How to connect with people when you’re remote

With the days of handshakes, or even fist bumps a distant memory, the “old” ways of making a good impression- such as a smile, eye contact, or a firm handshake – are decidedly tougher in the age of social distancing.

Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or working on building those warm relationships with colleagues you don’t know well, here are some tips to help you “click” with them remotely:

  1. Make it personal

It’s important to ask open-ended questions based on what the person has told you. For example, if they’ve shared that they have children or a particular hobby, ask, “So, how are your children doing?” or “How was that bike ride you mentioned?” People will often disclose more to you about what’s meaningful to them – and appreciate that you remembered to ask.

  1. Mirror language and behaviour

When you’re connecting with someone in person, you may find yourself mirroring their body language or behavior. That’s not a great idea over videoconferencing, since you generally can’t see the person beyond head and shoulders. However, you can mirror their language. If you hear them using a phrase, when you’re answering a question or you’re adding to something they’ve said, then repeat their language back to them. That builds rapport quickly and makes the listener feel like you’re in agreement.

Mirroring is also matching tone of voice or speech speed – if you speak very quickly and your contact does not, slow down a bit. A little mirroring goes a long way.

  1. Overcome awkwardness

Videoconferencing can be uncomfortable. The technology isn’t perfect and can make awkward pauses and interpersonal connections worse. A slight lag in sound may cause people to interrupt or speak over each other. Lack of eye contact may make participants feel as if their colleagues are not paying attention. Be aware of these technological challenges and, if you can, compensate for them by being mindful of your behavior in the videoconference.

  1. Have a virtual coffee

Video chats don’t have to be formal, purpose-driven meetings. Instead try scheduling brief, informal catch-up sessions which go a long way toward building relationships when people are working remotely. Remember that work isn’t just the stuff on a to do list. The longer that people work remotely alone, the more we see our work as insular and separate. It’s important to connect with others we work with to feel connected to a greater team effort. Use your virtual coffee to get to know each other or catch up, depending on the relationship.

  1. Be intentional

Being in proximity in the workplace lends itself to casual conversations. However when every face-to-fact interaction is through videoconferencing, there’s no real way to differentiate between a quick check-in and a serious meeting. This is you have to overcompensate for.

State your intent when scheduling a meeting or at the beginning of a call. If the expectation is clear upfront it will set the tone of the meeting and let people know what to expect from you.

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