Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

How to build stronger stakeholder relationships remotely

For business leaders, effectively managing remote teams starts with an understanding and a commitment toward building healthy relationships for all stakeholders. You are not a team because you work together. You are a team because you trust, respect, and care for each other.

Coronavirus: Remote working brings its fair share of challenges for businesses

"Relationship builders...try to help other people first. They don't keep score. They're aware that many good deeds get reciprocated, but they're not calculated about it. And they think about their relationships all the time, not just when they need something." -- Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, venture capitalist and author of The Start-Up of You.

How do you enable a high performing remote workforce in uncertain times by building stronger and more committed relationships? You are not a team because you work together. You are a team because you trust, respect, and care for each other. All healthy relationships are based on mutuality of value and growth. 

Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force, and I have co-authored several articles on how you can reach your full potential and deliver peak performance while working from home. The path towards achieving high-performance work at home starts with how you design and architect your surroundings, followed by how you practice and refine the art and science of public speaking and presentation skills. 

The next most important success factor for work is how you manage your time -- pause, ponder and prioritize your time. Now, as a manager, the awesome privilege of managing a remote team requires a new playbook and mindset that can guide your team's collective ability to reach their full potential. Effectively managing your remote teams requires a new mindset and behaviors. Managing remote teams starts with developing healthy relationships and accelerates growth, commitment, loyalty, and advocacy for all stakeholders. 

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Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force.

"Just before the #COVID-19 era I was traveling most of the time," recalls Corey Snow, director of Higher Ed and Industry Solutions at Salesforce. "I thrived on fostering what my friend, Saul Kaplan, from the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) calls 'Random Collisions with Unusual Suspects' (RCUS). But with the sudden advent of #ShelterInPlace, I have had to re-calibrate the nature of everything I once valued: community-sourced innovation, customer enablement, storytelling, interconnectedness, being present with purpose. All that, plus losing what was so recently the very simple human act of having meaningful in-person conversations, exchanging hugs, and (of course) celebrating others with selfies!" Corey, like many of us, quickly discovered there's a reason why people endure hassle and expense to gather face-to-face. 

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Corey Snow, director of Higher Ed and Industry Solutions at Salesforce.

While there's no way to replace the experience of being physically present, the great news is you can deepen your existing relationships and nurture emerging ones while maintaining a safe distance using these strategies.

1. Prioritize Connection: Do you remember the old saying, "You have time what you make time for?" Holly Marksberry, senior manager of Industry Go-To-Market Acceleration at Salesforce agrees.  "The most actionable tip is to block time on your calendar specifically to build and to maintain relationships," she advises. "It's a small step that reminds me to devote time and energy consistently to build and to maintain my network. If it's on my calendar, I'll do it." Building relationships takes focus and effort. Focus is not about doing less; focus is about doing more of what matters most. Building meaningful and long-lasting relationships should be a priority for all. 

2. Invite personal conversation:  Visual and verbal cues make personal conversation easier. "Virtual backgrounds, like my beloved Star Trek one, are awesome icebreakers," suggests Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight. "Also, have an icebreaker question at the ready to start the meeting. The silver lining from shelter-in-place is the standing invitation to start meetings and conversations differently." The best conversationalists are also the best listeners. When you are listening with the intent to learn, showing empathy, and demonstrating your intent to be of value and to be helpful.  

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Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight.


3. Master the Art of Small Talk: Transform small talk into big connection by painting possible hobbies with broader brush strokes. "I subscribe to MastersClass, which is an endless supply of 15+ minute videos on every topic (i.e. cooking, travel, photography, interior design, etc.,) taught by the very best in those fields -- like Chef Gordon Ramsay and Photographer Annie Leibovitz," coaches Renae Johnson, VP of OEM's at Logicalis. "The classes are a great way to tap into new passions and to strengthen relationships authentically. Nothing sparks an animated conversation quite like, 'You like to cook? Well, I never mentioned this before, but I actually attended culinary school in Boston....virtually."

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Renae Johnson, VP of OEM's at Logicalis.


"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." -- Peter Drucker

4. Schedule Hallway Conversations on Purpose: "Most of the magic of face-to-face interaction happens around the edges of formal meetings," reminds Corey Snow. "Imagine an empty hallway, then imagine who you wish you could collide with, and schedule a 15-minute collision!"

"In business, it's about people. It's about relationships." -- Kathy Ireland

5. Connect "Off Cycle":  When I phoned a colleague last week absent my regular calendar prompt, she responded, "Thanks for calling me off-cycle."  How do you make a connection more than a regular meeting?  "The No. 1 tip I can give you for continuing relationships is reach out just because you were thinking of someone," shares Madison Gunter, supplier diversity and sustainability lead at Salesforce. "People love to get a no-agenda text, email, or voicemail saying 'You crossed my mind, and I wanted to reach out to you to see how you're doing today'."

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Madison Gunter III, Supplier Diversity & Sustainability Lead at Salesforce


"Money is the currency of transactions. Trust is the currency of interactions." -- @rachelbotsman

6. Activate Shared Purpose: "So many of us are focused on our families and settling into our new normal. We're all worried about staying healthy and well, which means we share that sense of purpose universally," says John Moses, SVP of Channels at Cisco. "Our team has united around the cause of helping everyone around us stay healthy. We've sent gift cards and meals to healthcare workers as well as care packages to people who are living alone. We've also hosted virtual storytime, theme parties, karaoke, and name that tune for each other's kids. That experience builds relationships like none other."

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." -- George Bernard Shaw 

7. Be of Service:  "Above all, remember that networking is, and always has been, about giving," concludes Corey Snow. "If you are inspired by the work that someone is doing, instead of asking for something from them, think about how you might catalyze their mission or amplify their voice. All gifts come first from giving. Giving is the most selfish thing one can do."

 "The goal is to provide inspiring information that moves people to action." -- Guy Kawasaki

Networking and collaborating remotely is about giving. The best relationship builders are givers. They provide information to educate, inspire, and ignite positive action. And they do this without expecting anything from anyone. In a distributed world, mostly connected via digital channels for the near future, the ability to listen for opportunities to add value for others is how to build long-lasting relationships. Trust is the most important core value for building healthy relationships. Trust is a combination of competence (capability + reliability) and character (integrity + benevolence). Ultimately, good intentions are fuel for building and sustaining great relationships.  Shift your mindset from "What's in it for me," to "What's in it for us?"

What are you discovering as you work from home? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.


This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.