Empathy is key here.
To build a relationship, to make a connection, you need to be empathetic with your team members. You need to be a person, not just the boss; try to build a rapport and easy conversation with them. When you speak to them, ask about them and their lives, particularly if they are working from home.
In a time when we’re seeing fewer people on a daily basis, it can be really nice to have a bit of a chat, and to reflect on where we’re at and what’s going on for us. It’s important to not just talk about work. Ask about their kids, ask about where they’ve been, their garden, what they’re listening to, what they’re watching. All those sorts of things can help to build relationships and get to know somebody better and this will make it easier to communicate with them on a long term.
Only a small conversation is necessary, but try to make it often, as if there are long gaps between communication, it’s actually much harder to then build that rapport. So aim for shorter, more regular conversations, or at least contact, even if it isn’t by the spoken word.
I would always aim to keep yourself up to speed with what they’re doing, but also keep them up to speed with what you’re doing. Make sure it is a two-way process. This will help everyone to feel part of a coherent team. At the end of the call you could also write a follow up email, especially if there have been actions or deadlines agreed upon. Something along the lines of ‘great to talk to you, this is where I think we’re at, here’s what I’m looking forward to seeing from you and when,’ etc. This will make sure that you have heard each other and an understanding has been reached. Furthermore, let the team member end the call to finish the meeting. This will ensure that they have communicated everything they needed to, and that they haven’t lost the chance to ask something because they were struggling to articulate it or waited too long. Let them take as long as they need. As a leader, you may need to prompt them and ask if there is anything else, but still make sure they are the ones to end the call.