In May 2016 I hosted a workshop for managers of remote teams, who combine working remotely with a traveling lifestyle (so-called digital nomads), on the topic of “employee connection”. Although some thought otherwise, this workshop was not about tools or applications. It was not about tips and tricks to manage a remote team. It was not about communication.
This workshop was about the relation between freedom and connection.
Digital nomads are freedom lovers. Being free from the office. Being free to travel and work from anywhere. If you work from home, you have your local community for social connections. But if you travel, you disconnect, from your family and friends, from everything you know. You disconnect from the expectations of your family and social circle, from your habits and from your day-to-day routine.
But your remote teams are also human beings and as humans, we have a need to be connected. This is why co-working initiatives and workations, aimed at digital nomads, such as the Nomad Cruise where the workshop took place, are on the rise.
Therefor, I was very curious about exploring this relationship between freedom and connection with the managers that were on board of that cruise. I wanted to take my participants on a journey to explore the need to be connected to team members or peers while living a nomadic lifestyle.
The workshop: how to stay connected to your remote team while being on the road
The group of participants was perfect: a small group of 8 managers of remote teams, all who wanted to be more connected to their team members. They had very different backgrounds and different levels of connections with their teams. This allowed us to get different views on the topic based on the individual experiences.
To be connected or disconnected to your team, what does it mean
During the workshop, we explored several topics, including the following:
- What does employee connection mean to you?
- How managers experience and feel connection and disconnection
- How to cope when feeling disconnected
- How to create a sense of connection, if you do not feel connected to your team.
Finding the higher purpose brings connection
We also talked about how finding the purpose of your company enhances the sense of connection within the remote team. Trust is important to feel connected, and therefore there needs to be a high level of responsibility within the remote team. When experiencing disconnection the participants felt a sense of unhappiness.
Employee retention and social connections
Some managers shared how new employees leave after a couple of months because they don’t feel connected to the remote team. There were quite a few people in this group that did not feel that connected to their team. However, they had a desire to feel more connected. It was common for some to feel more connected to others in their co-working space or other remote workers (or digital nomads) than with their own teams.
In a remote team, connection is key
The workshop was about learning and exploring. Of course, I gave advice on the most important issues, but I learned a lot from this workshop myself as well. The top take-away from this workshop, was that connection is the most important thing. It is actually way more important than I thought it was.
I found it really concerning to understand that some of the managers in the group felt more connected to other digital nomads and remote workers, that to their own remote team. This is something you should not want if you are working in an innovative company – especially not tech or a start-up.
Maybe it is best described by one of the participants who told us:
how everything seems to be automatic when the remote team is connected. Everybody is aligned, and things are running smoothly. When there is a disconnection, problems arise.
Staying connected to your remote team: Important Tips
Here are the most important tips I gave in the workshop that will help you to connect your team:
1. Identify your inspiring mission
Make sure you identify and communicate your inspiring mission. This will create connection between the remote team members and it will motivate them.
2. Do a company retreat
Get together with your remote team at least once a year (if possible) for a company retreat. Focus on building a connection. Spend time strengthening culture and maybe even do some fun team-building activities!
3. Introduce your remote team to co-working spaces
Give your remote team a co-working pass or cover their expenses for co-working spaces. Not only will you promote connection, they will be more inspired and gain interesting contacts as well.
4. Create a great onboarding process for the remote team
To ensure your new employees feel connected to your remote team, you will have to create a great onboarding process. Make sure to give them an information overload, and if possible let them work with a more senior team member or manager for their first couple of weeks or a month.
5. share and involve to create a stronger remote team
Encourage sharing, bot about the work but also personal things. In my team; I ask what everybody is up to the weekend, and if I had good news I also share it. Also, encourage sharing success and challenges in the work and results.