Why you should prioritise connecting with colleagues when working remotely

Thinking back on the last few weeks of working remotely, how often have you connected with your team members on a personal level? Maybe a casual convo here and there? Perhaps like many, you’ve slipped into the habit of only reaching out to delegate tasks and ask for a pointer on where to find that document you need.

Is it really all that bad? Well, we’d actually say that yes – you do need to prioritise those personal connections as much as work-based conversation when separated by distance.

In our Dealing with the Tough Stuff book we’ve got a whole chapter on communication in remote teams, and today we’re going to share a snippet of that with you. Scroll on down and let’s get to it.


Why you should prioritise personal connection with remote working colleagues

Each day we have numerous interactions with our colleagues, our team, our staff and our customers. Thinking about the types of interactions that you have with each of these groups, it’s worth considering what your ratio is between positive and negative interactions.

How many times do you give a positive comment as opposed to a negative comment?

Far too often when we’re separated by distance we default to transactional communication: When I want something, I ring. When you need something, you text. We’re both busy, so let’s not waste each other’s time with meaningless ‘chit-chat’ next time we’re on Zoom. Oh, and the teleconference… let’s stick to an incredibly tight agenda. As well meaning as it seems, this can become a problem.

While transactional communication also happens in both remote and co-located office environments, the chance of sociable communication occurring – asking how each other’s day is, checking in on wellbeing, having a laugh together – is much more likely in an office environment.

And while it seems trivial, this unintended sociability is an important factor for engendering trust and building functional relationships.

Transactional relationships in typical workplaces are more likely to favour critique – not necessarily belittlement or condescension, but constructive feedback for improved effort. Nonetheless, no matter how well intended the critique is, it’s still not reinforcement or reward, creating an unfavourable imbalance on the negative.


Say hello to the Losada ratio.

In 2005, psychologist Marcial Losada uncovered an important ratio that provides us with some interesting reflection. Studying a range of relationship dynamics, Losada discovered a minimal ratio of approximately 3:1 exists between the positive and negative human interactions required for relationships to flourish.

This means that if in your relationship you’re having fewer than three positive exchanges (such as reinforcement or praise) for every negative exchange (such as critique), you’re on the pathway to disfunction.

According to Losada, while 2.9013 is the minimal ratio required to lift teams and relationships above dysfunction, dysfunction also occurs when the ratio of positive to negative exceeds 11:1. In other words, when there is too much honey, people drown in it! It’s not simply the absence of reinforcement that can harm a relationship’s function, it’s also the absence of critique. Having the right balance is essential.

The optimal ratio used by high-performing teams sits between 5:1 and 6:1, wherein the majority of communication is positive in its delivery. Nevertheless, communication in high-performing teams still drives accountability and provides the necessary critical feedback.

Like all populist social theories, Losada’s work has and will be challenged, particularly around the validity of optimal ratios of positive to negative communication. However, at face value his model remains extremely useful for the manager leading remote employees.


So, what’s your ratio?

Now that you’ve learned about Losada’s ratio, it’s time to think back over your last week of work. Where is your ratio currently sitting? Better yet, grab a piece of paper and write down the names of all your direct reports and give an approximate positive-negative feedback ratio for each person.

Invariably, you’ll find the ratios are lower for direct reports with whom you are experiencing conflict. It’s imperative to create positive exchanges with your tough customers in order to reverse such relationships from descending into chronic dysfunction, which is extremely difficult to undo.

With staff that aren’t co-located, you may also see the ratios trending towards the skinny side. Make the effort to create a few more social exchanges rather than just the transactional connections, and look for wins you can celebrate virtually, today, rather than waiting for the quarterly team get together.


Did you find this fascinating? If you want to dig into the science of human behaviour further be sure to pick yourself up a copy of our best-selling book, Dealing with the Tough Stuff.