Remote work has its share of perks—pajamas!—but it has its challenges too, and isolation can be one of the toughest.
Professionals in the social-impact sphere are passionate about the work they do, and for good reason. It’s important, fulfilling work. But it also takes an emotional toll, and if you work in an office full time, the emotional burden is typically shared among a team that is physically present each work day.
But what about freelancers and remote social-impact professionals who aren’t part of any one team or don’t have an opportunity to sit with colleagues on a regular basis?
Bonds are important—for you and for your work
If you’re a remote worker or a freelancer functioning as part of many groups at many organizations, it’s essential to learn strategies for building bonds.
Learning how to forge strong professional relationships will keep feelings of isolation at bay and help you contribute more effectively. From understanding your coworkers’ organizational styles to making sure burnout doesn’t become something worse, connections between individuals are at the heart of social-impact work.
You’re more than an email address
You know you’re an actual human being, sitting at a computer, sending emails to the organizations you work with. But to the people on the other side of that equation, you might seem like just another email address.
Don’t be afraid to share a little—appropriate—personal information in your emails. It could be as simple as mentioning that you’ll be out of touch one afternoon next week for your nephew’s dance recital. Or that you’re looking forward to a trip to Colombia in the spring.
These are bits of information that get shared among people working together in an office over the coffee pot or in the elevator. When you’re working remotely, these opportunities don’t occur as naturally. By inserting a few details about your life in your emails, you help provide a more rounded picture of who you are as an individual.
It’s hard to beat face-to-face communication
Gone are the days when distance meant we had to communicate via stamped letters—or even email. We now have the digital tools to communicate across the world almost like we communicate across a room. Using video chat may take a few seconds longer than tapping out an email, but it’s worth the effort.
When we collaborate with a team in-person, a lot of communication happens outside of our actual words. Body language, tone of voice, hand gestures—having access to these different modes of interaction deepens collaboration and prevents misunderstandings.
Every time you choose to video chat rather than email or text, you build tighter bonds with your remote teams. Not only are you communicating more effectively, you create a conversation space where personality becomes more evident.
And don’t rule out actually traveling to connect with colleagues. If you work with several teams in one city, it may be possible to make one trip to touch base with multiple organizations. You may even be able to work an occasional office visit into your contract.
Do your homework
Nothing can make you feel more like an outsider than flubbing a conversation because you didn’t realize that Shawna is Dave’s boss.
When you’re working full time with one team, the organizational hierarchy reveals itself organically. But when you work with several teams, especially remotely, it takes a little more effort to understand how each team is structured and where you fit into the picture.
It’s never a bad idea to sketch out a management diagram for each of the organizations you work with. As you encounter new team members, make sure to understand where they fit in and add them to the diagram. You’ll feel more confident and come off as more knowledgeable and engaged.
Be all in, every time
We all have a limited amount of energy, so it can be tempting to limit your engagement to the projects you’re directly involved in. And in some fields, that may be viable.
In the social-impact world, though, projects are mission-driven and team members are often following their passion. If you want to be seen as a coworker, you have to care about the overarching goals of each organization you work with.
Supervisors are realistic; most realize you can’t be as knowledgeable about the scope of their work as someone who works for them full time. That said, showing excitement about, and knowledge of the broader work being done is a sure fire way to show that you’re totally on board. And, you’re far more likely to find team members reaching out and engaging with you!
Are you a full-time social-impact professional who has worked with with a remote freelancer? We’d love to hear your perspective on what helps you engage with part-time team members. Share your story in the comments.