Socially Distant and Connected: How to Maintain Professional Relationships in a Virtual Environment

As a company rooted in public relations, we know how crucial relationships are for your businesses and in your personal life. During the pandemic, we encountered a new chapter in the art of how to build and maintain relationships: staying connected when we can no longer see people in person (or at best, see people from a distance, while trying to figure out how to smile in mask).


Most of us can agree that interacting with each other has changed — now we connect over Zoom or FaceTime rather than at the office refrigerator or our favorite coffee shop. While businesses have innovated to keep people feeling connected, there still lingers a disconnect that physical distance created. The keys to overcoming this disconnect is to be purposeful and to have a firm understanding of what it is that sparks and maintains a connection in the first place.

At a recent Fearey staff meeting, we discussed ways in which we can improve in creating and maintaining our professional relationships, and we discussed advice from Dale Carnegie’s renowned book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Here are our favorite takeaways, and how we are putting it into practice amid our new normal:


  1. “Smile”

While video calls are certainly useful in bringing people together, they do not accurately capture the more subtle nonverbal communication cues that we rely on for about 93% of our communication. Therefore, it is extra important to make sure you are showing positive nonverbal cues when you can over video. Smiling is one of the easiest ways to do this because it clearly communicates the message that you are happy to see the person, and instantly makes them feel at ease.


  1. “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language”

Virtual meetings are filled with distractions. A person might be listening while simultaneously worrying about if their dog will start barking or if their package that requires a signature is about to arrive. Saying a person’s name helps brings their focus back to you, and it reassures them that you recognize them personally as a valuable member of your project.


  1. “Give honest, sincere appreciation”

A recent study by Gallup revealed that employees who do not work in person with their manager are significantly less likely to believe that people at work care about them. When we’re not working in the same location, we have to take an extra step to show our appreciation for each other.  We have found that Fearey’s greeting card program has become even more powerful than it was prior to the pandemic. Once a week, each member of our team mails a handwritten card to someone they know professionally or personally. Feedback has taught us this is an excellent and intimate way to show our appreciation to others. Within Fearey, we also have a message board dedicated to celebrating each other’s successes, which has been an effective way to keep us connected, encouraged and motivated!


  1. “Begin with praise and appreciation”

Have you ever gotten a text with a period instead of an exclamation point and thought the other person was mad? Communication over text and email can leave a bit too much room for interpretation, and many of us are likely to fill in the blanks with negativity or anxiety. We are all busy, and we often send a quick message to get a point across without considering how it may sound to the other person. At Fearey, we have started to be more conscious of this and make simple adjustments that make sure our point is being articulated with kindness. For example, try replacing “but” with “and” or try starting your message with “thank you for your time on this.”


  1. “Become genuinely interested in other people”

After a day full of meetings and long to-do lists, it’s easy to zone out of meetings and jump into multitasking on your second monitor. Choices like these may feel small, but they are quite impactful to the relationship you are forming (or not forming) with your colleagues. For many meetings, we aim to make the first five minutes a time to catch up, ask about weekend plans or compare our favorite lunch spots. With a little effort to ask these simple questions, we become closer, people feel appreciated, and we create meaningful connections that go beyond your inbox.


Socialization is not a natural part of our day like it used to be. It’s not surprising we all feel a bit disconnected. The bright side is that we are still able to find creative ways to bond authentically with one another, and in fact, those connections have the potential to carry even more meaning for people now.