Yeah, yeah, we live in a virtual world, blah, blah, we’ve talked about it before. Like yesterday.
But now I’ve come up against a new problem. How to make friends with coworkers you’ve never actually met?
Here’s the situation: I recently took on a part-time gig doing some editing for a website. I’m covering for a friend who is on maternity leave. The office is in New York, I am in Chicago. Which means the only way I speak to my new colleagues is via Skype and email.
Perhaps this is no biggie in regular life, but in work life it makes things pretty tough. In office scenarios, I’m a big believer in face-to-face contact. Facial expressions and tones of voice relay so much. Getting to know someone on a personal level, makes it easier to work with them, or at least understand their professional style. For example, when you ask someone to do something via email, it’s hard to subtly express that you know the task is a total bore but you really appreciate her doing it anyway. Via email, a directive can feel rude or presumptuous, especially from the new girl who hasn’t entirely learned the lay of the land. I get that.
Sometimes it seems that in the work environment, employees are looking for reasons to not like someone, as opposed to the other way around. Conversations about duties or tasks can feel like mini-battles, with each person passive-aggressively pushing back. An in-person office drive-by would be so much easier. I could pop my head in when I had questions. I could get a sense of a person’s reaction when I asked her to do something, and she could understand mine when she gives me a directive, too. I could figure out my place in the office food chain, and get a sense of who might want to joke with me about the VMAs and who doesn’t own a TV.
As we know, work friends are vital to an employee’s happiness and productivity. But how do I make those friends when my only contact is twice-weekly conference calls and a few daily emails? It’s hard to have that water-cooler banter with no water cooler. Yesterday I tried to slip in a joke on a conference call–about the Octomom! Everyone loves laughing at her antics!–and it was met with complete silence. So I’ll go about my business, getting my work done, accepting assignments as they come with as best cheer as I know how. But I just hate that I haven’t mastered how to turn these remote coworkers into buddies. Book two?
Help! Any advice for how to buddy up to my new long-distance coworkers? Have you ever found yourself in this situation? It really goes to show that despite Facebook, Twitter, etc., face-to-face contact is invaluable. We should give it some more credit.