Building trust in a virtual work environment
Oct 11, 2023
In the era of hybrid and remote work, building and nurturing relationships with clients, vendors and team members has undergone a profound transformation. Because of technology, we can work with others across the globe, but it can also feel challenging to build authentic relationships. Our team has been fully remote since 2020, with optional in-person days in our office in Lansing. However, the majority of our meetings and conversations happen online. Today, we’re sharing what we’ve learned in the past three years about building and strengthening relationships in a virtual environment.
1. The power of collaboration.
In today’s evolving work landscape, fostering collaboration is an essential aspect of success, whether you’re interacting with colleagues, clients or external partners. Regardless of the setting, collaboration remains a key driver in building trust and authentic relationships, with everyone working together as equal partners, leveraging their unique strengths to achieve shared objectives.
Internally, at Piper & Gold, this philosophy takes shape as account directors share goals and visions with their teams, ensuring everyone comprehends and aligns with each team member's expertise. When establishing relationships with our clients, we approach each relationship with the understanding that they are the experts in their fields, while we are public relations experts; each capable of providing valuable context in our respective areas. This approach empowers us to create productive partnerships and drive success together, no matter where our partners are located.
2. Shared understanding of goals.
In every new project, there’s a pivotal question that guides us: “What is the goal?” This inquiry opens the doors to deeper insights and conversations, where we explore initiatives such as boosting awareness, driving change, or imparting knowledge. Account director and communication specialist Rachel shared, “By knowing the goal early, you can identify a North Star that will direct every action and strategy you implement going forward.” This process transcends mere project objectives; we delve into our clients' broader organizational and personal ambitions. By harmonizing our recommendations with these objectives, we ensure that our contributions not only steer the project to success but also fortify long-term organizational success. This shared understanding of goals empowers us, as communication professionals, to offer strategic guidance and solutions when challenges arise.
3. Personalize communication.
In the world of communication, how you deliver a message can often outweigh the message itself. In the realm of virtual work, diverse communication methods are at our disposal. Different people have varying preferences: some prefer a succinct text message for shorter updates, while others favor phone calls. Some thrive on frequent, brief meetings, while others prefer lengthier, less frequent meetings. And, then there are those who prefer everything encapsulated in a single comprehensive email.
Understanding how your team — both internal and external — like to give and receive information can significantly enhance the efficiency of communication and reduce unnecessary stress.
4. Keeping everyone in the loop.
Staying connected through open and consistent communication is a skill that transcends the boundaries of physical or virtual spaces.
Think of it as a golden rule: in both virtual and physical workspaces, you never want your colleagues or partners to be left wondering about what you're up to. It's all about swift responses and keeping the updates flowing, whether you're checking in on a weekly or monthly basis. These regular exchanges are like a signal to those you're working with, showing them that you're fully committed to your shared goals.
Internally, we have a Slack channel where each person shares what their priorities are for the day. This way, if someone is waiting on an item from a teammate, they can see that it’s on their radar or ask them when they’ll get to it if it’s not.
Our approach is to customize our communication style to fit the preferences of our clients, vendors and team members. It's like speaking everyone's language and making sure the conversation flows smoothly. We truly believe that genuine, two-way communication is the key to strong and productive relationships.
5. Celebrate progress and share results.
Recall our earlier discussion on the importance of establishing a shared understanding of goals. It's a pivotal step towards success. But equally important is taking time to celebrate when we make progress toward these milestones.
In the agency world, it's well-known that sharing results with clients is a crucial part of the process. One of the primary reasons for this is the trust it builds. When your clients see that you deliver on your promises, it solidifies the foundation of your relationship.
Yet, the benefits of sharing progress extend beyond trust-building. As highlighted by P&G president, Cassie, “This practice keeps people engaged and invested in our collective efforts. Moreover, it provides valuable insights into how our day-to-day activities impact the overarching strategy.” She further emphasizes, “Through these celebrations and the sharing of results, we engage in a process of collective learning, enhancing our ability to make informed decisions on how to connect with our audiences and improve the effectiveness of our tactics. This shared learning fuels the creation of more strategic initiatives moving forward.”
6. Empathy and understanding.
In any work environment, it's crucial to recognize that individuals come from diverse backgrounds and have unique circumstances. This becomes even more relevant in a virtual setting, where physical cues are limited, and the opportunity for daily in-person interactions is often absent.
It's imperative to maintain an understanding that everyone has a life beyond their professional roles, and their personal situations can significantly influence their work dynamics.
At P&G, believe in the value of "presuming positive intent.” When someone's actions lead to frustration or misunderstandings, our approach is to initiate open and empathetic conversations. These conversations help us understand where miscommunication occurred and how the impact may differ from the original intention. This culture of open, transparent communication and mutual support nurtures trust within our team, enabling us to collectively deliver our best work.
It’s important to remember technology is not an obstacle when it comes to relationship building — it’s a tool. By approaching virtual interactions with intention, empathy and authenticity, we can build bonds that are just as meaningful as those formed in person. Let’s continue to build bridges, not barriers, in this ever-evolving virtual landscape. Together, we can create strong, lasting connections across distances.