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Being present, even when you’re remote

I’m increasingly asked to comment on how to handle remote working and retain a feeling of connection when teams can’t meet in person. It’s an important topic.

Working remotely doesn’t allow people to naturally find out about each other. In a face-to-face setting, you would naturally discuss elements of your personal life. Everyday conversation refers to things you’ve done, for example being a little late because your child was ill, or the train on your commute from your town 50 miles away was cancelled. All these interactions help us to build up a picture of our colleagues.

When this doesn’t happen naturally, we need to make a point of it. I’m currently coaching someone I’ve never met and our first session was spent introducing ourselves, our backgrounds, our personality types and working styles. As a business coach, it’s very important for me to have a well-rounded knowledge of the person I’m working with, and it’s equally important for them to know and feel comfortable with me.

If you’re talking to people online, it’s OK to ask them questions about their home – the picture on the wall behind them or their bookshelf for example – but make sure you’re friendly, rather than personal. Watch out for talking points and follow them up – if someone says they’re catching up with emails after a holiday, for example, ask them where they went. Don’t push for information but be interested.

Also, set a really clear agenda for what you want to achieve when you speak to people. When you both know what you need to achieve, you can make time to be interested and chat about non-work topics, while making sure that you don’t stray too far away from the objective of the meeting.