We’ve all done it. You're sitting there, chatting online with someone, and you fire off a quick sarcastic joke complete with a smiley face. It’s a joke that's worked a thousand times. 

And yet this time it upsets the other person. They weren’t in a great mood and they saw the comment as a jibe.


In person you would have picked-up on the signals that now wasn’t a good time for sarcasm. Or maybe the person would have seen your face and known that you were simply clueless, not mean. Even failing that, delivering a quick apology would have left no doubt as to its sincerity or reception.

The better you know someone, the less of a problem this is because there's a level of trust, knowledge and understanding underlying every interaction. 

A strong baseline of in-person encounters, maintained through highly interactive communications, is key to promoting effective collaboration in any environment.

Hi, My Name Is …

The first step in building a strong working relationship with anyone is getting to know them. In person. 

In traditional organizations, this occurs through the many little interactions that make-up daily life in an office. Lunches, cups of coffee and the occasional office event after work builds trust between colleagues in a healthy organization.

When people work remotely or in a dispersed organization, that foundation is not so easily built. Management needs to work to make happen. If that means flying everyone to the same location three to four times a year to work and play together, then so be it.

Without those meetings to build trust — and the basic knowledge of what kind of people are at the organization — disconnects happen. And disconnects damage the ability to get things done.

Rich Interactions Keep Things Going

The scenario above? It might not happen if video chat is being used. While not all body language is conveyed, facial expressions carry through and prevent the worst of the miscommunications. 

So why don’t people use it more often?

It's inconvenient.

One of the joys of working from home is not having to get dressed-up. Sweatshirts and pajamas are the uniform de jour. My favorite bonus: wearing a hat trumps dealing with hair. Without fail, my hair is a mess in the morning. It sticks up, sideways, reverse — just about any direction but its intended direction. Sure, it gets fixed when I take a shower, but that happens after my midday workout.

People constantly complain about the need to look semi-professional on video calls. Ignore the complaints. Because meetings are more productive and effective with video. You can see when someone wants to contribute to the conversation without resorting to interrupting the current speaker.

Was getting a little more dressed, and wearing something different every day, more inconvenient than the previously bohemian style of work before video calls? Of course it was. It was also a reminder that we were actually working and had to keep other people in mind. Being able to see each other, and making sure that everyone was focused on the meeting, benefited collaboration in many ways. 

And the next time we all got together for our quarterly in-person meeting we would note how strange it was to talk without a dog barking or my Auburn hat on my head.

All About Breaking Down Borders

People always talk about collaborating without borders. The first step is breaking down those imaginary borders and bringing people together. Once people know each other, keeping that familiarity strong through richer communications, off-topic discussions and acknowledgement that we are all in this together, keeps those borders down.

Even so, those borders can build back up. Constant effort is needed to maintain the trust that was built. Regular meetings are important — no matter how busy things get. Everyone may be incredibly busy in Q4, but if you don’t take the time to reinforce the trust and knock down the barriers to collaboration, the next Q4 might be too slow.

And in today’s business world, slow can quickly decline to obsolescence.