By Kevin Eikenberry, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute
Leaders often confess to me that a role that they neglect is building relationships with their team members—especially when those team members are in far-flung locations. Quite simply, finding the time and effort to connect with each remote employee can seem like an impossible task.
Hey, I know you are busy.
I know you have a lot on your plate. However, building relationships with your team members is not a job you should ignore.
Fostering connections with employees pays dividends in many ways, including greater productivity, less turnover, higher morale, increased trust and greater speed of implementation.
That said, chatting about work and the weather isn’t enough to build relationships with your employees. If you really want to engage with them—whether they are down the hall or clear across the country—you have to make it a priority to connect with them. Here is how to do just that.
Find their passions
Doing so is not hard at all: Just ask them. During phone conversations or when they visit the office, find out about their spouse, kids, favorite hobbies or sports teams. Then comment on those passions whenever you speak to them. You might be surprised by how quickly that builds a connection with employees—especially remote employees who may feel alienated from the rest of the group.
Find a commonality
What do you have in common? As you discover hobbies, backgrounds or interests that you share, comment on them. For example, when an employee tells you he is going on vacation to a place you have been, bring up a restaurant you enjoyed there. Or chat about a team you both support. With each connection you make, you deepen the relationship.
People want to be around positive, enthusiastic, happy people. Because it’s harder to convey your attitude over the phone because employees can’t see you smile or read your body language, be sure to use an upbeat voice and share a positive outlook on things. Also watch your language in emails to ensure that you aren’t coming across as curt.
You learned the rule when you were a kid, but do you practice it (enough) now? Show your appreciation to every team member—even those whom you don’t see often—for their contributions, big and small. It’s easy to forget to comment on how much remote employees contribute because they aren’t working alongside you, so make sure you let them know you notice their efforts.
The biggest gift you can give employees is your time. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend an hour with every employee every day; however, it does means that when you are with someone that you give the person your undivided attention. Don’t ask people to wait while you answer another call. When you are face-to-face with them, make direct contact. Always eliminate distractions, including your mental ones, and focus 100% on the person. It happens so rarely that when you do it makes a big and lasting impression.
Check in on employees
Call remote employees and ask them what they are concerned about, what they need and how you can help. I’m not talking about micro-managing here. I’m talking about offering unsolicited help. It is so simple and yet so powerful. Do it.
Make it your goal to make an employee’s day
It could mean calling a virtual employee to reward him or her with a day off for a tremendous effort on a project, or expanding a budget so that a remote team could hire freelancers to ease some of the workload. Anything that will make an employee feel understood and appreciated. If you set that goal each day, it won’t take long for you strengthen your relationships with employees and to see significant boosts in their performance, morale and productivity.
What do you do to connect with your remote employees?