The “New Normal”: Creating Meaningful Business Relationships During COVID-19

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen collaboration tools like video conferencing solutions as a way to maintain relationships between actual in-person meetings. These virtual touchpoints were useful in keeping up with colleagues and clients, but I’m sure we all agree that they’re never replacements for the “real thing”. However, with the likelihood of the COVID-19 pandemic extending into the fall and even into next year, many businesses have continued to shelter in place and have forgone physical meetings. The once second-best method of communicating has now become our sole lifeline to our professional and personal relationships.

In our “new reality”, the question often comes up: “How do we create and maintain genuine relationships through video?”. At Atypical Digital, we were ahead of the curve in many ways. We have made it a point long before COVID-19 to bridge the digital divide and not be afraid to turn our cameras on conference calls. And although we have office space where we come together, the talent on our roster extends beyond state lines and even international borders. So we felt we have cracked the code on creating a unity with not only our clients but with each other despite being socially distant.

Can You Create Meaningful Relationships Online?

Yes! We have to get rid of the notion that because you’re not meeting someone in person that you can’t connect on a real level. Even prior to COVID-19, we relied heavily on VOIP calls and video conferencing to connect to remote workers. Of course, being together in a single workspace is ideal, but with many companies open to sourcing talent from remote locations, it’s just not feasible to always get everyone under the same roof.

I thought our ability to connect as a team would suffer due to the stay at home restrictions. However, that was simply not the case. Personally, I felt that all of us have strengthened our relationships. All of us are accessible through a quick instant message or by hopping on a quick video chat. The bulk of our conversations are about client-related matters, but there’s a fair amount of water cooler talk and general catching up that takes place as well.

Light’s, Camera, Action!

One of the important factors about working in a purely digital workspace is video chatting. Video creates a more personable interaction than text or voice-based communication. It may not be the most comfortable experience for those who are camera shy. You have to care for your appearance more. Also, with everyone working from, people are a lot more self-conscious about how their home looks especially if they don’t have a home office. However, the benefits of creating a better connection to those we are talking to far outweigh the initial uncomfortableness when going on video.

At Atypical Digital, we make a point to go on camera any chance we get. We always go on camera when talking to each other internally. It makes us more engaged in the conversation than if we were just talking voice-to-voice.

We also make sure we’re always on video when conferencing with our clients or prospective clients (even if the client chooses not to). It’s important to us for our clients to be able to see us and put a face to the voice on the other side of the line. It also signals to our clients that we’re fully engaged and present in the conversation. Our clients may opt to not go on camera which is okay. But, when they do, it’s a great benefit to us to be able to see who we’re talking to. It reinforces the idea that we’re not just working for a faceless company, brand, or product – we’re helping real people.

Collaboration and Breaking Down Silos

The hardest part of this “new normal” is collaboration. In an office setting, this is accomplished very easily whether it’s sitting down at the table to hash out a strategy or tapping someone on the shoulder for help. But when you’re working remotely it feels like you’re exclusively on your own. This is one of the biggest challenges for businesses where working together is a necessity rather than a luxury. However, just because we’re separated geographically, doesn’t mean that we all have to work in silos.

That tap of the shoulder to get someone’s attention or scooting a chair next to a colleague to look at something on a single screen can still happen in the COVID era. Here at Atypical, it’s not uncommon for us to hop on a quick call or screen share to bring people together to converge on a single task or to solve a problem. Sometimes these are planned meetings, but on many occasions, these are impromptu collaborations. Sometimes it’s just easier to hop on a quick video call to bring minds together to get something done quickly. There are times when an internal conversation turns into client touchpoints and we invite them to join a conversation we’re having about their project or campaign. It’s this ability to be flexible where we have some of our best conversations and the source of many great ideas.

What Works Best

Having positive and collaborative experience with people remotely while avoiding the common pitfalls associated with it. Here are some tips to make the best of it:

  • Be Responsive – Likewise, it’s always good to respond as soon as you can. You don’t need to immediately respond to every single message that comes in, but it’s good to not leave people hanging for hours or even days. The sooner you respond, it’ll put everyone at ease around you and shows you’re being attentive.

  • Be Proactive – Understand that you may need to be the one to initiate conversation. Also, it’s generally good to keep everyone in the loop on current projects you’re working on and also sharing personally what’s going on in your life.

  • Be Understanding – In times like this, empathy goes a long way. For some of us in this new reality, the main challenge is fighting off boredom and staving off cabin fever. For others, there may be significant challenges relating to family, health, or even financial situation. It’s always good to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand how they are doing. Setting aside some time to talk about personal challenges can go a long way in deepening trust and relationships.

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