Building trust with a virtual team (as a nomad)

I’ve worked remotely now for most of my career, and as a nomad for the past two years. I’m currently working with a UK based start up, 18 months old. Though I’ve been working with this start up for 12 months now, I’ve been part of the ‘core team’ for 6. That’s also when I started my travels to Australia, Indonesia and China.

Before I started traveling, I had been working remotely from one location for five months and on a specific project. My team was completely virtual, in that time we had an in person kickoff meeting once, when the project started.

Now, six months later, staying with a crewmate (that’s what we call each other) in the UK, trust and resilience have been on my mind. In April my presence was requested in the UK. I could understand that. While I was in theory ‘building the business’ in addition to my project work, in reality, I was on the other side of the world trying to have meetings and build client relationships with no experience and no support. Not surprisingly, the business building became less of a priority for me. When asked what kind of support I needed, I wasn’t sure how to respond, this being my first foray into the start-up world. What could I ask for? How could I be sure it would be provided? What is reasonable? I think now that the support I wanted and didn’t know how to ask for, articulate, was what I had in my project work: a cohesive team.

Feedback from crewmates about that time is that I faded in and out of focus. In and out of view. What I had expected was the same kind of structure, same kind of coworking that my project work supplied, so I didn’t have to be constantly in touch and online, so I could have a flexible schedule. From my perspective, I was on the hunt for wifi every day. I was constantly challenged not to work, as everyone around me was on holiday. My most productive times were when I shared living space with other people who were working.

Since I came to the UK, we, as a team, have had a few milestones that seem to have paved the way to a more effective virtual team. This is certainly my own objective since I don’t plan to stop my nomad experiments. It is the way of the future. However, we have to figure out how, as teams and as individuals. There is a learning curve, for everyone, in order to make this work. Part of this is to learn how to communicate, tell stories about our own lived experiences in order to be better teams.

One Comment on “Building trust with a virtual team (as a nomad)

  1. I really like this. What I particularly appreciate is the honesty. Your comment ‘When asked what kind of support I needed, I wasn’t sure how to respond, …’ speaks to me of how people come to get to know each other (which of course has different qualities when done virtually). It reminds me of what Pierre Bourdieu refers to as ‘misrecognistion’ ie that of being slightly out of step as we get to know each other. But this is really important as we only ever do get to know each other by ‘rubbing up’ one another. I also like the fact that you point to the fact that in ‘doing stuff’ relationships form, building trust is not theoretical, it can only be done in practice.


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