When we’re getting to know new team members, we might take note of how firm their handshakes are, whether they make eye contact, how they say hello, or if they say hello at all. Their body language is critical.
When remote workers join our teams, they don’t have a physical presence, but they still send signals through the way they make themselves “seen” at work. As do you, their manager.
Whether it’s in the way we respond, make deadlines, or join meetings, our virtual body language can be just as important as the analog version.
Good virtual body language means speaking up on conference calls, turning on your camera for video chats, and responding to emails and instant messages in a timely fashion.
It also requires an added and shared responsibility, on the part of both remote employees and managers, to be responsive, accessible, and dependable. It’s a commitment to communication that lays the foundation for trust amongst remote teams.
If you’re a manager, you should work toward building a rapport with virtual employees from the moment they’re hired. Treat them as you would in-office employees. Make time for in-person meetings, off-site events, and informal catch-ups. You and your team will immediately begin building personal connections and trust, and it will improve the way you operate.
Many virtual employees worry that asking too many questions will affect their reputation, or make them appear incapable of working remotely. It’s a manager’s responsibility to help them feel comfortable expressing their day-to-day challenges.
During meetings, start with employees who attending remotely. Without putting them on the spot, open the floor for them to raise questions and provide opinions. Sometimes, team members physically in the conference room unwittingly steer the conversation, forgetting that remote colleagues are also present. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to oversee virtual communication and ensure all voices are heard.
Although tech-enabled conversation is increasingly prevalent in the workplace, it shouldn’t fully replace face-to-face interaction. When it comes to delivering feedback to remote employees, leaders should avoid using only email and chat messages, and, instead, pick up the phone or start a video conference.
In the virtual workforce, human connection is everything. Learning how to read virtual body language can help managers better engage with their remote employees. When virtual workers are seen, heard, and valued like their in-office colleagues from the beginning, their contributions will have long-term impacts on your company and your business success.
Kathleen Pai is the VP of HR at Ultimate Software.