During the pandemic, companies with teams that needed to fill roles have mostly had one option: hire and onboard remotely. Some companies took that opportunity to open their geographic parameters and hire new employees who didn’t live close enough to commute to the office when it reopened. And others made shifts to their policies so that employees could work from home full or part time.
With so much remote onboarding happening, it can be hard to forge a solid relationship with a new boss. A recent PwC study found that roughly a third of employees say that onboarding and coaching new employees are worse than before the pandemic. And a recent poll by business consulting firm West Monroe found that remote onboarding is their second-biggest challenge right now. (Burnout is No. 1.)
It’s also a challenge for employees who want to build strong bonds, especially with the bosses who can be such important forces in their careers. After all, how can this person see your strengths and potential—not to mention advocate for you—if they don’t really know who you are or how you work?
It’s possible, says Lisette Sutherland, coauthor of Work Together Anywhere: A Handbook on Working Remotely Successfully and founder of Collaboration Superpowers, a consultancy that helps teams work together by providing resources and workshops for remote working. But because some of the natural moments of learning and bonding aren’t possible now, you’ve got to be more intentional about building that relationship. Here are five places to start:
“Connection happens when we pay attention to each other,” Sutherland says. One of the best things you can do to foster bonds with your new boss is to watch how they work and what they prioritize. This information-gathering exercise is immersive when you’re in the office together but may require more effort when you’re working remotely. Notice the content of messages to the team and your supervisor’s comments in remote meetings. What is that person working on? How are their days structured? Understanding what’s important to them can help you align your work to support those priorities, Sutherland says.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions, says Mellissa Smith, a remote work consultant and author of Hire the Right Virtual Assistant. One thing to avoid: prefacing those questions with negatives such as “I don’t want to bother you, but . . . ” Instead, share your interest in the work and ask about what you don’t understand. And check in periodically to find out how you can help or what is expected of you.
“At the root of all, you know, disappointment is unmet expectations,” Smith says. So, it’s important to ask about what is expected of you and how your boss thinks of “success” in your role. “I think sometimes people are afraid to ask that question. But in reality, when the other person has to share the expectations, often, they might share something that puts you at ease.”
Use the building blocks of trust
Establishing trust is essential to turn your boss from your supervisor into your champion. Sutherland says there are three key building blocks of that trust in the workplace:
- Reliability: They know that you’ll do the job, on time and as expected
- Consistency: They know what to expect from you
- Responsiveness: You don’t leave them hanging
When you develop a reputation for having these three traits, people are more comfortable relying on you for important matters, she adds.
Advocate for yourself
Working remotely successfully often requires you to speak up for yourself more, Smith says. (Sutherland calls this “working out loud.”) Speak up in meetings. Share information related to your work that you think will be helpful to others. Explain what you’re working on and what you’re accomplishing in team meetings and huddles. Point out when project segments are finished, especially when that helps the work of other team members.
“You have to be your best advocate for your boundaries and for your work, when it’s not getting noticed, and how you’re feeling heard because companies actually do want to notice these things. But they have a lot of people that they have to notice them for,” she says. And it doesn’t hurt to share your own career goals, too.
At the same time, establish work boundaries, especially when you’re working from home. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overworking. And while spending long hours at the desk is often praised, what your boss and coworkers really want is predictability, Smith says. You can be reliable and consistent without always being at your desk, she says.
Find ways to connect
If your boss isn’t actively seeking out one-on-one meetings with you or your team members, try organizing them yourself, says career coach Jill Tipograph, cofounder of Early-Stage Careers. It may seem like everyone is tired of virtual coffee meetings, but they can be useful in building relationships. Join your video chats a few minutes early and use that time to chat. And participate in ice-breakers if your team uses them to start meetings. Opening up a bit about who you are will help others better understand you, she says.
Building trust and connection can be more difficult when you’ve never been in the same room with your boss and coworkers. But, by being thoughtful and inquisitive and building trust, you can foster the strong relationships that can be so important to your career.