As a remote worker of 14 years who rarely gets to meet coworkers in person, establishing a relationship with people who you do not see or hear on a regular basis can be both rewarding and awkward at times. This is especially true when you are facing normal challenges in your personal life, such as an illness or even the death of a family member. While remote work has some very wonderful benefits such as a flexible schedule and the ability to work from wherever you are, going through the work day when others are not aware of challenges you are facing can feel both lonely and alienating in these instances. It is often difficult to even imagine how a coworker is reacting to what you are saying through traditional body language cues, as most of us work via email or instant messaging and rarely have conversations with others.

I recently went through a major illness which included surgery, treatment, and recovery over two years and realized how impersonal it is working far away from others – in a traditional office setting, you have chats in the hall and people regularly ask as to your welfare and are sensitive to your workload. In thinking back on that experience, I was struck that no one ever talks about dealing with remote workers who are facing these challenges. Here are some tips to make the situation easier and less strained for both sides:

  1. Let your close colleagues and managers know what you are going through – tell them of your projected downtime and recovery so that they feel they are a part of what is taking place. If you have lost a loved one, inform them and give them permission to share with others on your team if appropriate…if you do not let selected people know and are not open, they will not feel they are able to be a part of your challenge.
  2. Keep in contact – instant messaging or a text with your remote team helps others feel connected and is a less formal way than emails – but emails are also a great way to show support. Don’t be afraid to just say ‘I am thinking about you’ or ‘how are things going,’ as this can be a small sign of solidarity that means so much to the individual who is facing hardship. Even a quick IM emoji will let a colleague know you have their welfare in mind, while a phone call can work cheapest amoxil wonders when a person is ready to talk.  You can also have a delegated, trusted person let your work team know how you are doing if you are not able to do so yourself.
  3. Set boundaries for your work hours, so colleagues know when you have committed the time to work and when they need to give you space to heal. Also give colleagues permission to talk about things with you that you are comfortable with so they do not feel intimidated. It is important for colleagues to ask if it is a good time or if it is ok to ask you about your situation also before initiating a conversation.  Let your manager know when your workload is too much, so they can delegate to others and projects can keep on deadline.
  4. You don’t need to go through things alone. Although personal privacy is important, coworkers appreciate an update even when you have not worked with them for a while. Take the time to listen when a response is given and make it about that person only – it increases the sense of community and also gives the person who is undergoing a hardship a way to open the door for dialogue and positive communication which can lead to lasting supportive relationships.
  5. Don’t ignore a person who has shared a hardship – if he or she has taken the time to let you know of a personal event, have the courtesy to acknowledge it, and send a note or make a comment – don’t just bulldoze into a meeting or email after reconnecting. Take time to establish a rapport and show your human side. It is surprising how many people think that just because you cannot see a person means we need to ignore courtesies we would normally effect in an ‘in person’ situation.

Remote employment is an evolving field with ever-complicated technical and logistical challenges, and relationships sometimes are put secondary to work and project-focused assignments. Coworker sensitivity, though rarely discussed, can make relationships stronger when handled in the right way, and people can forge bonds despite being on a team working across the globe. It is important to remember we are not just about getting the job done – but about working together as a group in a supportive environment where we can create lasting positive bonds with colleagues.

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