How to relate successfully while working remotely

By The Space Between Us
We all need healthy relationships and knowing how to maintain them in a Covid-19-induced remote working environment has become a key skill. 

We all have relationships, what is important is having healthy ones and knowing how to maintain them in a Covid-19-induced remote working environment. As Ms Lwanele Khasu cautions, “Be kind with one another and rather over communicate than assume.” 

We asked Ms Khasu about what she views as the critical elements to successful working relationships within a remote working environment and this is what she had to say: 

What do successful interactions with colleagues look like?
Successful interactions with others, whether colleagues or family, start with a good understanding of the self. When you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you are more likely to avoid projecting your own insecurities onto how you think others treat or perceive you. Self-awareness allows you to know what to address within the team and what to work on privately. Then communication becomes the trading currency in successful interactions with colleagues. 

Communication is key to developing trust and respect for one another. It is also the basis of building collaborative efforts for a productive workforce.

Be on the lookout for ways to connect beyond work content; sharing similar views or interests with colleagues assists in seeing them as people beyond their work duties.

Interpersonal skills become important as well. Know how to talk to people professionally. Thank them for the work done. Know how to correct people respectfully and be able to acknowledge when you are at fault. Be accountable and take responsibility. A fusion of these and more interpersonal skills and consideration build successful interactions.

How have relationships with colleagues changed while working remotely compared to an in-office scenario?
In an office or in-person environment, tension can be palpable, which means conflict is recognised sooner and dealt with fairly quicker. Remotely, it may take time, when not communicated explicitly, for some people to recognise that a team member is unhappy about something, which may allow for passive aggression to linger. Passive aggression involves acting indirectly aggressive rather than directly aggressive. These indirect behaviours may affect productivity but also the relationship within the team. Protocols may be ignored, procrastination may loom, and sarcasm or unreliability may emerge, to name a few. These relationships struggle to be genuine and may cause a lot of conflict.

Additionally, communication via email may leave a lot of room for misinterpretation of expression and tone.

To relate successfully, the team has to meet regularly - either via video or audio - to understand that everyone is still on the same page. Ensuring relationships are healthy and that all conflict is resolved timeously is also important. When a team member raises a concern, it's important for other team members to mirror them to ensure they understand what the problem is and where it stems from, in order to resolve it. Mirroring, in this example, refers to a conscious imitating or matching of what one is doing to build rapport and understanding. Further to this, it is important for people to repeat what they hear to ensure they have captured the essence of the emotions or complaint and only suggest a solution after all parties have agreed what the issue may be. When the team is genuine with one another and people feel free to raise concerns and their concerns are addressed with respect and dignity then the team has reached a successful level of interaction. This level needs to be continuously maintained. It is important to note, conflict and offence cannot be avoided, it is how the team addresses it that becomes the key differentiator for successful interactions.

What tools can I use to relate successfully with others?

  • Be self-aware so you don’t impose your insecurities on others. Self-awareness also helps individuals to be more empathetic to their teams’ needs and struggles which boosts relationships.
  • Communicate and express your emotions and concerns, don’t repress them. They will come out in bitter bits and pieces in your interactions.
  • Understand what you would like the outcome of the interaction to be, so you know how to engage others meaningfully.
  • Actively listen to others and if you struggle to understand them, try to mirror what you think they are saying for confirmation.
  • Keep criticism constructive.
  • Be open and care about others enough to understand the parts of their personal lives that they are comfortable with sharing.
  • Respect and trust others, allow them to find their own ways of working, don’t impose yours.
  • Show gratitude and recognition of others’ efforts. People want to be seen and heard. This validates them and ensures they feel valued. 
What threatens relationships with colleagues when working remotely?
A medley of things can break down work relationships but a lack of communication of expectations tops the list. Managers have expectations of their teams but these are rarely communicated and since colleagues are not a stone’s throw away, reaching them to clarify or brief appropriately is compromised. Others assume that everyone is on the same page and some assume they will have to micromanage to get the results they are used to in the office environment. When a team doesn’t function on the same level, frustrations occur and breakdowns emerge.

Additionally, colleagues have different lives with differing responsibilities in their homes. Some people struggle to balance work and children (home schooling or supporting family). Colleagues may be oblivious to some of the struggles their counterparts face and therefore create a gap in relations as well.  

Studies have shown that when colleagues are not in one’s immediate surroundings, empathy of their situations, whether at work or at home, diminish which may cause for some to believe the organisation doesn’t care for them or has forgotten about their struggles.

According to the study, people are generally nicer when in front of you than when out of sight.  

How do I go about healing work relationships that have been damaged in a remote working environment?

The first step is to recognise that something is different and acknowledge what that is. Then you can begin to explore:

  • What may have caused the rift and enquire from the colleague in question what they think occurred.
  • Communicate and take responsibility for your part and let them account for theirs.
  • Escalate to human resources if not resolved.
  • Ultimately, talk to them and share your views and let them share theirs. Don’t be defensive, hear and understand and find a way forward.
How can the workshop help me to relate better with my colleagues? What will I learn from it?

The workshop extends beyond just relating to colleagues. It has information on relating with the self, children, and others. When you have a good understanding of your family and close relationships, you will feel better equipped to engage work relationships as well. 

The workshop will teach you how to understand how you respond in interactions; are you an avoidant type, a defensive type, or collaborative and how you can adjust your response style in suitable situations.

It will also help you understand how to engage with different kinds of managers and how to relate better with them without denying yourself your own emotions.

Find out more about this holistic workshop here

Ms Lwanele Khasu is a clinical psychologist with a special interest in empowering self-filters into relationships with others, development in career, and self-fulfilment.