The importance of relationship-building in virtual environments

Less than one-third of American workers had some kind of work-from-home flexibility before the pandemic, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, that abruptly shifted in March and April. Gallup reported remote employees ballooned to nearly 60% after the pandemic hit in force this past March. Now, as the summer comes to a close, many major companies are announcing long-term remote work extensions through 2020 and into 2021. 

Despite the drastic change in work environments for many, relationship-building remains critically important to enhancing client support, customer service, team building, and professional development. How we approach these business-driven relationships abruptly changed for many of us this spring, shifting from in-person interactions to new virtual environments. This created challenges, but also opened up new opportunities for leaders to reassess long-term solutions to continue to build relationships and adapt to virtual work environments beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ongoing Challenges Leaders Face in Virtual Environments

Facilitating relationships is a critical component of business. Even months after the pandemic, leaders are left to face ongoing challenges as employees and members continue to adapt to virtual environments. Some ongoing challenges include: 

  • Managing a team across multiple locations
  • Reduced interactions with employees and members
  • Changing communication methods from in-person to phone, text, and video chat for employees and members
  • Reduced knowledge sharing opportunities across teams and departments 
  • Loss of a sense of ‘belonging’ towards the organization
  • Distractions at home relating to the pandemic, such as childcare and other work/life balance concerns
  • Adapting technologies to meet collaboration needs across teams

As credit unions begin to transition from short-term survival to long-term initiatives, it’s important leaders adapt to maintain relationships with employees and members.

3 Tips for Relationship-Building in Virtual Environments

Tip #1: Consider ‘how’ you want to communicate

Whether it’s to train, explain, be social, or update, considering objectives and desired outcomes when choosing a communication style will help sustain relationships with employees and members. Virtual environments are fundamentally different from in-person office settings. That means leaders may need to shift towards an outcome-oriented mindset when communicating with their teams.

  • For employees tracking progress may shift toward goal setting and project accomplishments as measures of success instead of focusing on activity surrounding a task. Leaders may need to set more structured check-ins in order to set expectations and track accomplishments. 
  • For members leaders will need to reconsider what services are needed and how they can be accomplished in ways that are safe and virtually adaptive. By focusing on what kind of outcome is needed, steps can be taken to address these needs. 

Depending on the communications goal, it may make sense to adopt passive or active learning techniques.

  • Passive Learning is instructional, scheduled sessions to review information or processes. Usually this method shares resources so recipients can learn and process independently.
    • Examples: Webinars, recorded tutorials and trainings, speaker-led meetings, independent learning resources, etc.
  • Active Learning is scheduled meetings leveraging technology for video, chat features, polling, and other means of engagement.
    • Examples: Workshops, meetings, video chat interactions, small group discussions, etc.

Tip #2: Leverage digital tools

By leveraging digital tools, leaders can provide interactive ways for employees and members to engage, learn, and communicate. Adopting video, chat, call, and screenshare communication tools can help leaders and teams connect and build relationships outside of email exchanges.

Particularly, having access to video tools can support more personal interactions with employees and members. Visual cues are an important component of communication. Being able to see faces in small group meetings or one-on-one interactions can be a great way to build rapport and establish important relationships. 

Tip #3: Listen in order to adapt

Virtual environments can feel isolating and lonely. As leaders, it’s important to be flexible and actively ask for feedback to anticipate and address the needs of employees and members. By taking time to connect and listen, leaders can more effectively align business needs with personal needs and combat evolving challenges with the COVID-19 situation. 

Business is more than simply providing a service. The human component of building trust and relationships matters, especially during uncertain times. Relationship-building takes some extra work as we rely on digital technologies, but with intentional time and tips credit unions can continue to (virtually) connect.

Julie ann Wessinger

Julie ann Wessinger

Julie ann Wessinger has spent the majority of her career helping organizations develop and enhance their internal sales and service culture. In her role with Allied Solutions, she works with ... Web: Details