Belonging and the challenge of remote-working (live from the British Museum)

Work doesn’t only happen at somewhere called work.

Many millions more people now work in remote or dispersed teams, hardly ever sharing an office together.

Today, with a bit of time for deep-thinking and writing, I’m experiencing one of the belonging challenges we help companies with:

How to connect people working independently.

Here’s my office this morning…

and the view from my office…

Sitting writing at the British Museum – home to the symbols of belonging across thousands of years of human history – reminds me how important it is to nurture a sense of belonging in the 21st Century.

Keeping in touch is easy. But, as a colleague reminded me the other day

“As you build more people around you in the team, how will you build your own sense of belonging?”

We’ve seen some great examples of companies whose teams work across territory, disciplines and time zones. Technology is a great friend – all kinds of groovy ways to link up and chat.

What we’ve learned is the importance – still – of face-to-face contact. For many companies, the weekly catch-up has become a ritual of belonging.

As one tech-based company shared with me recently:

“We just use Skype or Google hangout, and find a time slot that we can all work around. It makes so much difference to see people, have a bit of that informal chat, as much as the organised stuff.

We don’t over-agenda it. We cover what we need and have a chance to talk as colleagues.”

And investing in proper meet-ups has proved well worth-it. For ustwo, a global digital product studio that started in Shoreditch and now has offices in New York, Malmo and Sydney, the annual get-together is a must-have.

“It’s absolutely vital that we meet up at least once a year. ALL of us. It’s a really special time. All these great people from different places.

It’s intense. We talk a bit about the business, we do all kinds of activities together, we hang-out, we laugh.

And then, in the busyness of our projects together, when we pick up the phone or Skype, it’s all so much easier.”

So I’m sitting (in the British Museum Members’ Room, now that rain has stopped outdoor writing), reflecting on the benefits of being more connected – people here from all corners of the globe, wielding phones and iPads, linking up all kinds of conversations, sharing inspiration, making possibilities happen.

But as families gleefully grab their selfie sticks, rather than ask a stranger to take a quick photo, I wonder: is human kind in danger of become so cellular that we lose the art of nurturing communities?

As much as technology transforms our facility to connect, let’s hang on to our human ability to do it well.

Creating a sense of belonging sounds simple but the challenges can be complex.

We help make it easy.