Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 45;   November 5, 2008: On Virtual Relationships

On Virtual Relationships

by

Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet face-to-face. And there are some people you've never met, and probably never will. What does it take to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?
Dr. Jerri Nielsen at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1999

Dr. Jerri Nielsen at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1999. Dr. Nielsen was serving as the base doctor during the Antarctic winter of 1999, when she discovered a lump in her breast. With evacuation impossible, she consulted Dr. Kathy Miller, an oncologist at the Indiana University Cancer Center. By email and video link, Dr. Miller guided Dr. Nielsen in performing several biopsies on herself. Later, after an airdrop of medical supplies, Miller guided Nielsen in the administration of hormonal therapy and chemotherapy. Certainly this technical achievement is impressive, but Miller must also have pioneered methods of calming and comforting her patient virtually.

We tend to consider virtual relationships in the context of routine business events, but undertaking dispersed projects also entails a commitment to managing extraordinary events virtually. Hoping that extraordinary events won't occur is not enough. For instance, for missions to Mars, when extraordinary events occur, success might depend on the virtual relationship skills of those involved. See "Doctor at South Pole Received Medical Help via Video," by Denise Grady, in The New York Times for October 22, 1999. Dr. Neilsen (with Maryanne Vollers) wrote about her experience in Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredile Battle for Survival at the South Pole. Order from Amazon.com. Photo courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In modern workplaces, face-to-face communications are a declining portion of all communications. We use a variety of communications media — telephone, text messaging, email, videoconference, and even interdepartmental mail and snail mail. Collegial relationships have taken on an increasingly virtual character. We regularly work with people we rarely meet face-to-face, and in some cases, we've never met and probably never will.

In contrast to the face-to-face relationship, we must be more deliberate about maintaining a warm, cooperative, and mutually beneficial virtual relationship. In virtual relationships, we lack access to the little cues that indicate friendship and respect, on which we rely to maintain the health of our relationships.

At first, being deliberate can feel false, and this leads many to avoid expressing friendship and respect, even indirectly. If you have this experience, try to recall how you felt when you received such expressions of friendship from another. Probably it felt good. The good news: with practice, the feeling of phoniness fades. Here are some tips for maintaining healthy virtual relationships.

Make contact when you don't need to
If you always wait until you absolutely need something from your colleague, then you might inadvertently "train" him or her to associate a message from you with your needing something. If you think it might be appreciated, send a short hello-how-ya-doin' once in a while.
Make appointments if you're both very busy
If either of you has a shortage of interruptible time, making appointments can be a welcome courtesy. Sending a note such as, "Do you have five minutes this afternoon?" can be more respectful than an unexpected phone call.
Exploit opportunities at face-to-face meetings
At times, you might find yourself at a meeting also attended by one or more of your virtual colleagues. Take advantage of these situations to say hello, have lunch, or spend some time not focused on work. Unless the meeting has an immediate and specific purpose related to the work you're doing together, use the time in other ways.
Introduce your virtual colleagues to others at your site or elsewhere
Make introductions when you can. Connect your virtual colleagues to other people at your site, or to other virtual colleagues of yours. Check first, though — they might already have met (virtually or otherwise), or one or the other might not wish to meet.
In contrast to the face-to-face
relationship, we must be more
deliberate about maintaining a
warm, cooperative, and mutually
beneficial virtual relationship
Send "heads up" notes and thank-yous when appropriate
If you hear of something that your virtual colleague might like to know (other than gossip), pass it along. And send thank-yous when they're deserved. Both will be appreciated.

Most important for maintaining any kind of relationship, send congratulations, holiday greetings, and condolences. Most of us like the comfort of knowing that we're in the hearts and thoughts of the people we know. Being remembered feels good. Can you remember someone today? Go to top Top  Next issue: Accepting Reality  Next Issue

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrentekUSlxySTjZztBxner@ChacDBGundrGYcpenUjjoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A checklistKeep a Not-To-Do List
Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.
The U.S. Capitol at nightExcuses, Excuses
When a goal remains unaccomplished, we sometimes tell ourselves that we understand why. And sometimes we do. But at other times, we're just fooling ourselves.
The giant sequoiaThe Good, the Bad, and the Complicated
In fiction and movies, the world is often simple. There's a protagonist, a goal, and a series of obstacles. The protagonists and goals are good, and the obstacles are bad. Real life is more complicated.
The bark of the American SycamoreMitigating Outsourcing Risks: II
Outsourcing internal processes exposes the organization to a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. Here is Part II of a discussion of what some of those risks are and what can we do about them.
Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Risk Management Risk: I
Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Emotions at Work and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZDPXkKQlPssPzyqWner@ChacGHCjzvJAAQRHvjIKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.