A 2017 survey from employee engagement software maker TINYPulse shows remote workers are happier, but they want the same privacy and space as other talent that works in a traditional office environment. Without that privacy or space, remote staff may go elsewhere.

With such a tight talent market, you don't want to lose a strong employee. That's why it's important to thoughtfully build a relationship with remote talent even though you may never meet in person.

Even in an office, it can be tricky to build rapport without crossing a line or asking questions that may seem too personal. Since communication with remote staff may only consist of Skype or Slack messages, phone calls or video conferences, it may seem more difficult to develop a connection.

Here's how you can build remote relationships in a way that's comfortable for everyone.

Avoid asking too many personal questions.

While you want show personal interest in your remote workers, there should be a clear line between personal and professional lives. Some people prefer not to talk about their spouses, children, or even weekend plans.

However, if remote workers bring up personal details, feel free to acknowledge that information. That insight can help you better understand their motivation and work style. To build rapport, recognize this other part of their life without prying during future conversations.

Don't add each other on social media.

Just as with asking too many personal questions, being connected on sites like Facebook or Instagram may feel like an intrusion to remote talent. What they share on their profiles can include pictures, activities, and opinions that may be vastly different than yours, and these discrepancies could damage a working relationship.

For instance, since remote staff have such flexible schedules, they may post a picture that shows them at lunch with friends or at an afternoon match for their child's sports team. Your first thought may be, "They should be working."

In reality, they may have never missed a deadline and are some of your most productive employees. Following their every move on social media may cause you to forget just how talented and dedicated they've been.

Try adding each other on a professional network like LinkedIn. This helps build a more formal relationship by focusing on networking, content sharing, and work-related tasks.

Avoid hot-button topics like politics and religion.

It's been said politics and religion should be avoided at social functions. I've found it's also best to keep these subjects off the table with your remote employees.  

That means opinions about politics should be kept to yourself, no matter how strongly you feel. Discussing religion can be just as intrusive because of vastly contrasting values and belief systems. The last thing you want to do is offend an employee, remote or not.

In my case, I err on the side of completely avoiding these topics with remote staff. I focus on more general conversation topics like hobbies, travel, movies, or music.

Show consideration for remote-staff work hours and personal time.

While it's acceptable to send emails about work-related projects during off-hours, it's not a good idea to continually contact them outside of regular work hours. doing so shows little regard for work-life balance or their need to recharge outside of the context of work.

Pay attention to those "green" and "red" lights on platforms like Slack and other messaging channels. If the light indicates they're unavailable, don't try to engage them in conversation.

Next, create an agreement or schedule with each worker that shows their availability so those boundaries are clearly defined. Of course, if you have an agreement where they are always available, then you can expect a response within a reasonable time.

If they don't answer immediately during work hours, don't continually ping them. They may be involved in an important matter that requires their attention. You want to strike a delicate balance, as good communication can improve the working relationship for both parties.

Find the right spot.

Although each remote worker is different, these general approaches to long-distance professional relationships can ensure you don't make them feel uncomfortable. In the process, you'll get to know them better and build trust.   

Published on: May 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.