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Relationship Intelligence

How to Develop Strong Business Relationships When Working Remotely

By Rebecca Hinds

Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the term 'global village' in the 1960s, long before its time. The term global village describes the idea that the world can become more interconnected with advancements in technologies, especially ones that allow for instantaneous communication and sharing. 

At a time when most of us are not able to travel, there is much opportunity to leverage this time to develop strong and enduring business relationships and also strengthen existing ones. While the pandemic may have impeded our ability to develop strong relationships, it has, at the same time, created an opportunity to rethink how we forge strong relationships while physically distant.

Here are a few tips for developing strong business relationships when working remotely. 

Have a first date

Everyone has been there—are they looking for love or just fun? Do they want friendship or something more? Business relationships are very similar to personal ones in that communication is key. Upfront transparency about what each person wants to get out of the relationship is an important and often missed step when entering a remote business relationship. 

So often business relationships are nurtured in a relaxed group setting over a meal, getting to know each other and discussing the art of the possibility. In a recent HBR article, Darin Rowell describes the importance of defining ‘a clear purpose’.  When developing relationships remotely, Rowell advises: “develop the confidence and the skill to discuss and establish a clear basis and intent for the relationship.” 

Similar to the first date where you strive to determine if there is a fit in terms of what the other party is seeking, taking the time to nurture a shared understanding of your business expectations is a critical foundation to what comes next. It becomes especially easy to track your new contact’s intent using Affinity’s Notes

If you want to get creative, schedule a lunch meeting and use a delivery service to coordinate and share in the same meal while meeting, even when physically apart. 

‘Respect local’ while acting global

When you think of the business trips that really made a difference in building strong relationships in the past, no doubt their success was often a result of overcoming the natural barriers that exist because of cultural differences. Trust across cultures often stems from human interaction that shows respect for local customs and traditions. The vast majority (93%) of people agree that in-person meetings are helpful when negotiating with businesspeople who have different languages and cultural backgrounds. 

How do we bridge cultural boundaries when we cannot travel?  Take the time to see the meeting through the eyes of the person you are meeting. If you were hosting them in person, you certainly would consider basic elements such as time zones, the need for a translator, appropriate greetings, body language, and so on. Don’t skip all these steps just because you’re on a remote call.  First impressions matter even more when they don’t start with face-to-face interaction! 

Developing a strong first impression doesn’t take a lot of work, as long as it is authentic.  For example, consider any business partners you have who are in China this week, just ahead of Chinese New Year. Simply taking the time to learn how to wish them a ‘Happy New Year’ goes a long way.  2021 is the year of the Ox—an animal that is seen as intelligent and reliable—what more could we ask for in a business partner?

Actively develop trust

We often do not realize when we’ve established trust, but we always know when it is gone. Take time to pause for a moment and think about a business relationship lacking in trust and that should be impetus enough to invest and nurture it. 

Trust is also lost when communication wanes. Using Affinity, you can create custom triggers and automatic reminders to ensure you never drop the ball on important relationships. 

By definition, a business relationship has a level of both risk and uncertainty to it. Although trust is most important in the early stages of a business relationship, you’ll continue to assess the trustworthiness of the other party at all stages of our relationships. And the greater the risk at stake is, the greater the need for trust. 

Developing mutual trust and keeping it intact in a business relationship is as important as it is in our personal relationships.

Trust is often most effectively established through face-to-face interactions. So, in times of remote work where there is little chance to meet in person, one must go the extra mile. The good news is any investment in this is worthwhile because trust tends to be reciprocal. All parties will benefit from the following. 

  1. Clear alignment of objectives and accountability. Discuss, for example: what are your objectives for the relationship? 
  2. Transparent discussion on issues, challenges, and risks. Discuss, for example: what are the obstacles that could make the relationship more challenging? 
  3. Collaboration to resolve issues. Discuss, for example: how will you resolve differences of opinion?  
  4. Delivery of your commitments. Discuss, for example: what will each party be responsible for and when? 

So while our ‘global village’ may be temporarily closed, the ability to collaborate and build powerful relationships has never been more important. By recognizing the importance of the first date, respecting local differences, and actively developing trust, you can capitalize on the opportunity to rethink how you build strong relationships. 

Relationship Intelligence