When you work remotely, it’s easy to feel isolated, underappreciated and even forgotten, but just because you don’t work in the same office doesn’t mean you can’t connect with your co-workers. Here are some tips to help virtual accountants not only be part of the team, but also feel like they’re part of the team:
#1: Build Relationships Remotely
Working remotely means you’ll miss small talk in the elevator, water cooler conversations and office happy hours that help co-workers feel like teammates. These can be part of your routine, though. On a Monday morning, say your “hellos” and “how was your weekends” via email, or through other technology your company uses. "Think about the way you would have those conversations in an office, and then try to replicate that in a virtual environment," says Brie Reynolds, director of online content at FlexJobs.
In the beginning, especially if you haven’t met your co-workers in-person or don’t know them very well, reaching out can seem awkward. In these situations, consider following your co-workers on social media. Start with less personal platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, before moving to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. If your company doesn’t already use a message board, suggest it. With the help of a tool such as Yammer, companies can establish a book club, cooking club or outdoor group for co-workers to find commonalities. Use information gathered here as a starting point.
Another way to build rapport is to create more personal opportunities to interact. Consider scheduling virtual coffee breaks, where you and your co-worker(s) can video chat while enjoying a cup of joe in your respective environments. Ask questions about their lives and talk about something other than work. Just be sure to limit your time online to what it would be in-person.
#2: Communicate Constantly
With the help of online communication and collaboration tools, such as Chatter, SocialCast, HipChat, Slack and Asana, you can video chat and screen share with your co-workers to your heart’s content. The only problem is knowing when, and how, to do so. At the office, you can rely on body language, contextual clues and daily routines to recognize when your co-worker is busy, stressed or having a hard time. When online, unless their calendar is blocked out or their status is set to unavailable, it’s almost impossible to know if you’re interrupting.
The key is to model upfront and display honest communication yourself, so that your co-workers can feel confident doing the same with you. If appropriate, establish a code word that signals that you’re in the middle of something and don’t have time to chat, but that you value your co-worker’s time and will contact them as soon as you can. That way, the next time you’re in the middle of a balance sheet or a conference call and someone IMs you, you won’t find yourself passively participating or ignoring them altogether.
#3: Resolve Conflicts
No matter where you work, there will be conflicts with your co-workers. Whether a difference of personality or perspective, misunderstandings and miscommunication are something you can count on. The key is to address the situation calmly and quickly.
There is no substitute for a face-to-face video meeting when you’re having a critical conversation. Anything less personal can be misconstrued, seem disrespectful and even make the problem worse. Take time to prepare for this meeting like you would for an in-person discussion. The magnitude of the misunderstanding will determine if it’s something you can quickly call about, or if you need to schedule a longer call when you’re both free.
When on the call, be direct. It may help to jot down some notes ahead of time, but don’t write out a script, as Holly Weeks, the author of “Failure to Communicate,” told the Harvard Business Review. Doing so could make you seem insincere and the conversation artificial. Try to be simple, clear, direct and emotionally neutral. Allow time for your co-worker to share his or her perspective, and truly listen. It may help to go into the conversation with two questions in mind: “What do I think the problem is?” and “What does he think the problem is?” Expressing interest in the other’s perspective will set a positive tone for the conversation and may help you find a solution sooner.