The relationship between a manager and employee is vital to a productive workplace, but how can you build strong connections when you can’t meet your new hires in-person? Maintaining and growing positive working relationships takes time and effort at any time, but in a remote world it comes with a unique set of challenges. After all, you can no longer rely on daily interactions in the office to help form those bonds. Instead, managers need to be actively engaged in building positive connections with new employees right from the first day they start a role. Just because we have to work remotely doesn’t mean our manager-employee relationships need to suffer.
5 strategies to build strong working relationships
When it comes to employee relations, savvy managers know it pays to start early. What can you do when you hire a new employee to help them develop a positive relationship with you?
Use assessments: No two employees are totally alike and what works for one person might not work for another. Assessments can be an easy way to learn more about your new hire quickly and concisely. Explore your employee’s temperament and discuss how that might impact how you work or communicate with each other. If you’ve also taken an assessment yourself, it can be a great idea to share your results with your hire so you can more easily compare how you’re similar and identify areas of difference to be aware of. Having an honest conversation about both of your strengths and weaknesses can help employees feel more comfortable with their managers faster. Not to mention, it also helps to bridge the divide of talking through a screen and shows new hires right from the start that trust and transparency are important on the team.
Set boundaries together: Every relationship is a balance. Much like with personal connections, managers and employees need to set boundaries to structure their relationships and establish realistic expectations. Managers should be friendly with their team, of course, but they still need to maintain their authority. Sometimes difficult calls have to be made so there needs to be a professional distinction in your manager-employee relationship to help keep projects moving when things get tough. Spend some time during onboarding and talk about where those boundaries are for both of you. You might want to consider what time emails can be sent or whether you’ll be sharing work numbers or personal ones. You could also discuss work style, personal motivations, or even how employees can voice disagreement safely. Talking about these topics will help your new hire better understand how you lead and what they can expect from working with you.
Prioritize both communicating and listening: Employee communication was a problem even before everyone had to work in separate homes. Maintaining consistent communication and listening to your employees should be a priority for any manager keeping their distance. In a remote world, your new employee may not interact with many team members so ensuring they are kept in the loop and aware of what’s going on is vital. You also want to make it clear to new hires that their voice is being heard so they’ll come to you later when they need help. During the onboarding stage, managers should be spending quite a bit of their first week or month with a new hire to help them learn remotely. After that, it’s wise to check-in a few times a week to make sure your employee doesn’t feel adrift after formal onboarding has ended. This can be done with an email or a video chat to let them know you’re always there to help and are a resource should they need you.
Ask for feedback: Sometimes getting feedback is uncomfortable but if you don’t know what your employees really think, how can you improve? As you’re ramping down the onboarding, ask your new hire for feedback on the process. This could be an informal conversation or a formal survey to collect data routinely after each onboarding. The point is to learn what parts of the training process were challenging or overwhelming and how things could be improved for the next new hire. Being candid with employees about how things are going and asking for input on your own performance can feel a little revealing at first but it will strengthen the relationship with your employee and create a foundation of trust and transparency. Building a relationship where employees feel able to give you real feedback creates a culture of psychological safety that strengthens bonds not just between you and your hire, but also between them and their team.
Build a supportive culture: Speaking of culture, how your company or team approaches culture will impact how your new hire forms bonds with others, including you. A competitive culture, for example, will see weaker bonds between colleagues. If cooperation is your goal, then you need to take culture into account when building your relationships. Set up a team environment where employees are encouraged to share their problems or ask for help and lead by example. Make it clear to your new hire during their onboarding that both you and their team are there to support them and try to create opportunities for new employees to meet their colleagues. That could be scheduled coffee chats over Zoom or online team or department gatherings. The physical distance we’re all dealing with is a barrier to creating relationships with others so whatever you can do to create opportunities for employees to be together virtually will help.
Remote employee relationships can be strong and healthy
It would be great to meet in-person and take your new hire out for lunch, but hiring in a remote landscape requires different strategies to form connections with others. How the manager-employee relationship develops can impact job satisfaction, employee engagement, retention rates, and even employee wellness so it pays to take it seriously. After all, a negative relationship can drive new hires out the door before they’ve even started. Everyone wants to be seen and valued for their abilities and that’s no different for new employees. Spend some time showing your new hire you care about what they have to offer and are looking forward to working successfully together. Consider how you and your new hire are similar or different and use that insight as a roadmap for how to work together. Make sure you’re communicating clearly so your new employee feels connected and informed and don’t forget about feedback. It might not be your favourite exercise but learning what your employee is thinking and how they view your budding work relationship can be invaluable, especially when it comes to onboarding your next hire. Building a team culture of trust and respect can go a long way towards supporting a positive manager-employee relationship. When employees feel connected to their coworkers and trusted by their managers, everyone reaps the benefits.