Over the past two years, many employees working remotely have become accustomed to basic communication technology solutions. While it worked reasonably well, there were situations where connections were lost, mute buttons were left off (or on), or people were talking over each other. It was definitely a new set of skills that needed to be learned in order to have an effective conversation.
However, now that workers are returning to their physical workplaces, they will need to re-engage and re-establish positive working relationships through face-to-face communication. There will be nothing quite like hitting the mute button when you want to stop listening to someone. And you’ll have to smile when you try to get a colleague to stop encroaching on your space.
Workplace relationships, especially face-to-face communication, are important for getting along well with co-workers. And good relationships lead to job satisfaction. It is therefore important to pay attention again to the art of communication and relationship building.
Returning to work gives everyone the opportunity to deepen relationships, increase teamwork, and more effectively share ideas back and forth. At the same time, it is important to hone conflict management skills so that issues can be resolved and consensual decisions can be made to move projects forward.
While many people fear returning to the physical workplace, attention should be paid to the differences in communication style between attending a virtual meeting and having a “real” in-person conversation. The following suggestions will help you reflect on and refresh some of the skills needed to develop successful relationships at work.
● Identify your strengths: Take the time to reflect on the communication skills that have already helped you create good relationships at work. How have you maintained and/or developed these skills while using virtual meetings over the past few years? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you need to work on? Identify some of the positive skills you would bring back to work and how they can be used to rebuild relationships.
● Define relational needs: Those who work remotely and in isolation may feel anxious about returning to the physical workplace because they enjoyed working alone. Most workplaces have multiple groups of employees, and unless there is private office space, individuals can feel overcrowded and overwhelmed. Take a moment to reflect on your need for privacy, the need for personal space, and peace and quiet. If these are important, plan how you can meet your needs at work.
● To be present: While it’s important to focus on work tasks and pick up the pace, building relationships requires you to interact with co-workers. Make time to join the lunchtime crowd and seek out colleagues during scheduled breaks. Strike up a conversation rather than sitting quietly in a corner. Let people know you’re interested in what they have to say. Share something about yourself.
● Be positive: No matter how anxious you feel, it’s important to present a positive posture and a positive tone of voice. Any negativity demonstrated by body language will have an immediate impact on a conversation and therefore hinder any effort to establish and/or maintain a relationship. After all, individuals generally don’t want to hang out with negative people and you don’t want to be labeled with a negative reputation.
● Balance your communication: Holding a conversation and developing a relationship goes far beyond answering with a truncated “yes/no”. Ask probing questions, listen, then respond in full sentences, but not so long that people tire of listening. Engage in conversations with your colleagues beyond a discussion of work tasks.
● Contact us to help you: There may be co-workers who also experience difficulty returning to the workplace, such as an inability to concentrate or work at their normal level of productivity. Contact them and offer to help them with their professional tasks. When you feel the issues are more emotional, reach out and have a conversation or refer the person for further help if needed.
● Appreciate others: Showing appreciation is a great way to build relationships and sometimes takes nothing more than a verbal or written thank you. People also feel appreciated when asked about their well-being. They feel appreciated when asked to demonstrate a task or share a personal story. They feel appreciated when they are asked to join in a conversation or give their opinion.
● Hold a promise: Being reliable and keeping commitments is essential to developing relationships of trust. Colleagues want to know they can count on you. It also means arriving on time for meetings and respecting others by paying close attention to meetings rather than checking email messages.
● Offer help: If you’re heading into the lunch room for your coffee break and you see a co-worker who is still working hard, offer to bring something or help with the task.
● Participate in group celebrations: There are always occasions for parties in the workplace and it is a good opportunity to socialize and meet colleagues who work in different departments. Volunteer to help organize a corporate event.
Positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace are important for both employee and employer. Overall, teamwork and collaboration promotes higher employee engagement and employee morale is higher when the culture of the organization is pleasant and friendly. Good interpersonal relationships help employees feel connected to the organization, which in turn leads to less turnover and creates high levels of seniority.
While leaders make many organizational efforts to create a work environment with high levels of employee morale, each individual also plays a key role in ensuring positive workplace relationships. The return to the physical workspace will create challenges and individuals will need to make extra efforts to reach out to restore and rebuild their relational networks.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, B.Ed., M.Ed., CCP is an author, radio personality, and executive coach. She can be contacted at [email protected]