Can you build real friendship in digital work environment?
Today, I’m working from the lovely Cisco office overlooking the park and peaceful Bedfont lake. And I just spent the weekend wandering around London’s majestic Royal Park with two lovely ladies who used to be colleagues and have gradually became really good friends. Just for the opportunity to meet them, I have endured a 24-hour train ride to get my UK visa, and another twelve-hour trip—with all possible modes of transportation— to finally arrive at our meeting point; and I’m facing a similar journey to get back home.
How did it get to the point that co-workers have become such good friends that I am willing to travel a countless number of hours through numerous countries to make the meetup happen? You’d probably assume we used to work together in the same office and thus we became good buddies. That sounds like no brainer, right? Well, the fact is that during our five years of working together on one team we met in person only a couple of times.
So, how did we manage to build such strong relationships in a nearly completely virtual environment? Let me share some of my experiences and observations, which just might help you to look at virtual meetings from a different angle— you never know!
Building virtual relationships requires as much effort, if not more, as “real ones”
It’s actually quite simple– if you would like to have good relationships with your virtual colleagues, invest time into building them. Setting up one-to-one virtual meetings where you discuss life, not only business, is usually a good first step. And what’s wrong with a virtual coffee break where each of you enjoys tasty cup of coffee in a convenient place, while having a casual chat? Cisco’s video tools makes it feel like as if you are really there.
Even though the meeting is virtual, the person you are talking to is real
Treat your colleagues on a virtual team in the same way—or better!— than you would colleagues you meet in the office: stop for a small talk, smile, send a note when someone is feeling down, or share happy moments. Just be present and treat others as you would like to be treated. As simple as that.
Who said virtual Team Building doesn’t exist?
If somebody says you cannot conduct team-building activities for virtual teams, tell them it’s not true. With previous HR experience, I am a strong believer in team building and managed to adjust a majority of the exercises I previously conducted live into virtual ones. With my former Cisco team we even organized an online bachelor’s party for one of our colleagues who was getting married. Can you imagine? We managed to conference in his fiancée for the quiz part— It was so much fun! Sharing holiday pictures, meaningful stories…sharing life events became a norm for us. All this contributed to a strong bond between us, real teamwork and cooperation.
Oh, and be yourself…
You probably hear ‘be yourself’ a lot, don’t you? It applies to work with virtual teams too. If you are on a Webex meeting, it doesn’t mean you have to behave differently than you would in person. Smile, talk, stand up if needed, use virtual chalkboard, interact. Simply be yourself, relax and enjoy the cooperation with your team and the digital advantages that make it possible.
These simple tips above helped me make work with my virtual teams as effective, interactive, and engaging as any other interaction I have with teams live. Besides that, I got much more than I ever expected from a virtual environment – I got lifelong friends, thanks to the human and digital side of business.