If you’re like a growing number of workers, you might have one or more coworkers who telecommute. It’s a great benefit for them, but sometimes it can make life harder for people back in the office – if they’re less accessible, or have important information tied up on their local hard drives, or are simply harder to get things from than your coworker right down the hall.
Here are four ways to work more effectively with remote colleagues – and get what you need from them without aggravation.
1. Ask them about their schedule and communication preferences. Does your remote colleague work the same hours as your office does, or do they have non-traditional hours? Are they easiest to get ahold of by email, or should you call if something is time-sensitive? Maybe they make frequent use of instant-message technology and don’t mind if you reach out that way. Knowing this type of information will set you up to reach the person when you need them. (And yes, ideally remote colleagues would give you this information proactively, but not everyone thinks to, so it’s okay to go ahead and ask.)
2. Suggest using technology to make virtual collaboration easier. If you’re working on projects together or might at some point need access to data that only your colleague has, suggest using simple online document sharing tools like Dropbox, or flexible collaboration tools like Intuit QuickBase that can match your exact business needs, or even your corporate intranet (depending on its features) to share access to documents and ensure you’re never caught without the latest version of your colleague’s materials.
3. Put some effort into the relationship. When coworkers are in the same location as you, you’ll usually get to know them on a personal level simply by sharing space with them and having natural opportunities for social interaction. This often benefits your work relationships, because when people know and like each other, they tend to be more willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, kick ideas around together, and go out of their way to help each other. It can be harder to build the same relationship with remote coworkers, since those same opportunities for casual, friendly interaction don’t come up as much. That means that you’ll need to put special effort into building that type of rapport with long-distance colleagues.
4. Avoid “out of sight, out of mind.” It can be harder for remote colleagues to know what’s going on in the office; they’re not there for impromptu hallway updates and they don’t have the benefit of water cooler chit-chat. Make a special point of ensuring that they know about significant developments on work that involves them. If something’s mentioned in a meeting that you know will impact their work, mention it to them (or when appropriate, speak up in the moment to note that Jane will want to weigh in on the topic). Or, if you’re grabbing a few coworkers to brainstorm solutions to a problem, don’t overlook your colleague just because she’s not physically present – make a point of finding ways to loop remote workers into these impromptu discussions, even if’s slightly less convenient.
Being diligent about this will pay off not only in strengthening your team’s work, but it will also build the relationship itself (see #3 again).