How We Build Meaningful Connections With Our Remote Team
August 14, 2018

How We Build Meaningful Connections With Our Remote Team

by Brian de Haaff

“A deep sense of belonging.” This is how one Aha! teammate recently described working here. Her statement made me proud. That sense of belonging is something we work hard to achieve — even as our 80-person team continues to rapidly grow. It is gratifying to know that our hard work is leading to team spirit and gratitude. But it is even more gratifying to watch what it looks and sounds like. See for yourself.

Consider how remarkable this is — Aha! is an entirely remote company with people in 22 U.S. states and five countries. We are located all over the world and are still meaningfully connected.

We filmed this video at our last company onsite in Vail, Colorado. What is an onsite, you ask? It is our all-company meeting. We hold these events twice a year in a travel destination location. (Many of you would call this an offsite — but since we already work offsite, we call them onsites.)

The first onsite was just one day long. It took place in December 2014, when Aha! was a year and a half old. Our second onsite was in May of 2015 in Lake Tahoe, California, and we extended it to nearly a week.

We knew that as much as we believe in the benefits of remote work, we needed to get everyone together in person a few times a year — to celebrate our achievements, plan for the goals ahead, and bond as a team. We always look forward to the next onsite.

Of course, planning has become more complicated as the team has grown. But the fundamental purpose and agenda remains. We look back at the last six months, plan for what is ahead, sit down for delicious meals together, and also give back to the communities we visit.

The bonds we create during onsites are strong — but our meaningful connections do not come from the onsites alone. We consciously work to develop these relationships throughout the year.

Deep connections come when exceptional people with shared values work together towards the same goals.

Our team at Aha! follows a set of principles we pioneered and named The Responsive Method (TRM). This approach is centered around the belief that interactions with urgency move people and organizations forward. TRM guides us, but it takes the right kind of people to make it happen.

We hire highly skilled people who work exceptionally hard, are committed to ongoing learning, and are kind. Then we communicate a clear vision, set goals, and create opportunities for teammates to connect.

If you are curious about what this means in practice, here are the core focus areas that we invest in to promote real achievement and grow team camaraderie:

Be transparent
We share the annual operating plan with everyone and support a culture of continuous feedback. We also hold weekly company-wide video meetings, where teammates share updates and can ask questions.

Encourage curiosity
We create opportunities for people to learn about each other. This does not have to be strictly work-related either. For example, we organize virtual hangouts every month so people can talk about whatever they like in an unstructured format.

Teach freely
We give every new person a comprehensive onboarding experience (a minimum of five weeks) to learn the product and the company. We have frameworks that guide our work and offer teaching sessions that allow people to share expertise.

Celebrate often
We recognize every single team member’s contributions in meaningful and heartfelt ways. We do this by sharing what we call “hatitude.” We also make an effort to acknowledge major milestones. For example, at our weekly company meetings, teammates who are celebrating a work anniversary share a favorite memory from the past year.

Everyone presents
We read a book as a company twice a year and everyone gets to present how it impacted them. This gives every person in the company the stage for a few minutes. The answers tend to be thought-provoking, personal, and always leave us understanding our teammates a little bit better.

Vary groups
During the onsites, we schedule cross-functional dinners and activities because most people typically spend the majority of their time working with people on their own team. Whether it is a group dinner or a volunteer outing, we do our best to make the groups varied.

Keep experimenting
The six tactics above are just the beginning. We try new team-building programs and measure the success of the ones we have in place. After every onsite, we take a survey to find out what the team loved and what they did not. We take that feedback and look for ways to keep improving.

The depth of our team’s relationships — and how well we work together — will continue to be the greatest driver of our success.

The challenge is to maintain this closeness as Aha! rapidly grows. And I can tell you that our passionate, hard-working team is up for the challenge. Because that deep sense of belonging is what we all really want at work.

How do you connect with people at work?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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