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Building Working Relationships Online

by Roberta Neault, PhD, and Deirdre Pickerell, MEd

In an increasingly global workplace, more of our working relationships are entirely online.

In fact, at Life Strategies several core members of our project teams have never met each other in person, despite working together for years. Although we thoroughly enjoy meeting our colleagues and students in person, or chatting with them over the phone, we’ve completed entire projects – from the proposal through the final report – with only email contact. However, it’s more common for us to supplement email with asynchronous meetings using teleconferencing or web-based meeting tools such as GoToMeeting or Skype.

Consider who you may need to work with online – perhaps members of project teams located in remote offices? Service providers to whom you make referrals? Clients? Members of online networking groups for professionals in your field?

To help strengthen your e-working relationships, here are 10 tips:

1.     Be genuine – Provide some information about yourself.  If a space for profiles is available on the site you are using, complete yours with some interesting facts and take time to read what others post.

2.     Believe the best – Don’t read negativity into messages or assume that others are upset if they seem abrupt. People bring their unique personalities to online communication; some like crisp and concise messages while others prefer a more relaxed conversational tone. Also, messages may be typed quickly and specific words or phrases may have unique regional meanings.

3.     Watch for subtle clues – Notice words, phrases, or comments that contribute to painting a picture of others’ culture and style. Just as in face-to-face communication, diversity impacts relationships.

4.     Take time for small talk – Relationships are often strengthened in casual “offline” conversations, just as they are around the water cooler in the office. If available in your online community, participate in discussions in the “cafés” or “keeping in touch” forums. Acknowledge celebrations (e.g. if someone mentioned an upcoming marriage, baby or holiday).

5.     Don’t be a lurker – In online communities, just as on a teleconference, if you don’t speak up, it’s as though you’re not there (i.e. no one can see you). Contribute comments to blog posts, participate in social media groups and offer your help.

6.     Give…don’t just take – Share freely and keep your eyes open for tips or resources that would benefit your online colleagues. Relationships are strengthened by giving back.

7.     Respect community norms – Just as you adjust your style (i.e. language level, tone, dress) if working face-to-face, monitor your online presence – avoid using acronyms unless you’re confident everyone will understand, match conversational tone, don’t monopolize conversations, and don’t spam your community or use it solely to sell.

8.     Move beyond text – Make full use of options to liven up your online community (e.g. use emoticons, upload photos or brief audio/video files, insert images and links to YouTube videos).

9.     Be cautious about introducing new technologies – Don’t assume everyone has the same level of comfort or discomfort with technology. Allow for differing levels; recognize that “fancy stuff” might excite some colleagues but intimidate others.

10.  When in doubt, phone – Although it’s definitely possible to build strong working relationships online, sometimes it is best to pick up the phone and ask for clarification or offer support. It’s great to hear a colleague’s tone and to talk freely without typing!

For more tips on working effectively online, read Roberta’s “Food for Thought” paper, Building Working Relationships Online, at:http://www.iaevg.org/crc/files/Communication_Strategy_No.20_Neault836_2.pdf

Are you considering learning online? Take our “Online Readiness Quiz” at:http://lifestrategies.ca/docs/onlineReadinessQuiz.pdf
Dr. Roberta Neault has over three decades of eclectic professional experiences, which include corporate consulting, career counselling and coaching, and counsellor education. Deirdre Pickerell, MEd has over seventeen years experience in the field of career development, adult education, and human resource management. Together, Roberta and Deirdre have developed 50+ e-learning courses and delivered multiple presentations about the benefits of online learning and virtual work environments. If you ready to start learning online, join them for a wide variety of courses this fall: http://www.lifestrategies.ca/docs/Course-Schedule-2010-2011.pdf  

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