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Do face-to-face meetings strengthen work relationships?

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Expecting or anticipating that everyone will get along perfectly is unrealistic. Can providing an opportunity for telecommuters to meet in real life can provide a means to better understand each other and improve their working relationships?

When you have worked onsite and then moved into a telecommuting arrangement you have the advantage of knowing your co-workers and their work habits. You may keep in touch more often and make arrangements to socialize outside of the work environment. Personal relationships will have developed as a natural part of working alongside others.

In a virtual work environment it can be more difficult to cultivate these types of relationships. You may only have the options of chat, e-mail and sometimes video conferencing capabilities. Despite improvements in technology these methods are not the same as working alongside someone in an office. This is why so many companies feel it is important to work onsite for a period of time before commencing a telecommuting arrangement.

Current Status

Crossed wires - when communication issues cause the working relationship to fray.

Communications via email and other online methods are not aimed at developing personal relationships in an ideal way. Body language and facial expressions are non-existent in email and online chats. In addition, cultural differences or even regional differences can create situations. What may be very funny to me is found to be offensive by someone else in a different area. People who speak quickly and directly, may be seen to be rude and abrupt in a virtual environment. Individuals who are used to joking and using humour to express themselves, may be lost in an environment that is left to emoticons and other graphic expressions of emotion.

There are many more characteristics/situations that fall between these two but it is easily understood how misunderstandings or communications might break down.

Fuss

Can meeting in person resolves these situations or will it only make the situation worse?

When making the decision to have a group of telecommuters get together it is up to the Supervisor/Manager to maintain control of the environment and set the ground rules for such an event.

  • Ask that everyone come to the meeting with an open mind
  • Set aside time to mediate disagreements that may have arisen
  • Encourage but do not demand that everyone get along
  • Accept the fact that people can't always get along on a personal level.

Meeting in real life can provide an opportunity to gain a better understanding and perspective of what each person is about. Seeing and hearing Smith talking in machine gun style without a lot of descriptive words can help you to better understand their emails. You realise they aren’t angry or upset - it's just their style.

We must accept the potential for both the positive and negative, then take steps to ensure that the telecommuters can develop good working relationships. Insisting on personal relationships may only force people into pretending, which will in turn harbour resentment and hard feelings.

It is important to recognise the working relationships and the value it will play in completing work. Being great pals with someone does not guarantee you can work well together. Quite often people who have nothing in common socially or personally work the best together just because they are not friends.

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