How to build professional relationships in a virtual world
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While the convenience and adaptability of the online world have allowed us great strides in connectivity, we need to reexamine how we connect with one another. Virtual interactions are, let’s face it, just not the same as in-person interactions. Navigating the professional world virtually can be especially difficult, with a lot of social norms and technology learning curves yet to be mastered. For some of us, some of our closest professional relationships will begin virtually and remain predominantly that way. Here’s how you can establish professional relationships, and grow in a new virtual world.
Start With Your Team
Whether you’re a small business or large corporation making the transition to digital operations, the good news is, it’s never been easier. Even more promising is that entry-level employees, new graduates, and even high school students looking for their first jobs can likely all boast about their virtual communication tools and video conference skills on their resume. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the idea of transitioning to virtual meetings, chances are there’s already someone on your team that can help.
As you learn to navigate the professional world, lean on your team to help build better communication, team building activities, and therefore better professional relationships online. Encourage open dialogue in virtual meetings to assess and troubleshoot any hurdles your staff might be facing in transitioning to virtual operations. Use these conversations as a way to recognize what your clients and professional network might also be experiencing in the digital world while building strength, trust, and resilience within your team. Consistent and regular communication via online meetings is the key to success.
As a leader, your business will look to you to establish standard operating procedures and social context, even though virtual relationships might be new to you, too. Take this time to consider how you want to interact with your team in virtual meetings, email correspondence , and phone conversations. Create opportunities for fun team building activities or team building exercises to recreate the casual social interactions you would otherwise have in the office. Equally important is setting boundaries to your workday schedule. Most of us have email and cell phone access 24 hours a day and are now more than ever, susceptible to burnout.
Be careful not to let your work culture seep into home life, as the ambiguity between the two is on the rise. Set the tone for professional emails and promote online team building activities with weekly virtual meetings, or by offering local and flexible co-working space when needed.
Breaking the Virtual Ice
Growing existing professional relationships might seem less intimidating than starting one from scratch, as your established network probably already knows and understands your leadership style, communication style, values, and humor. Introductions might seem intimidating at first, knowing you may never interact face-to-face with the person you’re reaching out to, and that you still need to make a good first impression. Luckily, there are some tricks for approaching new business relationships online.
Remember that culture of professionalism you’ve worked on establishing with your remote team? Part of the reason that’s so important is that it will translate through your work with clients, partners, and professional network. Because tone, sarcasm, and wit don’t usually translate well without the handshake, face-to-face interaction, and body language that usually go along with those, it’s best to start from a place of conservative professionalism and build on the virtual relationship as you go. As a virtual employer, employee, or vendor, some helpful hints for breaking the ice are:
Treating potential professional relationships virtually the way you would in the real world may seem like common sense. What’s not intuitive to many of us is just how much information is lost in virtual communications. For this reason, remember to avoid the following in virtual introductions:
- Being too informal with your audience. “Reading the room” applies even more to newly established virtual relationships. It’s best to start with a level of professionalism and formality that you want to represent your business or employer and to use active listening to allow the other party or parties to set the tone.
- Using too many hand gestures or excessive movement to convey your ideas. Chances are, your audience will miss a lot of that. Whether it’s cut from the frame, they have other windows open, or they’re looking at their own image on the zoom screen, body language often will not translate as well as you hope it will. The exception? Smiling when it is appropriate to do so.
- Don’t forget to smile, project clearly, and look toward your computer’s camera when you’re able. This simulates eye contact and will help the other parties in your video conference feel more engaged and listened to.
One of the many things that people miss about person-to-person interactions in the workplace is the sense of camaraderie, the community and support system, and celebrating shared successes in-person. But these wonderful things about coworking don’t have to be lost in a virtual environment. With so many online tools that facilitate online meetings and online events it’s easier than ever to connect the team remotely and celebrate together.
Virtual communication platforms, including Slack and others, allow coworkers and managers to create communication channels with this in mind. Want to have a virtual office happy hour every Friday and include some team building activities? Use project management tools to create a channel for that. Looking for a virtual event or webcast for your staff to be able to small talk, encourage each other, brainstorm, and celebrate special occasions together? There are tools for that too.
Creating a space that allows your attendee to participate in remote team building and networking interactions that used to happen for employee birthdays, holiday parties, and through “watercooler talk.”
Recognizing employees weekly or monthly for their hard work and successes can also build morale, and might be as simple as writing a few sentences about what you appreciate about their work during that period, and publishing it to the team channel. Virtual team building exercises, events, regular interactions, weekly competitions, and social media contributions (with the help of a content manager) are also great ways to get your team interacting, learning about one another, and building productivity, resilience, and job satisfaction.
Professional Virtual Networking
Like the traditional professional world, your online reputation will precede you in making and building those virtual connections and interaction. Now more than ever, additional focus on your brand’s online profile, messaging, and communication channels are critical to amplify your online connections. In general, professional connections are made through social and professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Not only does it help create those connections for you, but it also presents you and your brand as a business that is in-tune with the changing way we work.
Building your network through sites like these can also help you to easily seek and locate other businesses, vendors, and creators that can help take your business to the next level. Freelancing sites are popping up all over the internet as well, with millions of professionals ready to help you navigate the virtual business world, and shape your virtual identity. Connecting with those types of content creators, writers, marketing companies and social media managers will help you grow and thrive in an ever-changing online environment.
Virtual Client Relationships
Building a reputation for professionalism, competence, and great customer service online is important if you want to attract and keep new business. Customer reviews are very common in today’s virtual world, and accessible by millions of people. Consumers are aware that there are leaders behind every established and growing business, and those leaders must reflect the values they want their business to portray if they hope to create meaningful engagements with their target audiences.
Focus on Your Digital Footprint
In closing, the way we get work done today has changed. It’s an increasingly digital world and there’s lots to learn and optimize on how to close the gap in human interactions with the help of digital tools. However, working remotely is a direction we’ve been headed in for some time.
The most important thing to remember when establishing internal and external relationships is that the online behavior by you and your business will set the standard for all of your professional interactions. Make smart decisions in technology, professional development, nurturing virtual relationships to design and unstoppable virtual team and business.
Office Evolution Clark is a flexible co-working space located in Clark, NJ. If you’d like to explore a safe and local office setting where you can connect in-person with other working professionals, schedule a free tour today.