How to Build Strong Relationships While Working Remotely

Build strong relationships working remotely

Since the start of the pandemic, career practitioners from educational institutions, non-profit employment services, and other sectors have joined their independent colleagues in working virtually. Even after adapting to the technology, many find it difficult to communicate effectively with others they haven’t met in person. If you can relate, the highlights of a conference session I attended some years ago may be helpful. In “Introduction to Working Remotely – Leading and Working in Virtual Teams,” Susan Gerke explored the issues that can surface when working remotely, how personality type relates to remote work, and how to build strong relationships with people of different types.

Challenges of Working with Clients Virtually

When we work with someone virtually, we may not have the same level or frequency of interaction, making it harder to build relationships. If the majority of communication is done via email, we miss important verbal and non-verbal cues that exist when we interact in person.

The Four Interaction Styles

Using the Berens’ Interaction Styles model, Gerke discussed the strengths and challenges of the In-Charge Interaction Style, the Chart-the-Course Interaction Style, the Get-Things-Going Interaction Style, and the Behind-the Scenes Interaction Style, when working remotely. For those of us new to the Berens model, Gerke indicated which four MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) types correlate to each of the four Interaction Styles.

In-Charge Interaction Style

The In-Charge Interaction Style (corresponding to ESTP, ESTJ, ENTJ and ENFJ) tend to be efficient independent workers, creating structure for themselves and making good use of technology. As extraverts, however, they miss the casual workplace conversation which enhances their productivity, and without face-to-face contact, it is difficult for them to form relationships.

Chart-the-Course Interaction Style

The Chart-the-Course Interaction Style (corresponding to ISTP, ISTJ, INTJ and INFJ) also work well independently. As introverts, these individuals work best without interruptions, and email and voice mail give them an opportunity to think about how they would like to respond. It is more difficult for them to stay connected with others and to make themselves heard. They may also tend to spend more time on email than is necessary.

Get-Things-Going Interaction Style

The Get-Things-Going Interaction Style (corresponding to ESFP, ESFJ, ENTP and ENFP) excel in virtual work because they can work any time, day or night, and multitask to their heart’s delight, without being judged by others for their work style. Their challenges include loneliness and isolation, and lack of structure.

Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Style

The Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Style (corresponding to ISFP, ISFJ, INTP and INFP) shares the Chart-the-Course Interaction Style’s strengths in terms of virtual work. Working remotely allows them to sit and think without people questioning them as to why they aren’t doing anything, and they tend to be more patient than other styles with the longer timeframes sometimes needed in this type of work arrangement. Being relationship-focused, they can be challenged by the loneliness of remote work and miss the body language that contributes to communication.

Building Good Virtual Relationships

It is vital to maintain regular contact and provide updates on all issues and projects, and Gerke offered a number of suggestions to help us do so, including:

  • Take time to discuss non-work issues.
  • Arrange regular meeting times.
  • Find out what frequency and format of communication your clients and colleagues prefer.
  • Keep track of your communications so you don’t lose touch with someone.

As Gerke described various communication styles associated with the Interaction Styles (directing versus informing, responding versus initiating),  I had one of those “aha” moments we all experience when learning about type. Some time ago, a client was not satisfied with some work I had done for him, and I was having difficulty accepting his explanation. Once I realized that what I had taken as “direction” was merely “information,” I understood how the problem had occurred and have not made that mistake again.

You can learn more about the Interaction Styles Model at InterStrength.

Practice Virtual Relationship-Building

As a virtual organization since 2004, CPC offers its members many opportunities to build and grow online relationships and develop skills they can apply to their work with clients. Our Zoom Tele-Networking sessions are very popular and a wonderful opportunity for relationship-building. If you’re not a member and would like to participate in the next tele-networking event, join Career Professionals of Canada now.

Janet Barclay is a former employment counsellor who supports Career Professionals of Canada as technology manager, and many of its members with her web design services and website care plans.  When she’s away from her desk, Janet enjoys reading, photography, cooking, watching movies, spending time with her family, and walking her dog.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

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This is so interesting and I love all the different virtual work styles presented with relationship building. I’m probably in the category, “Get-Things-Going Interaction Style.” However, it’s not isolation and loneliness that can be problematic for me. It’s recognizing when to close shop for the day and shift gears. I could just keep going.You made such a good point about what’s missing when we don’t have that necessary interpersonal interactions. We don’t have the physical cues needed for best communication. So we’re only getting half of the picture. We lose a lot of important information.

