Remote relationships are hard. That’s true of work relationships as well. Most employees will tell you that they appreciate remote work models: no commute, less money spent on wardrobes, restaurants, and gas. But we’re beginning to wonder if we’re not losing as much as we’re gaining.
We’ve written before about “deep knowledge,” the institutional knowledge that comes from being with a company for a long period of time. Senior staff members (in tenure or position) are essential to the success of younger workers because they can add context and the benefit of experience to new ideas.
Young workers whose careers have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic lockdowns may be missing out on relationships that most office workers take for granted.
A CNN Business article cites a recent study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the University of Iowa, and Harvard University. They found that “while remote work may boost output in the short term, it can come at a cost to the development of the newest workers.”
“[Remote work] decreases collaboration and training of more junior workers. Young workers and women, who may feel less included at the firm to begin with, see a particularly large decrease in their ability to collaborate with other workers and they quit more often in response,” the researchers wrote.
We might have forgotten how much work gets done between formal meetings. Chance encounters in the hallway or break room, informal check-ins and quick questions just don’t happen as often between remote workers. When Zoom meetings are scheduled, they have a tight agenda and don’t often include time for small talk or reconnection.
Collaboration, chances to provide feedback, and workplace relationships are weaker in a remote environment. Young workers who don’t see these skills in action may never develop them or feel confident using them. Informal interaction is both a skill and an art form, and it’s part of what makes workers successful. Remote workers may also never get a chance to meet or interact with senior executives, which limits their visibility and chances of promotion.
An Insider article says that Gen Z and the Class of 2023 understand that face-to-face interactions will make a difference in their careers. The article’s authors say “surveys show that college students graduating want to work in person at least some of the time. …This generation wants the community, learning opportunities, and engagement that in-person work can provide.”
An A.Team survey found that 70% of those who graduated in the class of 2023 with a bachelor’s “would take a pay cut if it meant working with teammates they love.” And we all know that love is harder to find and sustain in a long-distance relationship.
Excerpt from Relentless Book
The value of informal meetings
Meetings are an important way to communicate, and they can take many forms. Most people only consider meetings to be those prearranged times set aside where two or more parties gather to review or discuss issues at hand. However, that is what I call a formal meeting (planned, with an agenda).
Equally important, if not more, are informal meetings—those meetings that happen on the fly or in a setting that may not even be a conference room or office. These meetings might not even be recalled as meetings—they may seem like a random discussion or casual conversation. They happen because you hear someone having a challenging call and you poke your head in and offer some help. Or you hear someone talking about closing a deal and you join the conversation to help celebrate the success. Those types of meetings are needed every bit as much as formal meetings and, over time, become the foundation of deeper relationships. Informal meetings are the present-day water-cooler moments that help your team establish connections that make communication more open and more frequent.
Another type of informal meeting is a text exchange. It may seem like a stretch to think of a quick text as a meeting, but many text messages share information about clients, sales calls, project details, vendors, future dates, and details about other meetings. A text is a meeting, just one that is simply arranged differently—split into little tidbits and delivered in pieces over a period of time. Usually, within those work descriptions, teammates share meaningful or humorous events along with some inside jokes that further strengthen relationships.
Group texts can help bring a team together as well. We have a group text for our work team of fifteen where we share successes, letdowns, embarrassing moments, and funny comments and cheer each other on. We wish someone a happy birthday or celebrate an anniversary. We have long-standing jokes and catchphrases that are repeated time and again. Because six of the fifteen team members live in other states and work remotely, it’s a way to help us overcome the distance and keep us all connected.
Informal meetings should feel natural. If you find informal meetings difficult, then you must ask yourself if you are close enough to your team. If an informal interaction is a challenge, then you have some work to do to bridge that gap. You may want to consider increasing the frequency of your formal meetings and dedicate more time to personal connection while in those meetings. You may also want to schedule times when you reach out with texts or calls to engage with employees and the business at hand. Ideally, those interactions are more spontaneous, but there is nothing wrong with scheduling them on your end if informal meetings don’t seem to occur naturally for you. If you have an office, walk around and see what people are doing. (If this is a new behavior for you, expect some awkwardness until your team gets used to you. Early mornings and late afternoons are good times to start the habit in my experience.) If you are virtual, drop your team a text both as individuals and as a group. Be consistent in this communication so that you are creating strong pathways of communication and enhancing your connections.
About the Author:
Rich Thompson, CEO of XPG Recruit, is an expert on staffing, human resources, training and leadership development. He is also a former All-Big Ten football player for the University of Wisconsin. XPG Recruit provides recruiting for staffing companies. The XPG Recruit Athlete division places former athletes into business careers and works closely with universities through its sister company, Podium X.