Posted on: April 4, 2023
Author: Dr. Tricia Berry
Virtually Yours: Navigating eRelationships in a Virtual World image

We are hearing a lot about organizations transitioning into the “virtual world.” There is no doubt the pandemic changed the world of work for many of us.

I have worked virtually since late in 2006. For me, the work transitions around the pandemic were positive ones — suddenly, more people had joined the virtual boat I had already been in for a long time. I love working remotely, and the transitions have given me the opportunity to share the some of the insights I have gained after many years of working in and supervising a remote team. This will be the first of a two-part blog touching on some ideas for how to navigate virtual relationships.

We all must acknowledge that working remotely is different than working in a face-to-face environment.  People will often ask which is better, but I submit that neither one is better nor worse than the other; they are simply different. The sooner we acknowledge those differences, the sooner we can go about adapting our approach to meet the needs of the situation.

One of the biggest challenges with virtual relationships is a lack of common experience. When individuals are working from several locations at different times and across different cultures, there is little than binds them together. The greater the gap between people, the greater risk there is for a misunderstanding.  

Another big challenge in virtual relationships is trust. In face-to-face relationships, trust is typically built through a series of interactions over time, but trust is an odd thing in these relationships. The research shows us that individuals trust others more quickly in the virtual world.  Unfortunately, that kind of trust isn’t built on true knowledge of the other person, so relationships often lack the foundation that comes from sustained interactions and trust is easily lost.  

So how do we go about managing these challenges? We create common experiences that facilitate interactions between people and help to build a foundation for trust. Start with low level, low stakes tasks you know the people who are involved can be successful with. Success with one task creates a platform for a task of increased difficulty. As the tasks gradually build upon one another commonality and trust are being built.

Part of creating common experiences involves setting expectations.  Let’s say Susie and Sally are working together on a project. Susie’s expectation is for emails to be answered within one hour, but Sally’s expectation is for emails to be answered within two days. It is easy to see how conflict will occur. At the start of the project, the individual who is overseeing things would want to have a conversation with them to make sure they are both starting with the same expectation. The exact guideline does not matter if it is reasonable for the type of work being done. What does matter is that everyone in the group is aware of the guidelines. As a bonus, the act of have a conversation to set expectations The creates a common experience and can begin to lay the foundation for authentic trust.

For more information on Virtual Relationships, click here to launch the recording of Dr. Berry’s IACET Professional Development Webinar, “Virtual Relationships: The New Frontier.”

About the Author


Dr. Tricia Berry is the Associate Dean and Director of Clinical and Practicum Programs for Purdue University Global.   In that role she created the placement processes for PG’s School of Health Sciences when it was launched in 2006, and continues to manage placements for all Health Sciences and Graduate Psychology programs.  Trish holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Education with a Specialization in Organizational Leadership from Northcentral University, a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning from Kaplan University, and Bachelors’ degrees in both Occupational Therapy and Psychology from St. Ambrose University.  She is also a Certified Diversity and Inclusion Specialist through the Academy to Innovate HR.

Trish is a member of several professional associations, including the American Association of Adult and Continuing Education, Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, the International Leadership Association, the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education, and the American Association of Medical Assistants. She serves as the Director of AAACE’s Commission of Distance Learning and Teaching, is a member of the Consumer Advisory Board for the National Healthcareer Association, is a board member for the Central Iowa Chapter of the Purdue Alumni Association, and serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Continuing Higher Education.  She is also an active volunteer in her church and, as time allows other organizations within her community.

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