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Workplace Relationships in a Virtual World

Dear Robin,


I work in a large company. We moved most of our team to full-time virtual after the

pandemic. All our processes and workflows have been modified for virtual teams and appear to

be doing well. However, some of our new employees have brought some company culture

issues to our attention. It seems that our older employees who had the opportunity to work

together in person prior to the pandemic have close knit relationships. This leaves the new

employees that were onboarded virtually feel left out of the “inner circle.” There seems to be a

clear divide between new and old team members that we would like to fix. Do you have any

advice?



Answer:


It is always hard to enter a new organization and be among colleagues who know each other well, have earned each other’s trust, and are close knit. Remote employees entering an organization (for shorthand, I’ll refer to them as newbies) may find breaking into the tight knit group all the more challenging. There are ways to make this social onboarding process more efficient and effective.


Manager Introductions

As part of onboarding, managers can kick off a relationship by introducing newbies to people they should get to know. A good, detailed introduction helps. For example, explain to each party why they are being introduced and, if possible, let them know a bit about each other. This doesn’t have to be a one-off event. Managers can check in about how those connections are going, both with newbies, and with the people the manager wants the newbies to connect with. That sends a signal to all parties that the manager expects all parties to invest in those connections.


Buddy System

Pair an employee who’s been around (for shorthand, I’ll refer to such an employee as an oldie) a while with a new employee. This isn’t to only help with technical questions and “how things are done here.” It’s to champion the newbie—to integrate that person into the team. For example, in meetings, if the newbie hasn’t spoken, the oldie buddy is the person who makes sure the newbie has an opportunity to ask questions and offer opinions. Fundamentally, the oldie buddy’s goal is to help the newbie feel included—valued, respected, and listened to.


The oldie buddy can then help forge connections between the newbie and other people in the team and in the organization. That means making introductions or highlighting opportunities for connection between the newbie and other people in the organization.


Structured Opportunities

Some type of structured relationship-building opportunities can help newbies develop deeper relationships with oldies. That may be purely social:


· team building games that can be done virtually

· virtual lunches, either in groups, or in newbie-oldie pairs


It could also be focused on work-related matters:

· Learning circles, which focus on learning across or between teams

· Team discussions about culture and values. These may be the organization’s values, or each team member’s values that help forge the team’s guidelines for behavior. However, newbies shouldn’t be the first to answer those types of questions. Examples are:

o What, to you, is a promise, an aspiration, or a guarantee?

o Which is more important to you, directness or harmony?

o Does silence mean reflection or disengagement?

o What makes for a good or bad first impression?


Building trusting relationships takes time. The key is for the oldies to be inclusive of new employees—making the effort to include them in informal conversations, ask their opinion, and give them relevant history.


Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.

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