually.

Being Real

It is easy to create a virtual persona that may put others at arm’s length. If connection is what you desire, then you will need to take the first step in being a real person! Sharing your personal stories around challenges and triumphs would help others see the different facets of who you are. When you openly show others your likes, dislike and how you think, it will also show you are no different from them. Humans are always looking for commonality. So your sharing may be the basis of bridging the virtual gap in empathy, understanding, and having an authentic relationship that will move from the virtual to the real world.

Being Visible

It is hard to form a relationship with a black box on screen! So switching on the video during virtual meetings will allow them to be closer to the real thing. Not seeing someone’s expressions, or responses can contribute to the reluctance of others to share their opinions more honestly. When others can see your face, they are also assured that you are present and interested in the meeting. Rather than phone calls, you can also suggest or opt for a video meeting, whenever possible. 

Being Interested

One of the big differences between virtual and in-person meetings, is the fact that we lose the before and after meeting casual chit chat. It is in the short 5 minutes before the meeting that you find out about your co-worker’s upcoming holiday or impending promotion! Make the effort to do a check-in before the formal meeting agenda commences. This will send the message that we are humans first, and make the effort to foster a sense of community.

Being Curious

Working virtually means that instead of walking over to our co-worker’s cubicle to have a quick pow wow, we substitute it with instant messaging. While efficient and quick, there is an increased likelihood of misunderstanding as there is a difference in communication comparing a face to face interaction versus a Slack message! The nuances of emotion or meanings are lost and instead replaced by assumptions and preconceived ideas of each other. That’s why it is important not to assume. Instead practice being curious and asking clarifying questions to make sure you understand exactly what is being said to you. In fact, it might be faster if you pick up the phone to talk things through!

Being intentional (Make it a habit)

All these are only possible if you make these regular habits. They can become rules for the ways of working together. By being intentional about making efforts to connect, you can definitely build sustainable relationships no matter what.

Bonus Tip : Meet In Real Life

If you and your co-worker are working in the same city, it is always great to meet in real life and connect in real time!

Happy connecting!