I’m pretty good at sticking to a regular schedule, but it’s probably because it’s important to my husband. When he’s not around I could work all the time too.

This is very interesting, Janet. It makes a good case for a blend of virtual and in-person work. I’m really happy that technology allows us now to see people’s faces when we meet virtually. This helps for some (not all) of those non-verbal cues. Personally, I like to do my work on my own time but I also like to check in with co-workers to make sure I’m traveling down the right path. That validation is important to me, to keep me moving forward. Thank you for writing this post – it certainly provides lots of food for thought.

I wrote the original version of this article in the mid-2000s, before video chat was commonly available. It has made such a difference – as you say, we can pick up at least some of the non-verbal cues. I cannot imagine what the past year would have been like without it.

I have seen how some of my more extroverted friends have really struggled to feel connected, but personally and professionally. I’ve also realized that it is much harder to ‘sell’ professional services remotely. There is just something to being in person that helps to build trust. I think businesses will move to a new model where people can seek the types of interaction that work best for them – at least I hope so!

So many businesses and individuals have adapted out of necessity during the pandemic, some quite well, so I really believe virtual communication will continue to play a big role even when we’re free to go everywhere again.

This is so timely, especially after coming off a year of the pandemic with Zooming as one of the top activities of the year. My personal and professional life were greatly changed because of the pandemic where “virtual” became the way most interactions happened. Now as life shifts, many of my interactions are still virtual. So especially with virtual organizing clients, I’m learning how to create strong relationships. All relationships require effort whether they are in-person or virtual. And I think many of us are evaluating which relationships we want to nurture or not as we re-enter life.

Ooh, that last thing you said! That’s a subject that’s come up in a number of conversations during the pandemic. I think it has helped us to see which activities and relationships we have not missed, and it will be interesting to see whether we even bother resuming them once the way is clear to do so. I’ve become closer to many of my friends, because we Zoom more often than we ever saw each other, but I’ve had minimal contact with others.

I love that you mentioned “non-verbal cues”. I work most of the time remotely. It is important to get in touch with people directly through Online Meetings if not in person. I also had a situation similar to what you talked about; I found that I read into the email more than she wanted me to do, which in turn, I spent more of my time and couldn’t bill her for it. It was an ah-ha moment for me as well. Taking a few minutes to talk about a task will save both of our time and frustrations.

That’s such a good point, Sabrina. I used to go long stretches of time having no contact with some of my clients other than email. I’m now much more open to telephone and Zoom meetings, and it’s been a pleasant surprise how much more efficient it ends up being. Not only do I feel more connected to my clients, but often things will come up in conversation that wouldn’t have made their way into an email – either strengthening the relationship even further, or leading to more paid work that will benefit my client.

Very interesting breakdown and very timely as many people are choosing to stay remote.

It will be interesting to see how many employers allow it and how many employees want it.

Interesting Janet. I use “Real Colors” I am a certified facilitator in the personality assessment tool and find I use this everyday. I use it with family, friends, clients and knowing a certain type of person they are truly has helped in how I deal with them. Thank you for sharing this!

I didn’t know that about you, Lisa – that’s so interesting! I used to be into personality type in a much bigger way than I am now but I still find it very interesting.

I am an in charge interaction type. I added structure to my day by building a website with the help of the author Janet Barclay during lockdowns. I would have to schedule walks or talks with friends because I was missing the in person time. it is helpful to see the other style and understand where conflict arises and make the appropriate adjustments to avoid them.

Julie, it was wonderful working with you on that project, and I don’t think we had any conflicts. 😉

This is fascinating, and yes, when I went from working in an office to working independently, I could easily create structure and manage the tech, but I definitely missed the casual human interaction, ESTJ extrovert that I am. I’m not surprised, but intrigued, to know that I’ve got the In-Charge interaction style in this model. Email and calls are better than nothing, and Zoom better still, but working one-on-one is where my heart sings!

I love that we are all different. Probably the main reason I evolved to web work is that it suits my Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Style – I can work independently for hours, but connect with clients and colleagues as needed.

ENFJ here, and boy have I missed in-person life! I’m thrilled to be “back on the beat.” Many of my clients have physical limitations that mean virtual organizing is physically difficult for them, and all have commented on the transfer of energy they get when they’re working with someone in person.

It’s useful to understand personality types and interaction styles while working with someone in person too! This article is about communication, but knowing whether a person likes to work slow and steady or in short bursts and how they like to make decisions can go a long way.