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Well ok, technically there is, but not when it comes to running a business – you might be a sole trader, solopreneur, or freelancer – this doesn’t mean you work in isolation. Increasingly, business structures and roles are becoming more fluid, people have more than one line of accountability and smaller businesses regularly work with individuals and teams they don’t directly employ.

It is this last group I most want to talk about. Connection is key to human existence and this includes in our work lives. There is plenty of emerging research (Seppla 2012) that shows emotional well-being, physical health and life satisfaction are all enhanced by strong social connection. So how do you first identify who is really in your team, and second, ensure you create strong social connections within your team – especially if you work remotely from each other.

If you are a small business with no direct employees it’s likely your team will vary in size and membership depending on what you are working on. There are likely to be a few consistent people though, and they might not be that obvious. In the context of connection – and not being a one man band – your team includes anyone who impacts your business, your decision making and who has influence over what happens with your business, and yes, I’d include family members, friends, clients and mentors in this group; as well as your accountant, people you outsource to, use as freelancers or work as a freelancer for. All of these people can impact on how your business performs and how you feel about work.  For all of you who said you work for yourself so that you don’t have to manage people – I’m sorry. You may not have to line manage, but we all manage the people around us to some degree.

This more fluid management comes down to basic human connection, how you show up, how clear you are about what you need and how prepared you are to listen to what others need. Human connection is mostly about belonging, an innate survival strategy for many species including humans. To maintain connection, people often strive to fit in at the expense of really belonging, this in turn causes internal incongruences, dissatisfaction and even stress. If you are wondering what the difference is, fitting in is where you moderate your behaviour and attitudes to be accepted as part of a group and belonging is where you feel accepted for being who you already are. The sort of connection that enhances wellbeing – and business success, is one where members feel they belong, are accepted for who they are and can contribute without fear of personal rejection, (even if that specific contribution is rejected)

How do you make this happen?

There are four key influences on effective social connection:

  1. Work with the right people – it can be very tempting to just pick people you like, people who are like you or people who won’t question you too much. This is not your dream team! Work with people who share your values, believe in your goal, and who have different skills to you. These people will challenge and question, not to be difficult, but because the outcome matters to them too, they belong on the mission.
  2. Clarity – there are many clarities needed when it comes to working with others, especially if you are working remotely. The most important is that everyone involved understands the mission, the stakes and their role in it. It is also important you know your team members on a personal level. I don’t mean you have to be down the pub or in each other’s houses every five minutes, but you do need to know about each other. You need to be clear about what motivates them, what is going on for them, what makes them vulnerable and what allows them to flourish. Social time is important for connection even when you are remote, do things like having a coffee break together over video calls, meet up face to face from time to time if possible. Most of us under communicate – this this can be disastrous for clarity, especially remote and fluid teams, it can be very easy to feel disconnected or out of the loop. As the ‘manager’ it’s your role to ensure people stay included and connected.
  3. Use technology to enhance connection – I’ve mentioned video conferencing above – if you work remotely it is one of your best friends, even if people feel a little wary to begin with. It is the next best thing to face to face as far as connection goes – most humans have a visual preference when it comes to communication. They feel better able to understand, to empathise and to stay safe when they can see the other person or people. There are many other tools for project management, messaging, tracking customer journeys all of which help your business stay more connected. The important thing here is that you pick a couple or three things, ensure all involved know how to use them and what is expected of them, then use them consistently.
  4. Accountability – sounds like a no brainer, but it’s amazing how often things are just left in the ether in the hope someone will deliver on the task. Setting expectations for your virtual team is important. It creates clarity, it gives people freedom to act. Most freelancers, service professionals and remote workers chose that path for similar reasons, one of which is freedom over micro management. Clear expectation works both ways, it also enables you to keep people on track and on time.

None of us can run our businesses without other people – whether they are our clients, our families supporting us or actual team members. It is worth putting in the effort up front to create genuine social connection with the people involved in your business. When they belong, they are bought into your mission, there is a level of mutual respect that enables all parties to show up, contribute their best and even mess up occasionally. These are the people who will go the extra mile if needed, who will have your back and who will stay connected even in tough times. It’s on you to build these teams and create connection.

If you want a practice, or feel like you may need a bit of social connection yourself, join Braver Business the Facebook community for business owners, creatives and entrepreneurs who are brave enough to show up and do what that believe in.