No matter where you are located, relationships are an essential component of getting work done and building a career. However, when you’re physically removed from an office it can present new challenges for cultivating the kinds of meaningful interactions that historically grew as a result of frequent and informal connectivity. Some of the most common challenges to building relationships remotely were shared during the previous Networkplaceless.
So how do you begin addressing these challenges? We welcomed Laurel Farrer, CEO of Distribute Consulting, to give us her take on building relationships remotely and which individuals you’ll need in your network to help you succeed. Think of this as a remote advisory board—a set of cheerleaders, supporters, advocates, and helpers who are rooting for you as you develop professionally.
Who You Need in Your Remote Network
The people in your virtual community will influence—and be influenced—by the goals you set, the brand (and eminence) you exert, and the skills you build. To support your journey and growth, here are the six people Farrer says you need in your virtual network:
Your Sounding Board:
Your Sounding Board is a peer who offers neutral yet helpful feedback as you troubleshoot work concerns. This person is like your cubicle buddy or “work spouse”—someone you can talk to.
Example conversations to have with your Sounding Board:
- Brainstorming solutions to interpersonal challenges at work
- Discussing how to handle a challenging client
This person pushes you to a higher level in your career. By helping you consider the bigger picture, this individual can broaden your opportunities and connect you with resources.
Example conversations to have with your Mentor:
- Brainstorming companies to explore for new project opportunities
- Asking for advice on how to deliver negative feedback gently to your team
Your Double Checker:
Laurel reminds us “in a virtual world, we are what we type.” Stay polished and professional by having a friend proof your content (or go ahead and hire someone to be your Double Checker).
Example conversations to have with your Double Checker:
- Requesting feedback on conference submissions
- Reviewing your presentation slides for upcoming pitch
Not just for technology, your Techie is someone who helps you build your infrastructure and “plugs time drains.” Need to improve your verbal presentation skills, develop software, or design your graphics? This person should be your go-to.
Example conversations to have with your Techie:
- Suggesting new software to improve your work processes
- Tweaking your website to improve traffic flow
It’s easy to get complacent in remote work, if you don’t have a benchmark. This person should inspire you and urge you to keep growing. (Hint: you don’t have to tell them they are your competition.)
Example conversations to have with your Competition:
- Asking for advice around developing your soft skills (or simply observing your Competition from a distance)
- Seeking collaboration on your next project with their expertise in analytics to boost the credibility of your work
This person holds you accountable and keeps you on track. The Enforcer is a person who makes sure you get the job done, even if there’s personal sacrifice. Sometimes your enforcer is a hired business consultant or career coach, but other times it can be a friend with expertise in business strategy.
Example conversations to have with your Enforcer:
- Setting and completing work goals for Q4
- Making sure your company’s financial and marketing strategies are aligned
How You Build Your Remote Network
The rest of the conversation centered around the participants’ own experiences with networking, and of course, included a chance to connect with each other in a breakout. Farrer offered advice on how to identify people, connect with them and participants weighed in on deepening the relationship.
How do you identify the people you want in your network?
Since building a supportive network takes time and effort, start by exploring your current relationships. What groups do you already regularly connect with? Which deep connections (like former bosses) you should reconnect with? You may already have strong connections in your existing network, but you may simply need to formalize the relationship or adjust the style of interaction. You’ll need to be vulnerable and ask for support, directly and indirectly.
How can you reach out to those people?
“How do we balance quantity in the virtual and the quality in the co-located world?” – Laurel Farrer
It’s ideal to be direct, but allow room for connection. Farrer explained there are many people seeking a lot of quick connections. A quick “cold” connection request to many people doesn’t lend itself to a quality network. Sending a LinkedIn connection request with no context is akin to walking up to someone, handing a business card and walking away. There’s little chance to build rapport or meaning with this approach. Instead, introduce yourself and be clear about why you’re seeking to connect. Be direct, and ask good questions founded in research and true interest.
Farrer recommends to first offer help, in order to recieve help later, and with professional contacts you should establish a cadence of mutual support. Do you want leads for project opportunities? Make sure you’re facilitating helpful introductions to your contact when you see a match to their skillset or interests. Want to be invited to speak on panels or at conferences? Make sure you are offering your contact similar opportunities that will help them achieve their goals.
If you have a specific skill related to a topic that others are struggling with or interested in during a meeting, webinar, or professional gathering, you might offer help in this way:
“If anyone wants to learn about front end web development, send me a note at email@example.com and I’ll be happy to chat with you.”
Since most opportunities will come from leads outside your network, get in the habit of bridging between social networks and connect with people outside your industry and make introductions between social circles. Once you make a habit of continuously connecting with others, your reputation as a connector will lead others to make introductions to you.
How can you deepen the connections with those people?
As one attendee shared: “As a remote worker for more than 20 years, people always want to talk about work, and I am trying to connect deeper and make that network stronger.” As you consider cultural differences, personal preferences, or simply the deep need for us to connect with one another while working remotely, consider chatting about something other than work.
What next steps will you take to build out your core network? What is One Tiny Action (#OTA) that you can start with?
- Schedule an informational interview with an acquaintance
- Tackle your relationship building goals with Growplaceless
- Connect with a former boss
- Attend a Networkplaceless event
We’re here to support you, no matter what strategy you take. See you next month for another Networkplaceless conversation.