Why hybrid working means relationship building is more important than ever

If we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again – the last few years have not just revolutionised how we work, but also changed clients’ and employees’ expectations forever.

From working from home with team meetings and client workshops being held online to companies experimenting with shorter working weeks to see what impact it has on employee productivity, the pandemic has turned working life on its head. And most of us will agree it’s been for the better. No more protracted daily commutes; a better work-life balance, and of course the constant joy our pets (and children) bring when they decide to join us for the odd meeting.  Although, we could have done without the dead mouse the cat gifted us at a client meeting last week!

But the problem with hybrid working is it’s made us lazy. Why bother meeting up with people when you can do it online? Why bother picking up the phone when you can send a quick message via Slack? (Other messaging services are available!)

But when things are so fragmented, we would argue relationship building with both your own teams and clients is more important than ever. We take a look at why.

For great work you need camaraderie

While working remotely is great, we have to admit that during the pandemic we did miss bouncing ideas off each other or having those seemingly random conversations that spark something amazing. Maybe it’s because as a creative agency being surrounded by lots of creativity helps spark inspiration, or maybe it’s because we were missing that sense of camaraderie that comes when you’re all working together on a particular project. Somehow meeting a tight deadline and then simply closing down Teams isn’t the same as going out for a celebratory drink or two!

But we’ll be honest; it took us a while to realise that nurturing relationships within our own team was just as important as doing the same with our clients. It’s one of the reasons we moved to hybrid working. Not only does it ensure we’re all in the office at the same time a couple of days a week so we can catch-up with one another face-to-face, it also helps keep those creative juices in tip-top condition.

Building trust and respect can’t be done online

Okay, we might never have reached the Mad Men level of client relationship building with very long lunches and masses of alcohol (more’s the pity!), but meeting clients in person is very different to meeting them online.

For one thing there are fewer distractions. While unexpected interruptions from pets and children might be amusing, it can quickly get irritating if you’re trying to have a serious discussion. And does anyone else find the chat on online meetings really annoying, as isn’t it simply another way to interrupt the speaker?

In today’s hybrid working world, it’s easy to dismiss meeting people face-to-face.  After all, doing it online is easier, cheaper and saves oodles of time. But that doesn’t mean you should always do it. In fact, we would argue the opposite. Building long-term, fruitful relationships with clients is about building rapport, and that’s simply not achievable by never meeting one another.

Meeting someone in person enables you to pick up on nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions which helps with more robust and honest conversations. And this in turn allows you to build up a level of trust and respect. In fact, this study by Forbes Insight found 85% of people felt in-person meetings and conferences help build stronger, more meaningful business relationships.

This doesn’t mean every meeting has to be in person, but it should be factored into any client relationship if you truly want it to be worthwhile.

Don’t assume, really get to know

How many of us have received an email, blown a gasket, and then re-read it to realise it wasn’t as objectionable as we thought the first-time round?

One of the disadvantages of written communications is that it’s easy to misconstrue what’s actually meant; to add a tone of voice that simply wasn’t there; or to take umbrage at the use of ALL CAPITALS when the person simply forget to turn Caps Lock off!

But over the last few years, we’ve all been guilty of thinking seeing people in online meetings is enough to get to know them. But it isn’t. How people behave in meetings can be very different than in real life (especially if their boss is present!) and the disadvantage with online meetings is you never get a communal coffee or lunch break where you can decompress and chat about non-work related things. Instead, people simply turn off their videos and go and stroke the cat!

But it’s our ability to read too much into a completely innoxious phrase which is why taking the time to really get to know someone is so crucial. Whether that’s meeting in person, having a one-on-one phone call, or even having a virtual coffee which doesn’t involve talking about work, this all helps you understand what makes that person tick, so when you get ‘that’ email, you know it’s just them being them

Technology has changed the world we live in, but in many ways, it’s got in the way of us building relationships. Its ubiquity, ease of use (most of the time!) and ability to save time, money and effort has helped improve working life, but at the same time it has made us lazy. As great as it is, we must remember it is just a tool and will never replace the human touch.

Building relationships takes time and effort but is worth it in the long run.  Or think of it another way. If you do take the time to pick up the phone or meet up in person, not only will you be helping nurture your relationship, you’re also be much more likely to have a conversation about Big Brother, MAFS or whatever other reality show floats your boat!