Maintaining relationships from distance is hard. Very hard. Whether it was the high school relationship you tried to keep together when one or both went off to college… or a marriage put to the test because of a job relocation… or a best friendship tested when one of you moved across country… there are countless scenarios of good, strong relationships tested and challenged because of new-found distance between you. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it fails. But regardless, it is never easy.
We are all living the professional version of the long-distance relationship right now, as we continue to operate in an open-ended remote work environment. How long will it be like this? No one really knows. Perhaps a vaccine happens soon, and we all feel better about getting back to normal. Or perhaps it takes a long time. Perhaps there will be other outbreaks that slow down or turn around the slow migration back to the office many companies are currently attempting. No one knows. For now, we are all living with having to maintain our professional (and many of our pesonal) relationships from a distance.
So we better start getting good at this distance thing.
Being apart from someone you care about and have been connected to is hard. And the longer you are apart, the more the distance can start to erode the foundation of the relationship. The little interactions, the jokes, the casual conversations that can really connect you with a colleague are much harder in this virtual environment. You don’t see each other in the hallway, and therefore can’t read the body language or the voice. It will be harder to know if someone is having a bad day, and when a little “pick me up” comment of encouragement might be necessary. These little interactions are the foundation of connection, and really hard to have from a distance. Unless we choose to make them happen, they won’t.
My colleagues and close friends know that I am an avid gardener. I love the year-to-year and season-to-season rhythm of gardening. I love the long-term nature of the care. Gardens need to be fed and watered. They need to be weeded, to get the stuff we don’t want out of there. Sometimes we need to dig up the garden and move some stuff around.
If we ignore the garden for too long without the proper care, it becomes underfed and weak. It gets overgrown and unwieldy, and the garden becomes a shadow of it former self. At that point, all we have left are memories of what once was.
Relationships need the exact same kinds of tending. When they get ignored, they wither away and become a shadow of their former selves.
Now is the time to start thinking about how to tend to the “garden” of your professional relationships. Because it could be a while before we are back to sharing office space again. The answer is not more formal meetings, deadlines or projects. No… as my colleagues and I write all the time, we already have plenty of those. Rather, the answer to maintaining connection to colleagues in a remote environment is the “little things” such as the cheers when someone does or shares something positive, or the inquiry about their weekend, or a share of what is on your mind. Go beyond the formal interactions that still dominate our calendars. Find little ways to connect. Healthy connections will pay big dividends in our work efficiency, our work satisfaction, and the culture within the organization. It is hard to quantify the value of healthy relationships in the workplace, and your life for that matter. I am of the opinion that strong relationships make you strong, and life more livable.
Tend to the garden of your work relationships. Because we don’t know how long it will be before we are all together again.
Have a great day.
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