- Education & Events
Building strong virtual relationships
Today you can get Internet advice on how to build a cedar deck, find a mate for life, and receive a medical diagnosis. What used to require face-to-face encounters can now be swiftly and conveniently handled in cyberspace. No muss, no fuss, no problems…well, maybe a few.
Here’s some tried and true advice on how to establish a strong virtual working relationship and keep it going over time.
- Establish parameters. Get it in writing what you want to accomplish, by when, and who is responsible. The relationship is dependent upon trust, but as they say, the devil is in the details. Exchange org charts so that when different people move in and out of project, you’ll know the players and their roles. If other staff will be co-players through the year, bring them in for an introductory conference call and discuss how they fit into the overall game plan. Keep in mind, what’s usually visual in an across-the-table meeting, is now a mental process.
- Give virtual partners priority. My best confreres are those who drop whatever they are doing and immediately respond to my e-requests. I do the same for them. When our mutual needs take priority, it keeps the work flowing smoothly and builds credibility and rapport.
- Communicate clearly. Choose appropriate wording for the subject line; spell out your expectations – FYI only, action required, and so on. Keep each e-mail to one focal point. If you mix questions on project A with updates on project B, you’ve diluted the message and created filing and retrieval problems. Use bullet points whenever you can in place of long narratives. It gets to the heart of the matter quickly and leaves a greater impression since the elements are visually displayed. If a table or graph best represents the material and its interconnections, use them.
- Learn how to collaborate. When you work across space, you may write text or add data, send it on to your partner where they revise or add graphics, and it comes back to you enhanced or edited. It’s a dynamic process. To keep the document looking and sounding like it was written by a single person, start with a content outline. Determine the writing style (first person, third, formal, informal), target audience, purpose, and length. Assign entire sections rather than bits and pieces. Don’t be afraid to admit any limitations you might have; ask for help when you need. Let the person with the most vested interest make the final call. If it reads well, you’re done. The point isn’t who wrote what, but rather how the information is portrayed and flows.
- Make it personal. When you begin a relationship, exchange photos and/or short bios or job descriptions telling who you are and what you do. It’s a point of reference for the future. Take note of special occasions, like birthdays, holidays, births, deaths, and upcoming vacations. Wish them luck on looming deadlines; congratulate them on plum assignments Let them know you consider them friends, as well as respected colleagues. Make every effort to schedule a face-to-face meeting, at least once a year. That’s when your brainstorming will be best. Have conference calls whenever you need them.
- Keep in touch, even when the project (or the business relationship) is over. You never know when another opportunity to co-venture will present itself. You’ve invested time and energy in building this partnership, don’t lose it – use it.
Some of my favorite co-workers are people across the country that interact with me through the computer. I take pride in fostering these relationships, creating projects that are better because of the alliance, and remaining connected over the years. I’ve even had cyber buddies who have changed jobs and returned for more cross-ventures years later. Why? Because our relationship was fun and we valued each other’s contributions and work style. Try these tips and it will work for you too.