Job Doc

I’m a new hire at a company, but the team I’m a part of is remote. How can I get to know my colleagues better? Elaine Varelas advises

Getting to know your colleagues can be a challenge, especially in a remote setting. Elaine Varelas advises on how to best grow those relationships and what steps you can take to get to know your remote colleagues better.

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Q: I just got hired at a new company and most of my team is still remote. How can I get to know my team better, and what can I do to get more involved in the company culture?

A: There’s been plenty written lately about whether people need friends at work and whether those relationships can be developed through technology, as well as the challenges that come with it (A Leader’s Challenge: Developing Teams That Have Strong Relationships And Excellent Results (forbes.com). Whether you believe you need friends at work or not, what you do need are good colleagues. You are absolutely right about wanting to ensure you are able to meet your coworkers in order to learn who they are, what their motivations may be, and their challenges. This can help you make both your jobs easier and hopefully more enjoyable.

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There are formal and informal ways to develop relationships with colleagues that happen when people are in the office. However, the challenge with some people being remote is that you will need to be much more intentional when growing relationships with people in a virtual-centric setting. It’s important to plan on having one-on-one meetings with the people on your team to learn about who they are. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself, including your background, your current life situation, and why you took the job. Additionally, it is vital that you prepare questions to ask in return. Make sure your questions aren’t perceived as challenging, but rather they demonstrate curiosity about who these people are and what they enjoy about their current role in the organization.

Everyone on Zoom shares something about their background and not just their work history, but their physical background. This could be anything, including whether they blur their background on the call, if they use the background of their real house, or if they choose one of the fake backgrounds provided by the technology, such as a beach front resort or a starry sky in the mountains. Even those choices demonstrate personality and invite questions. One of my most recent Zoom calls had me stumped because the background an individual used was remarkably familiar. It was a virtual background, but I knew I had not seen it in any other background before. As the call went one, I realized I was looking at Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment, and I was waiting for Kramer to come through the door. That realization created an entire conversation about how the individual captured that background and why they chose it. This non-work discussion generated a very light-hearted relationship that was both organic and a great ice breaker. Another point about Zoom is that people often apologize about potential kid or pet interruptions. How you react to these says lots about you, so be courteous and ask questions. Make note of the child’s name and the pet too.

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Anytime you have a work conversation with your colleagues, include personal, casual inquiries in your talks. Team meetings might start with introductions or questions, such as name your favorite food, favorite activities or music, an interesting fact about you that isn’t on your resume, or what your favorite show is currently. Include questions that would normally be something you hear “around the water cool” that give you insights into what’s happening in peoples’ lives, as well as yours. Try to schedule a couple of additional minutes before calls to talk one on one before the larger group signs on, and make an effort to outreach and check in with people.

Most importantly, be a good colleague. If you find out someone’s area of responsibility is overwhelmed with tasks and you think there might be something you can do to help, make the offer. Even if you can’t help, making the offer helps develop your relationship with your coworker. If people are local, I encourage you to make a plan to meet for lunch or coffee. If there are times other people will be in the office, then I urge you to go in (if you can) so that you can become familiar with your colleagues. Additionally, if people are in the office, persuade everyone to have lunch together and not stay in their personal offices for a solo working lunch.

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When you do have these get-together(s) and talks, try to pay close attention to what people tell you. If someone tells you that their child’s first day of school is coming up, follow up and ask about how that went. If someone says a pet is being treated for an illness, remember that and make sure you reach out to them to see if they’re all right. If someone tells you their daughter is getting married, ask questions!

Make note of the details of your conversations. Developing relations in person can be much easier for many people, and doing it virtually can be a challenge, but very doable. Retaining your intentionality of developing a relationship will be critical to achieving the goal of collegial relationships. Also, it doesn’t matter if people are senior or junior to you – having good questions that aren’t intrusive and generate conversation are important for anyone in the organization you’re trying to develop a relationship with.

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