My officemate calls long-distance romantic relationships a waste of time. Having been in one with my now-husband – that too, back in the pre-Facetime era - I’m a bit less of a skeptic. Perhaps as a testament to that glimmer of faith, I now work with a company that has me bonding with dozens of people I’ve never met over thousands of miles and several borders on a daily basis.
Though both experiences have forced me to build trust and loyalty over a telephone line, there’s one key difference: There’s no end date on my separation from my offshore colleagues. Most people in romantic long-distance relationships are working towards being together physically at some point in the future. I’m building a future with my colleagues at Prialto as well – just not one in the same city. That’s why laying a strong foundation for these relationships is important right from the start.
To build that foundation, I apply the same Relationship 101 lessons that drove my own romantic long-distance ride to success years ago.
1. Write love letters: People need to feel appreciated to feel supported. Take the time to recognize what your partner or your team is doing for you and call it out. The idea is not to be false, but to express with words what they may not be able to see through body language across long distances.
2. Don’t drunk dial: It’s partly endearing, but mostly misguided. You may love your girlfriend, but her tipsy rants at 4am tend to cause more anxiety and jealousy than warm fuzzy feelings. In the same way, don’t call your remote colleagues with unfiltered, unstructured ideas or feedback (unless it’s meant to be a brainstorming session). Think through your call before you make it. Communicate clearly. When you can’t be there to clear up confusion, don’t create it.
3. Send a postcard – We need context to understand our colleagues’ or our boyfriends’ foreign lives and work cultures. Back in the old days, I made frequent trips to the post office with hard copy photos and care packages to be mailed overseas. Today’s technology makes real-life face time nearly seamless. Not only can we send photos and videos in seconds, but we can live chat with each other to give people on the other end a sense of what it’s like on our end.
4. Pick a fight: What I really mean is be upfront and communicate often. Distance has a way of letting your mind run off on flights of fancy. Instead of panicking about what you think is going on, when you hear something you don’t like, communicate about it honestly and quickly. When they can’t see you, there’s no other way for your partner to know and respond to what you’re thinking.
5. Plan a virtual date night: Just because you’re apart doesn’t mean you can’t grab a movie or think through your company’s 10-year plan together. Take the time to get in an online “room” together and spend time bonding as a team. Join in the offshore holiday party via webcam.
As you can tell, trust, context and communication are key parts of any long-distance relationship strategy. Whether you’re working with your partner or your company, take the time to set your cadence and your priorities early on. Ultimately, that’s what a strong marriage – whether to your husband or your career – is built upon.