We’ve all heard the commonplace adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” We’ve all also heard about the importance of building relationships at work. This is all easy to say, but what’s under-discussed is how one does any of this, especially when juggling our day jobs is already enough of a struggle. Remote work only makes relationship building more challenging.
In fact, when I interviewed over 500 professionals for my book, The Unspoken Rules, the topic of how to build relationships remotely was one of the most commonly cited anxieties, especially among professionals starting new jobs remotely. How do you break into a preexisting clique when you’re the only one others haven’t met in-person? How do you break the ice at all without being a nuisance?
Luckily, there are ways to build not just relationships, but allies—and none of them involve making small talk about the weather. Here are seven options to try:
Did a certain coworker’s hard work, good ideas, or helping hand make a certain outcome possible?
If so, try dropping a few courteous lines. For instance, insert into your next group chat or team email that include, “shout-out to X for” or “a special thanks to X for X.”
Getting recognized at work can boost mood, temporarily, and is akin to receiving a “like” on social media. Hence, we may humbly deny we don’t need it, but we all secretly want it and appreciate it when we get it.
Did a coworker make an error in their work or presentation? If so, don’t call them out in a public arena but send them a casual reminder that will help them improve in the future.
For instance, try alerting them one-on-one, sending a message or email like, “you may have caught this already, but I wanted to let you know that X.”
It’s a subtle but effective way to show that you care about their success, as well as demonstrate you aren’t a know-it-all who’s out to make anyone look bad.
Do you know the answer to a question a coworker was just put on the spot about—but is struggling to answer? If so, try slipping them the answer over a private chat window.
Though the group won’t know that the answer came from you, the person you helped will know—and will likely remember.
Did you learn something that a coworker might benefit from knowing? If so, try emailing or messaging them with a message like, “FYI—I just came across this and thought you might be interested given X.” Another option to use could be, “I recently heard X and wasn’t sure if you were looped in.”
There’s a good chance they don’t know what you know and will appreciate you looking out for them.
Did the group just ignore someone’s good comment or forget the source of a certain brilliant idea? If so, try dropping a “to so-and-so’s point earlier” or a “love this idea, so-and-so!” to gently remind others of your coworker’s thoughtfulness. You are not only giving credit where credit is rightfully due, but you’re also showing your willingness to build others up.
Did you just meet someone who might benefit from a conversation with someone in your network, or vice versa? If so, try saying, “do you know so-and-so? They’re also interested in X. Let me know if you’d like an intro and I can see if they’re available.”
You’re not only helping others achieve their goals—especially when both sides could benefit from knowing each other—but you’re also positioning yourself as an influential connector and enabler within your network.
Did someone offer any of the above to you? If so, try reaching out with a quick “thanks for your help earlier! I really appreciate it. Let me know if I can ever be of any help to you as well.”
You’re making others feel good, giving others assurance that their good deeds will not go unrecognized, and, in turn, increasing the odds of others wanting to help you again.
In the end, building allies at work doesn’t need to be an elaborate operation. It doesn’t even require blocking off time in your calendar. It’s nothing more than being helpful and having others’ backs. If you make this a habit and you won’t even need to seek out allies; your allies will come to you.
Gorick Ng is The Wall Street Journal-bestselling author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right. He is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students and professionals. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group and is a researcher with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School.