Fanning the flame: how to beat the distance in professional relationships

Like most property management and development companies, HCA is built on long-distance relationships. Not only is our company itself split between California and Utah, but our SoCal portfolio alone stretches from Coachella to Bakersfield, a distance of about 250 miles. Here in resident services, we spend most of our days engaged in emails and phone calls with program instructors, property managers and other colleagues and partner representatives that live and work some- where within that radius and quite possibly even farther. Were it not for consciously scheduled meetings and functions, we might never run into them at our offices or en route to our favorite local lunch spot.

With technology advancing at the speed of light, outsourcing and long-distance relationships are be- coming common — if not standard — bedfellows of the average professional. Furthermore, whether you’re a nonprofit in affordable housing or a luxury hotel business, the facts remain the same: isolation and disconnection can quickly beget dispiritedness, inefficiency and higher turnover amongst the ranks. In short, your ability to make the most of your long-distance work relationships directly impacts your growth and bottom line. Thus we arrive at the burning question…

What practices can you incorporate into your work routine to maintain and improve those longer-distance relationships?

1. Treat to a meal or snack.

This is my top-rated piece of advice on the matter because it is the only one that absolutely must be done in-person and that can support an extended face-to-face exchange. Driving can be a tiring activity and a lot of people might argue that two hours of driving for a one-hour meal might not be worth it. After years of traveling to and from our Woodland Hills office to distant properties however, I can’t tell you how appreciative and valued it makes staff feel. Concerned about meal expenses? Swap a meal for a morning or afternoon coffee break at $3 a head. Can’t justify the time to your boss? Try hooking on another work duty with your visit; for example, I always schedule my snack/meal treats right before or after a class that we need to photograph for promotional materials. In the end, it’s about the gesture, not the extravagance of your treat; it really is the thought that counts.

2. Share photos & videos.

The advent of camera phones significantly increased the ease and importance of image-sharing in contemporary society. When I finished prepping boxes full of scholarship materials for mailing last week, I was able to upload a phone pic of the finished product to our Facebook page in less than a minute. If your “treat” (see above tip) involves taking photos as mine frequently do, or if your conversation was about a tangible task or product, try to shoot over a photo or video update to your long-distance colleague. It’s a great way to show her/him that you are prioritizing that task while being inclusive in the process.

3. Send a handwritten card

Nothing says, “I’m thinking of you from our office 100 miles away,” like a handwritten card. Email and the Internet are becoming such standard methods of communication, that a touch ‘o’ the quill to paper is increasingly meaningful. Perhaps you want to send something to the tune of “thanks for hosting my visit” or “great catching up with you.” There’s no need to limit yourself to post-visit etiquette either. It’s never a bad time to express heartfelt appreciation; in fact, people tend to treasure out-of-the-blue gratitude even more. Mention great work to supervisors: Like many paper and service-driven industries, housing can often be one of “no news is good news.” While a handwritten card is a great way to buck the norm and give your long-distance colleague the warm and fuzzies, a mention of great co- operation and collaboration to her/his supervisor can also go a long way. Perhaps your praise gets passed back down, now fortified by supervisory validation. Maybe it comes up at the annual review as a bullet point underneath a potential raise. Either way, making the extra effort to pay back what’s due can really help set the tone for a long and prosperous working relation- ship, despite any distance.

What is the key to your long-distance relationships at work? How are you adapting to this trend?

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