Insights for Remote Professionals

How to become a great remote colleague

Cedric Jackson

September 13, 2021

After a few years of working, you start to learn what makes a good teammate and colleague. Many of the same things make a good virtual teammate. However, there are some important differences. 

Explore the following advice to learn how to be a great virtual coworker. Your collaboration skills from your in-office work will come in handy.

Be Available for Communication

The most important thing is to accessible to your coworkers.

This is especially true when working on a project together. This means answering your emails regularly. Or using whichever communication method you agree upon.

You don’t have to respond within minutes. Just make sure to have a consistent schedule when you're checking emails. Even better if you let your colleagues know your schedule and sync up with them.

Communicate About Video Call Interruptions

Communication is a major component of being a good coworker, especially virtually. This is particularly true when something unexpected happens during a video call or meeting. For example, if your child enters your off-limits office or your dog starts barking and drowns out the conversation. 

The best option in this situation is to be completely honest with your team. Don’t just hang up and blame your internet. Let your coworkers know what happened.

If you have to take care of something quickly, let them know. Then mute your mic until you return. Offer a quick explanation before or after you leave. You can even take this as a chance to introduce your pet or family members and form a better bond. 

Communicate About Project Delays

Yet another aspect of communication to focus on is project delays. If you’re delayed with a project for any reason, let your team know. This is especially important if they’re waiting on your part to complete their tasks. 

The alternative would be just to let them assume it’s delayed. This hurts your communications and reputation with coworkers.

Being proactive helps your colleagues plan their workload and schedule better. It makes their lives easier and they'll respect you more and help you more for it.

Keep Emails (and Other Communication) Clear and Concise

As you craft your communication, make sure it’s clear and concise. Get to the point, and don’t waste your coworkers’ time.

You should also use professional language instead of slang or casual language. You want your written communication to be very accessible to all members of a thread.

The one exception is if you work with a remote team that's very localized. In those situations, slang is ok as everyone is familiar with the terms.

Lastly, make sure your email outlines what you hope your coworkers will do, and include any timeline for those actions.

Be Adaptable and Push Through Challenges – and Be Honest 

If you’re overwhelmed and make a mistake, push through but own up to it.

For example, what if you send the wrong email attachment? Just be honest. Unsend or recall it (if you still can) and quickly send an apology with the right attachment. 

You’ll find it easier to build goodwill with coworkers if you’re honest.

Hiding problems can seem like gaslighting. Or make you seem untrustworthy. On the other hand, owning up to errors shows that you’re trustworthy and reliable. 

Congratulate Your Coworkers on Their Successes

Without being in the same building, it’s harder for employees to feel recognized. That’s a problem since recognition and motivation go hand-in-hand. 

Overcome this by making it a point to recognize your coworkers’ successes.

When they accomplish something, brag about it for them on Slack. You can even take this a step further and encourage “visibility buddies.” This would involve putting people in pairs.

Each person is responsible for sharing and celebrating their partner’s accomplishments. 

Or you can have a dedicated Slack or Discord channel for capturing positive feedback.

Introduce Pets and Kids – But Within Reason

Many people see meeting a new kid or pet over video chat as a highlight if they spend all day at home. Take advantage of this to make your coworkers’ days better. For example, if your dog wanders into the camera view, introduce him. 

Just make sure this doesn’t become disruptive. You also need to respect that everyone’s different. Not everyone will want to see your pets or kids. Pay attention to body language and responses and act accordingly. 

Respect Their Time

As with any other job, a good virtual coworker will respect their teammates’ time.

As mentioned previously, most of this can be achieved through proactive and reliable communication.

Secondly, respect people's times on meetings. Start and end meetings on time. And always ask folks if they can stay later. Never extend meetings without permission.

Get Creative When Building Relationships With Coworkers

In a standard office environment, it’s fairly easy to build a relationship with coworkers. You’ll chat for a few minutes when grabbing water or coffee. Or when passing off work. But this doesn’t happen with virtual work. 

Luckily, you can get creative and find other ways to build relationships with your coworkers. Some options include: 

  • Coffee talks instead of your morning commute 
  • Take breaks at the same time as a coworker and chat 
  • Consider working silently together on video chat 
  • Have virtual lunches together 
  • Have a “casual” Slack channel 

Just remember not to force a relationship.

Being a good virtual coworker means understanding that not everyone wants to socialize. Some people prefer to spend most of their time working, or communicating via text. Meet people where they are.

Best of luck to you as you navigate the remote world and become a great remote teammate!

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