Some of the young leaders I coach, have shared with me how it has become difficult to build rapport in this virtual world. You can no longer walk up to someone’s cubicle have a quick word with them and sort out an issue. You cannot knock on the cabin door of your manager and share your perspective. You don’t bump into your colleagues near water coolers or cafeterias, have an informal chat and build rapport.
One of the key aspects of Leadership is the ability to build the trust with your stake holders. Half the battle is won when that rapport and trust is built with them. It is the rapport that you have built over the years, be it with your client, employees or even peers, that will come to your aid in crucial moments and increases your efficiency at work.
Virtual Rapport, the reality of today
In leadership development, we often stress the importance of listening, having a face-to-face interaction, studying body language, making eye contact etc. to understand the other person’s perspective better and show empathy. It doesn’t work anymore. A year ago, we didn’t think too much about rapport building as we had meals, happy hours, events, conferences and even site visits to ensure that it happened naturally. Now, how do we build this same rapport in a virtual world?
One interesting aspect also is that many employees today have joined their work places during the pandemic year after a virtual interview and virtual orientation. They have been working remotely from all parts of India like Patna, Pune, Chennai and even smaller cities like Salem, Kadapa, Darbhanga and Aurangabad. These are the employees who have not stepped foot into their workplace yet…so how do they even begin to build rapport? Concerns like how to have a good first impression without even meeting your managers, colleagues or other stakeholders bother them a lot.
How to build rapport virtually?
There are some people who seem to like this new virtual world; however, many others find it tiresome and want to get back to the pre-pandemic phase. With the second wave of COVID-19, we have no choice but to figure out how everything works virtually and rapport building is no exception.
I have effectively built rapport in my own career but largely through personal interactions and relationship building. When the pandemic hit last year and we went into the virtual mode, even I was worried if I will be able to build rapport with people. Of course, we are still learning to do this, but I am happy to say that I have been able to establish a positive connection with many people even during these virtual times. Here are some ways that I think rapport can be built virtually:
During my meetings especially during coaching, I insist that everyone keeps their camera on. Many people are shy at first, but videos tend to make the sessions more personal. Seeing people visually definitely helps build rapport. In your meeting invites itself, let all participants know your that video will be on and give them also clear instructions to keep theirs on. This saves the trouble of telling everyone when you login. While we cannot see all of their body language, we can certainly observe some expressions and reactions. When you hold a virtual meeting, even if the other person turns off the camera, make sure that you keep yours on. This is the first step in building trust.
With virtual meetings, people tend to jump right into the business talk. However, what helps, especially while talking to teams or even clients is a quick check on how things are going with everyone. If the others are not forthcoming, maybe you can start with talking about something interesting going on in your end. Showing you care can go a long way in building relationships.
There are a number of virtual backgrounds available these days, where people seem appear to be floating in a fake background. I am not at all a fan of that, I personally prefer natural backgrounds even if it’s a blank wall. Shows something about the participant, a level of authenticity. Of course, if you can afford an interesting, impressive genuine background, go for it!
Posture is very important during meetings. We may be at home, but it is important to sit in a professional position, not lying-in bed or slouched on a couch. This increases your will to pay attention as well. The right posture is to be upright and not slumping. Of course, you can be at ease but not look lazy.
Meetings are not a joke. We are trying to find solutions and collaborate, and it is important that there is as little disturbance as possible. With WFH, during meetings, I often see other family members walking around, people peeping in between and at times a lot of disturbance around. This is why we must pay extra attention to our environment. Try and find a quiet space in your own home even if you have to hide in the attic.
Use a Headset
This is one of the basics according to me and you will agree when I say that using a headset is better while attending meetings, not just for the sound quality but to cut outside noise. Some folks still don’t have a private space in their home and cannot avoid kids running around or elderly people talking on phones etc. This will certainly reduce distractions.
I have seen many people suddenly looking at their phones, checking emails or getting distracted by other things on their computer screen while talking to them. This is a big No No! It is important to respect the people who with you and therefore, we must consider a virtual meeting exactly the same way we do a face-to-face meeting.
My own style seems to have changed thanks to the virtual world. However, in the end, be yourself, be authentic and don’t be afraid to add some personality to your virtual self, rapport building will follow!