How to build strong relationships in virtual teams

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When I was first hired for my current job, I was given the task of managing a complex, large-scale rebuild project. Our entire team met with the client every day via video calls. Much of my day was spent communicating with our remote team members and project stakeholders over chat.
We had to work closely with the client because of the complex nature of the project and the short timeline. We prioritized features for launch in order to meet the deadline and keep to the budget.
Often, we had to inform our clients that they wouldn’t have the features they had hoped for at launch or that fixing a bug in their application would require more time and money than they had anticipated.
Although these conversations were difficult, they were made easier by the close relationship I had built with the client. Through our frequent conversations and face to face connections, I was able to get to know the stakeholders of our client and establish a level trust that allowed us to communicate openly and honestly about the project.
Modern project managers have many roles. One of them is managing relationships. This position is responsible for project health, and allows us to nurture our ongoing relationships with clients and the health of our team members. We can build trust and collaboration with our project team members, increase communication, foster creativity and solve problems, and encourage stakeholder investment in the common goal of our project’s success. Relationships are more important than our daily tasks and give meaning and purpose to our work as project managers.
As a member a digital agency, I often work with remote clients and teammates. Most of the time, our relationship building takes place over the phone, video call, or online chat. While most people prefer to spend as much time with their project team members in person, how can we ensure that communication is compassionate and empathetic when it happens over the internet?
How to build strong relationships in virtual teams
These are five simple, but highly effective methods to build relationships with remote clients and team members via email. These steps will help people see you value them, and you can build crucial project allies with them.
1. Don’t Assume. Ever. You can’t do it.
When building relationships, it is important to remember that assumptions are not allowed. Don’t assume anything about someone’s identity, motivations, priorities, or personality.
Instead, ask them questions to find out more about them. Use inclusive, intentional speech. This article explains how to be deliberate with your words and this article explains gender-neutral ways of addressing a group. When you have a conversation with someone, frame it as “we” to make it clear that you are both on the same team and can be seen as extensions of each other. You can create a safe space for them by creating it.
Ask questions and try your best to understand their true nature.
Jase Rodley, a lifestyle business owner who works remotely with teams, answered my question about the dangers of making assumptions.
“Working with a virtual, international group, it is common to get ‘lost’ in translation. My default mode is to spend hours thinking about comments, where I can easily make many wrong assumptions. To counter this, I remind my self that I am “the dumbest person in the room”.

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