How To Build Work Relationships… When You’ve Never Met Your Co-Workers In Real Life

Relationships are like a houseplant. If you put them in a good position to succeed, they shouldn’t require much effort to keep alive and growing. They also shouldn’t evoke much worry. In order to succeed, they need only a few things: the right amount of water and ample sunlight. Watering each plant regularly, making sure it gets a proper amount of sunlight, these are akin to the basics in any working relationship. Once the systems are in place, your plants stay healthy. Then, you can bask in the comfort and vitality they provide. Good relationships – including work relationships – provide these exact things as well. Let’s look at how to make sure your work relationships have those essential variables that curate healthy, thriving relationships. 

A Sunny Environment for Making Connections

Sunlight is basically the key ingredient of the environment where your plant lives. In terms of a work relationship, it essentially IS the workplace. Does your professional environment feel like one where sunshine dominates, or is winter always coming? Do you feel supported, included, and valued, or do you feel like a house plant in a closet? 

Strong leadership at any organization should constantly take the temperature of the organization—hoping to find more sun then storm clouds. Building a strong culture across the board will lead individuals within the organization to connect. It will allow individuals to bring their whole selves to work. It will encourage the type of organic bonding that happens when self-expression is encouraged rather than quelled. 

Get the Right Tools

Environment is not necessarily a physical place, and in today’s work culture, it very rarely is. In the times of the pandemic and the proliferation of location independence, your systems, schedules, processes and tools create the environment. Your “workplace” is the nebulous, virtual  “place” where you go to do work every day. How you feel in that place when you’re interacting with your team — via Zoom, Slack and other tools — will support the formation of positive relationships or hinder them. 

cartoon with phone next to plant smiling

One way to enrich your environment with opportunities for connection is to use tools that allow folks to share themselves. That’s Zoom’s greatest feature, the ability to interact live with team members—to tell a joke and hear laughter in response. However, Zoom has its limitations and spending more than 1 hour via video call per day is not recommended. According to the BBC, there are a number of reasons why Zoom calls are more draining then in person conversations. They require more focus, silence is unwelcome, and you’re essentially “on stage” throughout the video call. 

Idea Snapshot:

A new workplace tool that allows for video to work it’s connecting magic, but that won’t drain your energy as fast as performing Shakespeare to a live audience, is an async tool called Voodle. Voodle is a video-based platform that allows co-workers to share 60-second videos, organized and archived by themes. Imagine a thread where everyone at your “workplace” is invited to share short videos of:

  • Their home office
  • Favorite workweek lunch to prepare 
  • Work day drink of choice
  • Inside their refrigerator 
  • The pets that they take care of 
  • A health and wellness tip 
  • An explanation of who they were in highschool
  • A song or artists they think everyone should check out for productivity vibes
  • Their houseplants  

Any one of these voodle threads would lead your team to be more connected. Anyone of them would be an opportunity for everyone to share a piece of themselves. In turn, allowing everyone to discover shared interests and commonalities with their co-workers. Creating that type of environment plants the seed of strong individual working relationships. 

Regularly Scheduled Watering of Work Relationships: 

Watering your plant is the type of action that you can schedule and repeat. In a work relationship, we can compare the watering schedule to checking in—to your points of contact. In the physical work environments of old, this primarily meant dropping into someone’s office for a chat. A quick connection or brief office banter was basically pouring a little love on the friendship. By doing so you’re keeping it healthy and progressing.  

Today, in our remote work environment, the points of check in must be different. We can’t stretch our legs and go repeat an inside joke to Risa down the hall. We need new systems, tools, and prompts to encourage the development of workplace relationships. 

Build Work Relationships from Anywhere

Working remotely can often feel lonely. According to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work, in which over 3,500 digital nomads were surveyed, loneliness ties as the top concern. 20% of the nomads polled from all over the world listed loneliness as their “biggest struggle.” Another 20% ranked “collaboration and communication” as their greatest remote work struggle. Luckily, with a creative approach to consistent points of contact, remote work doesn’t have to feel so isolating. With new tools like Voodle, communication and collaboration can even improve work relationships in certain ways. 

The transition to remote work has also brought about a major, yet subtle, shift from synchronous work (i.e. meetings) to asynchronous work (i.e. email, Slack, WhatsApp) across all sectors and industries. Basically we changed from doing most of our work “in real time” to doing it “on our own time.” 

cartoon on phone sitting next to plant

Not only does it fit the multiple time zones and autonomy of remote work, we enjoy asynchronous work much more. According to a blog by Memory, a remote work tool creator, “With full control over how and when they communicate, remote workers enjoy fewer distractions and more autonomy, producing quality work more efficiently.”

Idea Snapshot:

To form strong workplace relationships we need to check in and get to know our fellow co-workers. However, we strongly prefer tools and means of connection that aren’t synchronous. In other words, we want to contribute and bond with our co-workers, but on our own schedule. Luckily, with new tools like Voodle, those two desires of—1. Building strong workplace relationships and 2. Working asynchronously—actually go together. 

Voodle allows two teammates on opposite ends of the earth to share what they’re most excited about in relation to a new product, with all the nuance that video captures. Additionally, it can let a manager lead an asynchronous team building activity. For example, encourage all team members to submit a short video describing their favorite item in their wardrobe, best thing in their fridge, or any other personal insight. Teammates scattered from coast to coast, sea to sea, can share their “Friday sunset view,” encouraging empathy and sewing deeper threads of bonding. 

A Good Gardener (And Leader) Knows: 

With a powerful tool like Voodle at your disposal, your team has a chance to develop relationships with greater depth than was the norm in the old brick-and-mortar office. In part, because asynchronous tools like Voodle are inherently good for introverts. With voodle, nobody has to fight for air time. Everyone can come and go as they please. In the virtual Voodle sandbox, anyone can contribute at any time. Most importantly, those contributions are three-dimensional in a way that Slack and email simply never can be. 

cartoon bringing soil to a plant

Developing meaningful relationships at work takes moderate care and effort, much like a gardener tends to his plants. However, by setting up your environment, tools, and systems to benefit connection, your job of keeping the houseplants alive is significantly easier. Provide a sunny environment, encourage regular watering and make it effortless—what follows is growth. What follows in a remote work environment is a deeply connected, incredibly content, highly productive remote team.  

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