Research Integrations Blog

Meaningful work relationships with a virtual team: Is it possible?

As we’ve discussed on our blog, RII is a small business with an entirely virtual team.  Each team member works from a home office and most of our interactions happen from a distance, utilizing some type of technology to communicate (phone, e-mail, instant messages, video conferencing, etc.)   We have asked the question (like so many others) — Can a company and its employees be successful working from home?

Recently a co-worker shared with me this article  by Dr. Kerry Schofield, co-founder and Chief Psychometrics Officer at Good Co., regarding how to create meaningful working relationships while working from home. The article uses the research of Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, as a springboard for exploring meaningful work relationships in a virtual environment.

Based on Robin Dunbar’s research, there is a theoretical limit to the size of the social network that we can maintain and an even smaller number of close relationships that we can have.  The article goes on to consider the implications of this limit for those working in a virtual office: “Are virtual interactions as effective for developing good working relationships as “real” ones?”

In my opinion and from my experience, the strength of these relationships does not need to be limited by distance.  Strong working relationships are built on a shared vision for the work, a high level of engagement, regular communication, empathy, and some good-natured fun.  Even Schofield points out that “shared humor may be a crucial way in which larger-than-optimal social networks keep it together in the absence of regular physical contact–so if you’re working remotely or in a large team with little personal contact, keep the jokes coming.”

Strong relationships take work and a conscious effort no matter where you are located.  Distance can present a challenge at times, but with all that technology has to offer us, it doesn’t have to limit how, when, and where we work.   Technology provides so many different channels for communication that people can choose the appropriate level of “intimacy” needed for the communication.

You need face-to-face interaction for some two way discussion and decision making?- Launch a video chat. Need to send a friendly, but not urgent, reminder? – E-mail may be the best approach. Need to “knock on someone’s door” for a quick question? – Send a text message, instant message or a phone call.  Just want to stay connected? – Send your team member a short message about what is going on in your day or just ask about their day.  All the tools are there and just need to be fueled by a passion and commitment to the team’s goals to fuel strong working relationships.

More Thoughts

For more thoughts on building strong teams in a virtual workplace, check out these other blogs:

Does Location Matter? (Communicating When Your Telecommunicating)

Three tips to Improve Your Home-Office Work Experience and Productivity

Human Connectedness: The Ultimate Human Factor

Our blog series on Effective Team Meetings in a Virtual Environment

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