When you are working in a traditional work setting, relationship building - whether with your customers or team mates - is easy.
You can attend meetings, go out for lunch, travel to conferences together, etc. When you work remotely, however, you are often working entirely on your own in your home or an office, and sometimes the only relationships you build are via email.
So the problem is how can you improve your professional relationship-building when working remotely, either at home or from abroad? Here are a few suggestions.
Speak Regularly on the Phone
Emails are fine on a daily basis, but it is a good idea to get to know your clients and team mates more personally, and if you can't meet in person then the phone is the best alternative.
One of my favourite techniques is to speak with someone via a phone call, usually on Skype, when I first start working with them. I like to know who I am working with, and a phone call goes a long way in helping me get to know them.
I then try to make it a habit to call them every once in a while, even once every few months, just to keep that relationship going in a way that email does not quite manage.
Send Personal Emails
I often mention what I'm up to in my emails and try to make them slightly more personal. For example, I'll say what the weather is like and what I got up to on the weekend. This helps my contacts to get to know me a bit better, and with clients this can be a good way to built up rapport.
Obviously, it is not always suitable. Some clients are very direct and to the point in their emails, and in this case I try to mimic their style as this is another way to built rapport.
Share Social Media Details
I often include the link to my social media accounts and my blog in my emails to clients and team members, and they can then check out my more social side if they so wish. I will then find out if they have a blog or a social presence and if so I will spend some time getting to know them through that. You can often learn more about the person this way and can then use this in the way that you communicate with them.
I don't always use video calls, but they can be a very useful way to get to know someone better. Seeing people in person is better than just listening and speaking to them, and video calls also allow you to hold meetings with multiple people. Again, this is a great way to build relationships.
Let Them Know You Value Them
I often send season's greetings, birthday messages, and even just thank-you messages to my contacts, and this helps to show that I value them, either as customers or as members of my team. If you hire outsourcers, send them the odd email saying how much you value their hard work, or send your clients messages saying how much you enjoy working with them. This all helps to build relationships, even if you only ever 'meet' your contacts via email.
Build Better Relationships
If you are concerned about the ability to build relationships with the people you work with when you are working remotely, the above ideas should give you a few ideas as to how to make it work. While it's true that you often have to work harder to build good business relationships, it is a fun and rewarding part of the job and should never prevent you from being successful when working remotely.