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Creating Meaningful Relationships Between Remote Team Members

With a seemingly permanent shift towards remote work, how do you build trust?

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Gallup found that employees who have a best friend at work are more engaged.

"Our research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job. For example, women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%)" ~ Gallup

This is a controversial finding, and employees shouldn't be forcing people to become best friends at work. Not everyone at work is looking to make friends.

But the evidence is clear. Affective trust (a.k.a. friendships and trust among team members) is good for both team members and organizations.

A long-term study of teams found that greater positive emotions and liking among team members is associated with higher team performance. But how exactly do you create this trust, liking and friendship among team members? 

Recently, I delivered a virtual presentation to a Big 4 firm on the topic of "virtual teaming." The client brought me in to talk to this specific group because everyone works remotely, which makes building meaningful connections difficult. Furthermore, teams are not fixed. Instead, staff members are constantly thrown into new teams as new projects arise. 

While researching for the keynote, I stumbled across this great TED podcast by Adam Grant. In it, Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General of the United States, shared how he built deeper connections among his team members.

"What we did is we devoted five minutes once a week during our all-hands meetings, and we picked one person during each meeting and asked them to share pictures with us. And those pictures could be of anything they wanted, as long as it wasn't about their current job. And it was just show and tell. And people shared all kinds of interesting things."

This works because getting to know the person behind the job humanizes themIn fact, in Vivek's experiment, colleagues began to find out some very interesting things about each other.

"One woman who is very detail-oriented in her memos had been seen as a little nerdy. She shared photos of herself training for a marathon. It turned out she'd qualified for the U.S. Olympic team at one point. She saw herself as an athlete, not just a researcher, which was something her colleagues could then see as well. Another guy had served in the Marine Corps and came off a bit stoic. He shared photos of his mom and talked about how she was a source of strength when he was afraid he wouldn't survive a mission."

There are two lessons here if you want to build meaningful virtual relationships.

First, if you are a leader or manager, you could do the same thing Vivek did. Set aside five minutes at the beginning of your Zoom meetings to allow one team member to share a little bit about themselves beyond their work. Or try a weekly "team huddle" like Simon Sinek's team.

Second, if you are a member of a remote team, make an effort to get to know the people you're working with on a personal level. Spend a few minutes at the start and end of meetings chit-chatting about non-work topics, schedule virtual catchups, and connect with your colleagues and interact with your colleagues on social media to build a deeper, personal relationship. 

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