A Quick Guide to Building Rapport Remotely

Kama Kaczmarczyk

Senior Design Researcher

Katie Hill

Senior Design Researcher

female employee working on laptop remotely from home

Even as we enter our seventh full month of 100% remote work, we’re still learning new ways to work together to build better products. Where in-person interactions have a millennia of human history behind them, the rules for fully remote communities are still in their infancy, meaning it’s impossible for anyone to truly claim to have figured out a perfect solution. However, as we continue to work remotely at scale, we want to share some tips about what has worked for us in order to help everyone in the product community to continue teaching, learning, and ultimately, shaping an effective system of remote work.

What’s in the guide

Below is a checklist that we’ve designed at Connected to help us prepare for initial interactions with new clients, colleagues, or user research interviewees. Not every tip will be appropriate for every dynamic, so pick and choose based on how long you will be working with the other person ( an hour-long interview vs. daily standups for several months), how many other people are on the call (1:1 vs. many participants), and based on your own experiences and comfort.

General Tips

  • Practice your introduction or presentation in a mirror before the call to ensure you’re smiling and bringing positive energy.
  • Start a workshop or a large meeting with some music to set the stage and ease the participants into the session — it’s an experience and you’re the conductor!
  • Every time a new person joins the Zoom line/video call, acknowledge their presence and say their name out loud, or ask them to introduce themself.
  • Bring humour in healthy doses, but be mindful of the audience, timing, and your tone.
  • You may be on a call with people you know, but also people you don’t know. Either way, listening and reflecting back what you hear will help create a connection. Leaning into it active listening will enable you to cultivate a less intimidating vibe.
  • Consider checking the self-view from time to time to ensure your body language and facial expressions are communicating how you’re feeling. 
  • Don’t force people to be on video if they’re not comfortable, but you can use your housekeeping time off the top to communicate what you prefer for the meeting (e.g. “video on will be helpful because we are all meeting for the first time and are putting faces to names”).

Tips on building rapport with clients and stakeholders

  • Learn about your stakeholder before the call. Check out their LinkedIn page or other social media to learn something about them. Mention something about their experience or interests to show your interest in them.
  • Think about channels other than video calls for building a connection. For example, share thought-provoking articles on Slack or through email. Discussing the relevant points in shared resources can be a great conversation starter for follow-up calls.

Tips on building rapport with interviewees

  • Practice active listening. Avoid interrupting, pay attention to body language to pick up on non-verbal and emotional cues, and summarize and repeat back what you have heard.
  • Don’t overwhelm! Be mindful of how many people join the call and who’s in the background taking notes. Some participants get intimidated when they know someone is watching with their camera off.

Tips on building rapport with teammates

Choose 1-2 of the following interactive activities to incorporate into your team rituals:

  • Think about ways to bring laughter with your team during the stand up — ask someone to bring a joke each day. Share a daily fun fact that is relevant to the problem space you’re working in. 
  • Ask everyone a random question that helps you learn about each other at kickoff or stand ups – focus on positive things like hobbies, highlights, or favourites in a given category (e.g. desserts, places to travel) while potentially identifying common interests. 
  • Add a stretching routine into your stand ups. As each person shares their update, they demonstrate a stretch that everyone then follows along while they speak. 
  • Create a quick dance routine inspired by TikTok to kick off your weekly meetings.
  • Ask everyone on the team to have a new themed virtual background (e.g. a still from your favourite movie, your favourite dish at a restaurant) for weekly meetings. You can play a guessing game about where the picture comes from. Sharing why you selected the background is a great way to get to know each other personally.
  • For Monday meetings, ask everyone to share a picture from the weekend and talk a little bit about it.

Always learning

Remote work, like all person-to-person dynamics, requires a constant conversation. As people change, their needs change, and therefore, the solutions need to change too. We created this guide with a cross-disciplinary group of Product Thinkers at Connected to contribute to the growing set of solutions designed to help each other and our clients to negotiate the different dynamics of remote conversations. As the world around us changes at a frenetic pace, we’re finding lasting benefit in slowing down and focusing on better conversations as a key part of delivering on our promise to build better products.

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