Building a Relationship with People in Remote Teams

relationship remote teamsWorking with remote teams is becoming a common thing. Where there are clear advantages to this it also has its challenges. One of them is building a relationship with people in remote teams, which is very important to make it work. Here are some ideas how you can do this.

Meeting face to face or virtually

An obvious way for me to build a relationship when working with remote teams is exchange visits where people meet at one site and get to learn each other. When people meet each other personally, work together, have lunch together, go out for a beer, that creates a relationship which supports working together.

Often remote workers are asked to come over to the “main” site. Which is funny when you think of it, there tends to be some hierarchical difference between sites, which can easily lead to “us vs them” thinking. When working with projects or product development that is distributed over multiple sites, I often ask them if traveling from site A to site B is similar to traveling from site B to site A. The answer may surprise you, try it :-).

A replacement that is being used more and more in remote working to build relationships is Hangouts, Skype calls, chats or emails. Of course these are less “rich” communication mechanisms compared to face to face communication, still they can be used to establish a relationship.

For example, working as a freelance editor with InfoQ it took 2 years before I met face to face with my lead editor and colleague editors and with one of the founders of InfoQ for the first time. We mostly communicated via email, and occasionally with skype, and we have some online tools like Jira who help us to manage the work. There clearly is a relationship which enables us to do cool and interesting things together (take a look at my InfoQ Author page to see what I’ve published with them).

Some people nowadays favor written communication with email, chats, twitter DM or whatapp over phone or Skype calls. It gives them the freedom to communicate when and where they want, and to think about things before they communicate. For some people writing is easier than speaking, for example when English is not their main language (something that I’ve experienced a lot with our translation teams) or for introverts.

Assume that trust is there

I have a different view on trust when it comes to establishing relationships. In my opinion, people can meet virtually and start to work together based on the trust that they assume is there. Which is what I do, for instance when writing the book on Valuable Agile Retrospectives with Luis Gonçalves, translating our book with teams of volunteers and for working together with authors who are writing articles for InfoQ. I never asked for trust, or explicitly gave trust, I just assumed that it would be good to do it for both sides and assumed that we can trust each other in this. And then success followed.

Starting from trust in remote collaboration takes a different mindset. You start from the assumption that people want to do things together where everyone will benefit. You assume people to be honest, open, you start from the trust which is confirmed by openness and behavior, by the things people do. This requires a major shift from thinking of trust as something that you give or earn. Trust is there already, use it!

One thing not to forget is that people all over the world usually are good by nature. They come into work to do a good job. To do something that they feel is valuable. To work in the best way they can. As an entrepreneur, you have to do whatever is needed to enable people to do their work. Trust them to get the job done, listen to them and take them seriously. Treat them like you want to be treated.

Note: An earlier version of this post on building relationships with remote teams is included in the post Expert Strategies On Managing Cultural Differences In Remote Teams that was published on the Ekipa blog. Thanks again for inviting me to contribute on this valuable topic.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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