Remote work is common for most independent professionals—it’s part of the appeal of pursuing an independent career. But managing remote workers isn’t always easy to do. Tracking deliverables, building teams, and forming relationships online can be complicated. It’s hard to get to know coworkers on a meaningful level through a screen or a phone call. Time zones and individual schedules can add to the challenge, and the more isolated people feel the more unproductive they tend to be.
By recognizing the challenges of communicating remotely, managers can put measures in place to develop strong, trusting relationships from the start. When emailing back and forth or talking on the phone with an independent contractor, you lack the typical non-verbal body language you’d receive in a face-to-face meeting. That means intent can easily be misunderstood, which can lead to disagreement.
That’s why communication is such a vital skill when managing remote workers. Simply checking in and making sure you are on the same page as someone can quickly de-escalate a conflict that might otherwise grow into a bigger problem.
Here are four ways to think about building strong relationships when managing remote workers.
1. Set Expectations
When managing remote workers or teams, build a strong foundation of trust by setting expectations and rules upfront. Ask people about their preferred communication styles and tools. Do they have certain hours they prefer to work or times of the day when they are most productive? In turn, what sort of communication do you expect from them throughout a day and during a work week?
Throughout the lifecycle of a project continually check in and adapt expectations as needed. What you decide on initially might not work the way you thought it would. Stay open to change and new input. As you talk about expectations and set general rules and guidelines, write them down and put them in a central location such as a shared drive that everyone has access to.
Check out: 6 Ways to Build Relationships with Independent Workers
2. Create a Schedule
Project-based work is naturally based around deadlines and deliverables. This is good news when it comes to managing remote workers, because time constraints on work help to create reliability. Meetings and communication will naturally form around deliverables, presentations, and reviews.
Take this pattern and apply it to other work-related activities. Set time limits and goals when you host meetings. If you are managing a team, set core hours throughout the week when everyone is available and can be reached. When independent contractors can depend on a schedule, they will be more likely to meet the expectations you have.
3. Get to Know Your Remote Workers
Good relationships are built on mutual trust and understanding. Getting to know independent contractors beyond the work they do for you will help you develop trust and improve communication. That means happier workers and fewer potential problems down the road.
Find opportunities to share interests and learn about the personal goals of your workers. Encourage them to talk about things they care about and try to remember those important details. Even if you are unable to meet face-to-face, there are many opportunities to build trust virtually. Make time to meet with independents one-on-one for a quick check-in to see how things are going. Before a meeting, take a few minutes to ask people how their day is going, how their weekend was, or to wish them a happy birthday.
Other creative ways to boost engagement include hosting an informal breakfast session or lunch-and-learn, or a virtual coffee break once a week where people are encouraged to talk about things other than work. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box—there are many ways to be resourceful and use virtual tools to bring remote workers together.
Check out: 4 Tips for Managing Independent Contractors
4. Use Video
One of the strongest moves you can make when managing remote workers is to incorporate video. While there are many great virtual communication tools you can use on a daily basis, video is a very helpful way to connect with your team.
Workers are more likely to be engaged in a video meeting, and, although it’s not perfect, video helps you pick up on important body language cues that can be missed or misinterpreted in a phone call. Video meetings feel much more personal than an email or call, and can help facilitate better collaboration and more meaningful conversations.