What Makes A Great Long-​Distance Teammate?

BY Jessica Helinski
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Are you a long-​distance teammate? It’s very like that you are (at least one day a week). 45% of full-​time U.S. employees worked from home either all (25%) or part of the time (20%), according to Gallup’s September 2021 poll.

While you’ve likely read about how to navigate the new world of remote meetings, virtual networking and staying productive, have you considered remote’s impact on being part of a team? Being a valuable and reliable part of a sales team is just as important now that you aren’t always in-​person with your team. What can you do to be a "great" teammate in today’s work environment?

That’s the topic of a new book by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, The Long-​Distance Teammate, and on his blog, Skip Prichard devotes time to discuss the book and the concept of what makes a quality long-​distance teammate. He chats with the two authors to glean even more insights and help sellers navigate the teamwork aspect of remote work.

Long-​distance teammate: What makes a great one?

The authors believe that the basic factors that make a good in-​person teammate are the same for making a long-​distance one. First, they must care about the work being done—by everyone. They shouldn’t hyper-​focus on their own tasks and goals but rather have concern for the entire team’s productivity and efforts. This is important when working remotely, as being physically alone can cause reps to limit their focus to just themselves.

They also offer support and assistance to fellow team members, both in response for requests and proactively. They rely on emotional intelligence to uncover if a team member needs support, and they don’t hesitate to offer it, as well as empathy, to them.

Finally, great teammates, both remote and in-​person, help their teams move forward. They are easy to work with and have a clear understanding of team process and expectations.

Now, under the scope of remote work, these good-​teammate attributes include a bit more. “Being remote requires two important distinctions,” Prichard explains. “First, all work, interactions and communication happen through technology, so teammates must be comfortable, and confident in using those tools. Second, they must be more mindful and proactive in building relationships and communicating our ideas since they aren’t sitting in the same room or seeing each other in the hallways.”

Recognize long-​distance challenges

As it turns out, both in-​person and remote good teammates share the same attributes. So, the authors encourage reps to focus on the challenges of remote teamwork to guide their remote behavior. “What’s profoundly different is how we get the work done,” they say.

Teammates must self-motivate

One must be much more self-​motivated when working outside of an office environment. That pressure, and social energy, aren’t present when working remotely. As the authors point out, “When we work in the office, our routines are set and our brains know when it’s ‘work time,’ and when it’s not. When where we work, play with the kids, and relax is in the same location or on the same device, it’s hard to switch gears and our ability to focus on only one thing (whether work or personal) suffers.” 

Good long-​distance teammates keep themselves on track and productive.

Proactively engage with the team

Another challenge to tackle is the lack of in-​person engagement. While in the office, it’s easier to converse with other team members, engage with them and reinforce connections. “In the office, we have constant opportunities to cross paths with people by accident or proximity that lead to all kinds of productive conversations,” Eikenberry and Turmel say. “[But] when working remotely, very little happens by accident, and we need to be proactive in reaching out, and mindful of how transactional our communication is when we are working together.”

And don’t limit interactions only to work-​related discussion. Reach out to ask how a teammate’s weekend was or ask if they’ve seen a popular show or movie. Wish them a happy birthday on the special day and check in to simply inquire how they’re doing. These little touch points matter a lot and solidify connections when teams must work apart. “The more frequently we interact, the easier it is to build up a database of information, feelings, and opinions about that person,” they explain. “These things happen naturally when we’re co-​located, we just need to make sure they happen when we are apart.”

Great long-​distance teammates recognize these unique challenges to remote selling and adapt their behavior and processes. By acknowledging the similarities and differences of remote and in-​person work, team members position themselves and their team for success—no matter where everyone is located.

Photo by Metro Creative Graphics