How To Build Meaningful Relationships With Remote Colleagues You’ve Never Met In Person
by Thom Brown
There’s nothing like the freedom and flexibility of remote work. However, do you ever find yourself feeling lonely? When you work from home, it can feel like you’re completely alone in your role. This is never the case, though. If you’re making money, then there has to be someone else involved. The chances are that you have plenty of colleagues, bosses, and clients. But how many of them have you connected with on a deeper level?
As a society, we’re becoming less and less socially connected. This is a particular problem among men, of which 15% say they don’t have a single close friend. That number was at just 3% in 1995, meaning that the decline in relationships has coincided with a rise in remote work. Although this may be correlation rather than causation, there’s no doubt that it’s easier to form relationships when you’re regularly meeting in person.
Virtual and remote relationships can be meaningful too. It’s just a case of learning how to create and nurture friendships that exist on a deeper level. Read on to learn more about the loneliness epidemic, the value of meaningful relationships, and how to foster them as a remote worker.
The Threat of Loneliness
Remote workers are at risk of isolating themselves and experiencing loneliness. Perhaps you just prefer working alone, believing you can get more done that way. Or maybe you’re traveling lifestyle makes it difficult to meet new people. While short periods of isolation are no problem, long-term loneliness is a serious issue that can lead to a severe breakdown in both mental and physical wellbeing.
Links between social isolation and serious health risks are well documented. It puts you at a greater risk of obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, dementia, anxiety, and depression. To combat loneliness, you may turn to cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food. Fortunately, if you have work colleagues, then you can turn to them, instead, to avoid these problems.
The Importance of Meaningful Relationships
The route to overcoming social isolation and avoiding burnout is through relationships. No matter what job you’re in or how introverted you are, relationships matter. Many of these will come through your personal life, involving friends, family, and romantic partners. However, with a significant portion of your week spent at work, professional relationships matter too.
It’s not just about forming relationships, though, but ensuring that they’re high quality, as well. They need to mean something to both you and them. Good relationships offer health benefits, lowering the damaging effects of stress and boosting your immune system. You’ll feel calmer in your day-to-day life and will get more fulfillment from your work.
Have Non-Work-Related Calls
In a bid to be as productive as possible, you might have started to cut out video calls. Many remote workers only want to have them when they’re necessary for the progress of the project, viewing anything else as a pointless waste of time. However, it’s important to also schedule occasional calls that go beyond professional conversations. Doing so will help you build a more personal bond with your colleagues and clients.
Organize group calls that can be used as a chance to unwind and generally catch up. You could host a virtual event, create a pub quiz, or find some other game to play virtually. Try to make it inclusive, rather than competitive, and allow workers to form a personal bond with each other. This takes a relationship beyond being strictly professional, making it more well-rounded and meaningful.
Check in on Their Wellbeing
When you send an email, are you only interested in whether the person has got the work done? If so, then you’re unlikely to form any kind of emotional bond. To build a greater rapport and understanding with your colleagues, consider checking in on their mental health. Rather than asking if they’ve done the work, ask if they’re enjoying their work. Consult them on whether you can be doing more to help them find meaning and happiness in their role.
This shows that you care about them as people and not just as workers. That, in turn, suggests that you’re not only contacting them to see what value they can bring to your company. When a relationship goes beyond pure financial gain, it becomes something truly meaningful. This means that even if you stop being colleagues, you can still remain friends.
The majority of US workers are experiencing burnout. By showing that you care, you’re instantly lowering a colleague’s stress and helping them feel like they have an outlet for their worries. Let them vent to you about their struggles and offer your support. This will help you feel better, too, because you’ll be able to speak openly about your own emotions.
Find Mutual Hobbies
As you get to know your colleagues, it can help to find areas of common interests. Maybe you like a similar band or sports team, giving you something to bond over. Perhaps you like books and can offer each other suggestions of what to read next. Eventually, this can flourish into relationships that extend outside of work. Even if you never meet in person, you can spend time together virtually.
Maybe you can play each other at online video games, have a remote movie night, or attend the same webinar. This is the virtual equivalent of colleagues from the same office arranging to meet up outside of work. As you start to spend more time together (even if only online), your colleagues will no doubt introduce you to other members of their social group. This helps you expand your number of friends and focus on the ones which offer the most meaning and fulfillment.
Eventually, you’ll want to meet your favorite colleagues face-to-face. However, that doesn’t mean that a virtual relationship is completely devoid of meaning. Even over video calls and instant messaging, you can derive great value from the people you work with. Don’t let isolation and loneliness take over your remote career. Work on nurturing meaningful relationships to continue living a healthy and happy life.
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Born in Oxford, UK, Thom has been a digital nomad since graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2016. He’s a freelance writer and founder of Thom Brown Travel. Thom specializes in minimalist, ethical, and meaningful travel writing.