How to be a real life coworker to a virtual team member

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Home Office

Imagine yourself arriving at work in the morning.

All your coworkers are also at work today, but nobody says good morning or makes morning small talk.

You go directly to your work space.

You turn on your computer and get straight to work.

You respond to emails. You answer work related calls. You work on reports or write code or do some other independent tasks for several hours.

You may run out for lunch. You stand in line with strangers while getting your food. You use that time to read email that has come in since you left your desk. You get your food and return to your office. You eat your food in the office kitchen alone.

You join a few more conference calls. After two minutes of conversation about the weather in your locations all the team members have joined the call and you jump into the purpose of the meeting. You discuss the things they need from you and the things you need from them.

You watch the clock for a reasonable time to disconnect from those you need to be accessible to. When you shut down for the day you walk out of the office without anyone saying goodbye.

Then you continue to live this same workday over and over and over again.

Welcome to the world of working from home. And it’s not for the faint of heart. Yes, working from home definitely has its perks but for many people it can be lonely. The story above is the daily emotional experience for some people that work at home. They get up. They may or may not get dressed and proceed to live this day of transactional human contact again and again.

Building strong personal relationships with virtual workers definitely serves them, but it may also serve you. Employees that are more engaged with coworkers tend to produce stronger work products and are more committed to a shared mission. If you or someone you know works with a virtual team member feel free to pass these ideas along.

Being a Real Life Coworker to a Virtual Team Member

  • Say good morning and good night even if through email. You don’t have to do this every day. Actually, I recommend you don’t do it every day. If you do, it might feel more like you’re checking up on your virtual colleague. But doing it every now and then acknowledges that you are jumping into the day together and that they are worth thinking about even when you don’t need anything.
  • Make time to talk on the phone with no agenda. Every time you speak to them you shouldn’t have a work agenda. In a real life work environment, you pass people on the way to the bathroom or hang out in their office to take a break. Every conversation with a virtual coworker should not be about accomplishing something.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate. Schedule virtual office parties. These are times when one of more people get on the phone (or video) and celebrate alone, but together. You can ship treats or make it BYOC (Bring Your Own Cake), but make sure you’re both doing the same thing (e.g. eating cake) at the same time. Then simply discuss the happy event (birthday, wedding, new baby, finished project, etc) as if you were all in a conference room together.
  • Take the time to know them. If you work with this person regularly (and especially if they work for you), make a point to know the answers to these basic but sometimes overlooked questions.
    • When is their birthday?
    • Are they married?
    • Do they have children?
    • Are their parents still living? If so, where do they reside?
    • How many siblings do they have?
    • What is their birth order?
    • Where are they from?
    • What is their favorite hobby/pastime?

What am I missing?

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