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Investing in Business Relationships In A Virtual World

LIZ DECKER, Therapist, LMFT

This certainly has been quite a year. There is no denying that many of us have dramatically altered our lifestyles including how we accomplish work related business and how we live at home.  Just a year ago, for example, virtual sessions via telehealth seemed novel and somewhat futuristic. However, now it is simply the primary way we interact with our clients — as is the case with so many other industries.

It is a given that in the 21stcentury workplaces are designed to be interdependent; running on relationships that require  a high degree of collaboration and interaction. However, given that the majority of work during the pandemic is now required to be accomplished virtually, tasks such as conducting interviews, onboarding new hires, providing performance feedback, and day-to-day problem solving, which are all based in relationship cultivation and development, raise questions regarding best practice. Such as:

If many of the relationships that were formerly built over coffee, at the water cooler, or via face-to-face physical meetings, are no longer possible, how can one be intentional about building and sustaining those relationships in a virtual world?

What is the best way to introduce a new hire to the culture of the company when that culture is only experienced from the neck up via Zoom?

How can an office best handle staff transitions when it lacks the formal in-person welcome or goodbye process?

How can employee bonds be maintained without the routine interactions that help them know each other beyond just their work output?

And many, many more.

To address these questions I have a few practical strategies to

maintain and improve relationships both at work and at home. These strategies are designed to be easy to remember and implement. The key is to keep in mind that even when the majority of our interactions are virtual, the small things still matter. The strategies are: validate, personalize, recognize, and break bread.

Validate: Everyone needs to feel appreciated, especially during trying times when many feel disconnected and lonely.  However, when we are isolated from a physical workplace context, we may experience heightened doubts about our competence and connections with others. We might second-guess ourselves by asking: “How good am l?” or “Do people really value my opinion?” To mitigate this, you might take few minutes every so often to check in with your co-workers about what is going on outside of work. This simple check in can go a long way towards helping a direct report or colleague feel valued and important.

Personalize:  During the course of your interactions with important colleagues, make note of their personal interests or facts as they arise. For example, if someone mentions they are throwing a virtual birthday party for their daughter on Saturday, ask about the theme. During the following week, inquire how it went before the next meeting begins. This could be a short email, text, or an instant message on Slack or Teams. A helpful strategy is to quickly write down personal observations in your Outlook Contacts notes section for easy reference.

Recognize: Look for opportunities to recognize good work or extra effort and send a note or small care package through an online delivery service. The care package might include snacks and little details that might be important.  For example, if your colleague has a dog they frequently reference, you might want to send some snacks.  Sweets, milk bones and a card. Everyone is feeling extra stress right now and being recognized for the extra effort we are all putting in speaks even louder than it would otherwise.

Break Bread: While it is difficult to take someone to lunch or coffee, consider inquiring where and what people like to order out in terms of food (assuming they order out during the pandemic). Offer to set up a meeting and having food delivered to the person for that meeting and hold a virtual lunch.

The link among these strategies is making the other person a priority, listening to details that are important to their lives beyond just their work, and responding accordingly.  This strategy may have occurred more effortlessly while we were all in the same place physically. In today’s mostly virtual workplace, It takes a degree of creativity to build and reinforce relationships in these unusual times.

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