How To Build a Positive Relationship With a Remote Colleague Working Abroad

It’s no surprise that companies are increasingly turning to remote workers. Studies show that they are happier and more productive. As a result, managers are figuring out how to get their in-house team and their remote team to work together seamlessly. Throw remote workers located abroad into the mix, and this further complicates the matter.

When you’re working towards an important deadline or partnering with someone in another country to complete a huge project, the stakes are high and there isn’t much room for misunderstandings or miscommunications. Building a good relationship with your virtual colleague is essential to completing a job successfully.  

Building Relationships Among a Remote Team Is Not The Same As Building a One-on-One Remote Relationship

Organizations that choose to create entire teams of remote workers understand that cultivating a positive virtual work environment is vital to a project’s success. They invest time into communicating with managers to find out a team’s needs, provide the best remote working tools, and in some cases, organize retreats.

This institutional support is not a given when you’re entering a one-on-one partnership with a remote worker. Instead, it’s usually up to you and your remote colleague to create the conditions for a fruitful relationship.

Be Clear and Careful With Your Written Communication

So much of our communication is nonverbal. So what’s a pair of remote workers to do if they want to avoid misunderstandings?

For starters, be mindful of what you say and how you say it. Is your email abrupt? Does it make assumptions? Are you jumping to conclusions? If there’s an issue, do you get caught up in emotions or do you clearly state the problem?

Since your recipient can’t see your body language or hear your tone of voice, a hastily written email might be taken the wrong way. Re-read your messages to see if you can rephrase anything in a more helpful way.

Consider using emoticons, emojis, or even GIFs. Even though they are often frowned upon for professional communications, these tools can serve as a replacement for body language or tone of voice when chatting through IM or email.

Imagine stumbling upon a problem while reviewing your colleague’s work. Simply tacking on a smiley face to your note makes it clear that this message is an FYI with clear instructions and not a passive aggressive way of assigning blame.

Use The Phone or Video Calling When Possible

If something requires a long conversation, pick up the phone or schedule a Skype call. It only takes a small misunderstanding to sour someone’s mood or turn a small problem into a huge disaster. A quick phone or Skype meeting makes it easier to discuss potential solutions in one sitting while limiting potential miscommunications.

Phone or video chats also introduce the sort of familiarity that comes naturally when you work with someone every single day. Don’t underestimate the value of putting a face (and body language) to a name. Granted, it’s not efficient to discuss everything with a phone call, but implementing a weekly call can do wonders for your partner dynamic.

On that note: Don’t be afraid to spend a few minutes of each call on chit chat. Small talk is often viewed as trivial at best and inefficient at worst. But remember that you don’t have the breakroom or the commute home to socialize with your remote colleague, so before you dive into your agenda ask about their weekend or wish them a happy birthday.

Add Each Other on Social Media

This is a quick and easy way to make up for the fact that you don’t see each other on a daily basis. If you feel comfortable enough to add your physical co-workers on social media, send your remote colleagues an invite as well. And if you sincerely reserve social media for your family and close friends, interact with them on other networks like Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Sharing a funny meme after a particularly stressful day can relieve built up tension or anxiety. Most importantly, it positions you as a team working towards a shared goal as opposed to two people who are “stuck” with each other.

Meet Each Other Halfway When It Comes To Scheduling

If you are operating out of the company’s physical headquarters, the two of you will wind up running or your schedule by default. It makes sense to run on the company’s time, but try to find ways to schedule phone meetings or Skype calls for a time that works for both of you, especially if you are separated by several time zones. It’s a nice courtesy to extend to someone who may regularly lose sleep touching base with you in the middle of the night.

Another helpful step is to share your schedule availability with your colleague and clearly state the best times to reach you. That way, you know when someone is not only at their computer, but available to chat with you as well, increasing your chances of a timely response.

Building a relationship with a colleague on the other side of the world isn’t impossible, but it does take a bit of conscious effort. It also improves your ability to work as part of a remote team in the future. As the world of work goes digital and international, it will become an increasingly valuable skill to have.  

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