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Distant co-workers: Making "other side of the globe" feel like "in the next room"

distant coworkers

I’m a huge fan of face-to-face interaction with my colleagues. In fact, you can often find me wandering around, popping into a colleague’s office looking for help with a work-related item or maybe just seeing what’s up for lunch. I find these daily exchanges to be crucial for common understanding, teamwork and, most of all, efficiency. So, what happens when you’re limited with your opportunities to speak in-person to a team member? Will a project take longer to complete? Will someone be left on their own to figure it out?

I personally had these concerns a year ago when it became my responsibility to work closely with a client’s Latin American coordinator, located in Mexico. The thought of collaborating, tackling tasks, and setting goals with someone more than 100 feet away was a little frightening for me. But, with a year of check-in calls and virtual meetings under my belt, I think I’ve almost got it down. Of course there are always new challenges that arise and with that more to learn. But until then, I’ve learned to live by the following rules in order to ensure success when working with someone in another region of the world.

Schedule weekly check-ins
With distance as a factor that naturally limits a great deal of communication, I’ve found that it is essential to always be on the same page. Even if there is no new business to discuss, it’s always a good idea to just check-in. I also recommend that the agenda for these meetings follow a similar pattern. First, check on the status of any existing projects. Next, allow some time to ask/answer questions. Lastly, connect on any new business and tasks that need to be completed. Following this agenda will establish clear expectations.

Keep consistency but allow some flexibility
There are so many differences to consider in schedules, particularly when you’re working with someone from a different region of the world. Time zones, holidays, cultural traditions, and much more can affect one’s availability. Be mindful of this and accept that at times it’s best to reschedule.

Get feedback from one another
Whether you’re a pro at managing relationships outside of the office or it’s something entirely new to you, receiving feedback from your coworker is incredibly important. Just as you notice different work styles with the colleagues around you, the same can be said for someone you work with remotely. It’s important to learn if that person responds well to certain expectations. Do they appreciate more guidance or less? Are there certain projects that they prefer to work on over the phone or will email suffice? These types of considerations vary from person to person and it’s crucial to understand these preferences in order to accomplish the maximum amount of production.

Encourage collaboration with others in the office
It’s easy to feel isolated when you work remotely and I’m guessing it’s quite common to feel disconnected with a handful of employees in the office. Feeling welcome and comfortable with a team of colleagues is incredibly important to someone’s success. In my situation, I work very closely with the Latin American coordinator, whereas many of my colleagues are not expected to. I’ve found that connecting them on various projects creates a sense of teamwork that would otherwise be difficult to feel when you’re 2,000 miles away.

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