034: Make Better Friends While Working Remotely



Sometimes it can be hard to build quality relationships with coworkers while working remotely. This week, Justin shares a few strategies to overcome common blockers to making remote work friends!



00:00 Hello and welcome to Process, a podcast by Effective Remote Work. My name is Justin DiRose and today we’re talking about how to make better friends while working remotely. Before we begin today, be sure to check out our Patreon campaign effectiveremotework.com/patreon. Sign up today to get access to our exclusive members only content including a Discord water cooler chat and bonus episodes of this podcast. That’s effectiveremotework.com/patreon.

00:29 A struggle for any asynchronous organization is moving workplace collaboration dynamics beyond a transactional nature. What does that mean? Well, it means moving relationships between coworkers, from, Hey, I’m coming to you to get this thing to, Hey, I’m working with you on this thing and I actually am learning who you are as a person.

00:54 It’s really easy in a distributed, especially asynchronous, organization to miss elements of the community really that comes from having a company of people working together in a shared space. You tend to focus on what you’re doing instead of who you’re working with while you’re doing those things. Some of the most valuable things that we can develop in our work lives are relationships, and there are some definite blockers that come up while working remotely to building those kinds of relationships. However, as in any company, a key to keeping employees happy and keeping them around is quality relationships. You should be able to answer in your organization where you work a positive answer to the following questions: Do I feel like I have friends at work? Do I feel connected to the broader group of people that I’m working with? Do I feel like I am a part of something?

02:03 If you can answer positively to those questions, that’s awesome. You probably have a very healthy community culture in your workplace, but if you struggle with some of those things, there are a few things that you can do to improve intentionally the quality of your relationships at the remote company you work for. First, one of the things that you can do is do something together with your fellow coworkers. If you’re a gamer, if you game online, invite your coworkers who game to join you or try to get a group together. There are ways you can play different types of tabletop games online as well. Do something like that, if you’re not into video game consoles and or have a gaming machine, if you’re in a development job, you can intentionally pair program with somebody else in your team who may know something a little bit better than you. Or maybe you’re further along than someone else and it could be a good opportunity to teach and mentor them. Whatever you do to do something together with somebody else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be either casual or work related. It can be a mix of both. It can be one or the other. It doesn’t really matter. But the truth is is that doing something with someone else always gives you a sense of their personality a little bit more than text or email alone can do, which is typically what we tend to rely on in asynchronous distributed organizations.

03:30 Another thing you can do is to hop on a voice or video chat. For some distributed groups, this may be the norm. Others, it very well may not be. If your distributed organization is located within only, you know, less than five times zones of each other, it’s really easy to hop on voice and video calls without disrupting people’s days. However, if you have a globally distributed organization that you’re a part of, it can be really hard to do that. Sometimes you have to go outside of the box to get on a call with somebody, but ultimately don’t just schedule a meeting; invite others to chat. It can be in Slack or Discord, a Google meet, a Zoom call or somewhere else, but get together every once in awhile just to talk, build relationship, check in to see how other people are doing and if you don’t know the people very well that you’re jumping on the call with, be sure to have some kind of a conversation starter when you jump into that call. Or ask someone something about themselves. Maybe you know that a fellow coworker who is on the call is into music. Ask him about that, talk about that a little bit. The whole point here is to just dive a little bit deeper into who people really are so that you have something to relate on other than the transactional tasks that happen within an organization on a given day.

04:56 This one may be a little bit less feasible for some, but for some distributed organizations it’s highly valued and that’s traveling. Traveling with coworkers is an extremely good way to get to know them. Anytime you can introduce shared experience with other people you don’t know as well, there’s always a sense of bonding that comes out of that and a sense of deeper relationship. For example, I had the opportunity to attend a conference for work with two of my coworkers at the beginning of September and then shortly thereafter we had our company meetup where everyone in the company gathered together in Montreal for a week.

05:31 These two things really changed the game for me for remote work. Honestly, I was struggling a little bit with relationships and with feeling connected to the organization that I worked for, but that was largely due to the fact that I didn’t really know anybody at work. I didn’t feel like I could just have a conversation with people and say, Hey, how’s it going? How are you doing? I kind of knew people in passing from what I saw them post and say in chat, but I really didn’t have a personal connection with them and that made it harder for me to reach out to. But traveling together with these people and having shared experience with them actually really helped break those barriers down. And now I feel like just about anybody in the organization I can have a personal conversation with and that’s fantastic. It’s probably one of the most powerful things that you can do as a remote worker is to get in the same space with someone for even a short period of time.

06:31 And one of the last strategies that I have here today is to utilize icebreakers. Icebreakers can be pretty simple and dumb, but especially in an asynchronous organization, using a tool like Discourse or Twist by Doist, having some sort of an icebreaker discussion can really open up interesting discussions about people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, you can have a topic where people can share where they live and lots of people will share very in depth details about the community in which they live in and even sometimes they’ll share a little bit about their house or their office or things like that. You could have a topic dedicated to what people’s desks or workstations look like because everyone’s is different. Or on a more personal level you can ask people to share one unique thing about themselves. This one can really drum up some very interesting conversations.

07:24 There’s lots of different icebreakers that you can utilize in this way to create actually longer term conversations about people and what’s going on in the organization and allowing people an outlet to share a little bit more personally about themselves so that everyone can get to know them a little bit better.

07:40 Or maybe you’re in a unique situation where you work remotely, but maybe that’s not the norm for the rest of your organization. This is a little bit of a shameless plug here, but this is why we exist at effective remote work. If that’s you come and hang out in our community at community.effectiveremotework.com. We’d be glad to chat through the challenges and joys of remote work with you. Some companies do a really good job of doing this themselves and others don’t and that’s okay. What we want to ultimately do here is to be a resource for you to be more effective in your life and work as a remote worker. And hopefully the community and this podcast can help you find some resources to improve those things and help you grow in those areas.

08:22 When it comes down to it, relationships are really at the core of what makes us healthy as people and it’s really at the core too of what helps us feel satisfied at work. If we have good relationships and quality things to work on, things that keep us interested, we’re more than likely to stay engaged and involved in our jobs. And I know that’s what some people tend to shoot for with joining a remote organization is some sense of holistic life satisfaction to where you can be with your family, you can do work that you love, you can do work that you enjoy, but then also too, you also need to have quality relationships with the people that you work with. Some companies do this really well and if yours is at a place where they’re still growing in this area, hopefully some of these strategies can help you take it to the next level.

09:12 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode, head on over to the Effective Remote Work Community at community.effectiveremotework.com. Be sure to join our Patreon at effectiveremotework.com/patreon to get access to our exclusive members-only content. If Twitter’s your thing, you can find me at @justindirose, and the podcast and community @effectiveremote. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast! My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.