In the modern workforce, the quality of your professional relationships can determine whether you complete tasks efficiently or get bogged down in minutia. While building and maintaining good working relationships can be a challenge in any office, they can be doubly challenging in a distributed company.
How do you learn to trust someone if you’ve never seen their face? Remote workers do not bump into each other in the hallway. We can’t rely on the company potluck to meet the new person in accounting. If our organizations shift and we find ourselves working in new roles or with new teams, we may not even know the names of everyone we will interact with–at least initially.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to meet new (or new to you) coworkers. This is true even if your company lacks a formal introduction process. Here’s an approach that has consistently worked for me over the last eight years.
Don’t Wait for People to Come to You
Assume that you have to be the one to take the first step. There are a host of reasons why your new colleagues might not reach out to you. Perhaps they wish to avoid overwhelming the new person. Others may feel awkward emailing a stranger. If your company has just reorganized itself, your colleagues may be overwhelmed by the change or waiting to see what happens next.
You may also feel awkward reaching out to strangers, but your work still needs to get done. The sooner you develop a sense of how to best work together, the better. If you want to be included in the informal information exchanges that will help you succeed in your remote job, then make time to meet people as soon as possible.
Ask for an Introduction
Ideally, your boss will act as your bridge to the rest of the company. Most managers will introduce you to the people on your immediate team. Your manager’s personality, work load, and number of connections will influence whether they introduce you to anyone outside the immediate team. They may simply expect you to interact with everyone else in the course of your duties.
If your manager is in the latter camp, ask him or her to introduce you to people via email. Your boss doesn’t have to know the person–the simple act of having your manager send the email gives you some legitimacy when you follow up.
This works particularly well if the person you need to meet outranks you. I recently started doing work that affected a new (to me) team, and this is exactly what my boss did. This gave me the chance to meet a director I didn’t know and start the relationship off on the right foot.
There may be some situations where your manager can’t introduce you to your new colleagues. Perhaps your boss is new to the company. Perhaps there’s an unfortunate history between your manager and that person. In these cases it’s best to see if someone else in your network can send an introductory email.
If you don’t have someone to introduce you to your new colleague, be prepared to introduce yourself. Remember, in the remote workforce no one can see you squirm. You may feel weird taking the first step, but no one can see that in your email. In fact, your colleagues will probably be grateful that you got the ball rolling.
Pretexts I have Used to Introduce Myself to Someone
- The other person was just promoted.
- I saw them copied on an email chain and came up with a plausible a follow up question.
- Someone in my network mentioned that the person and I share a common interest.
If you’re looking for it, any contact can be used as a pretext to start talking to people.
Schedule a Video Meeting
While it’s possible to develop a good working relationship via email and instant message, you’ll get quicker, more reliable results if you add in a video meeting. I usually send an email that says something along the lines of ‘Hi ______, we’re going to be working together pretty closely. I would love to schedule 20 minutes so we can get to know each other a little and talk through how we can best work together.’
This approach leaves little room for a polite refusal. Some of your coworkers may come to the meeting and give the impression that they aren’t sure why they’re there. Here’s the thing I’ve noticed in the eight years that I’ve used this approach. Even the people who don’t think they need to see people face to face act more friendly toward you after they’ve seen your face. So go to those meetings secure in the knowledge that you’ve accomplished 70% of your end goal simply by getting the other person into the (video) room.
You may want to use a softer approach for people who don’t interact with you daily. For those folks I wait until I have a legitimate question I can ask, and finish the (email or instant message) conversation with ‘I’d love to meet some time when you have a moment.’ That way the person is free to ignore the request if they so desire. I make a note to try again after some time has passed.
What to Talk About in Your Video Meeting
Use that twenty minute meeting to ask a mix of personal and logistical questions:
- How long as this person worked for the company?
- Have they held different roles?
- Where is their home office is located?
- What time zone do they work in?
- What are their usual work hours?
These things don’t always line up. For example, I have a coworker who lives in Pacific time and works on Eastern time. Do they prefer to get instant messages or emails? Are there things they need from me before they can complete certain tasks? Find some way to remember this information. I usually write it down.
During the course of your conversation, your colleague may mention other people that are affected by the work you do. Ask if your colleague can send an email introducing you to that person. Then ask that person for a meeting.
Meeting New Coworkers Gets Easier With Practice
Working from home doesn’t have to mean working in isolation. Meeting remote coworkers is a skill that anyone can learn. With practice, you will get better at making those connections. If you’re patient and willing to take charge of the situation, you will soon get to know the people you work with every day.