Ditte is a 3-times Refuga participant, who is always very liked by the other participants for her smiles and her (extreme) energy level. Ditte is a very young CEO in a very conservative industry. She runs KFS Boligbyg, a construction company in Denmark that builds houses. The company has 60 employees and she took over the company from her father just in the middle of the financial crisis and had to do a turn-around.
Ditte is really not the type who tries to fit in, she is the type who stays true to her values and live after those more than after what other thinks is right or wrong. In the construction industry, working remotely some of the time isn’t normal at all. Still, Ditte values traveling and besides Refuga trips, she travels a lot. Right now she is visiting me (founder of Refuga and my girlfriend) here in Malaysia. We’re working remotely, going on small adventures and just having a good time.
I wanted to use the chance, to ask her a few questions and share them with you here. Ditte is super inspiring and has an extremely proactive mindset, that represents the kind of people who normally go on Refuga trips, really well.
Here is a small conversation with Ditte, where she shares her thoughts on working remotely, the value of traveling, overcoming big challenges, why it helps her being active and her tips for building great relationships.
Without further ado:
3 years ago you joined our very first trip to Kilimanjaro. How did you find out about Refuga and how was that trip?
It was a weekend afternoon. Actually, I had a bit of a hangover after a Christmas party with the company. My ex and I had talked about Kilimanjaro and at that time, I had a boyfriend who is not really the adventure-type. It’s very seldom I surf around online, but that day I saw a post on LinkedIn from my old classmate, Steffen, about the Kilimanjaro trip with Refuga. I had a look and it didn’t take me many minutes before I had made up my mind. It has been a bit messy for me in life and maybe that’s also one of the explanations why I made my choice. Since I’m not a big sports person, it was also a little challenge in that way, which I liked too.
The trip… this is more difficult to describe in words. Steffen was the only person I knew on the trip, and we hadn’t talked for approximately ten years. The experience was unforgettable and I learned so much. Several of the participants have become close friends and I made more decisions in those 7 days than I normally do in half a year. Maybe it tells something about my normal level, but anyway.. 🙂 one thing I really liked was being together with a group of new people – Everyone was new to the group and everybody shared what was good and what was bad in life. Many deep and meaningful conversations took place that week.
You’re a young woman who is a CEO in a very conservative industry and you’re leading people much older than you. What has been the biggest challenges for you over the years?
This is difficult because there has been many. But… the biggest has been – and still is – getting my brain and my body to accept that I don’t have enough time to make a difference for as many people (colleagues, customers, friends, and family) as I wish I could. I love people and it makes me happy making a difference. I have that gift and challenge, that I can feel people. I say to myself that I have to let things go – while taking care of myself first, is still difficult. But I feel thankful. A lot actually! Having so many clever, passionate and high-performance people around.
Ditte on Kilimanjaro with Paul, who is always one of the guides on our Kili trips. Kilimanjaro was Ditte’s first Refuga trip.
When you took over the company it was just in the middle of the latest global financial crisis, which was very tough for all construction companies. You’ve since then made a huge turnaround. What did you learn from that?
That must be that happiness is not about doing great or bad in business. There is nothing like a crisis that can get people together and remind us about what’s really important. I’ve also learned that it’s impossible to have time to get everything done. You have to focus on what’s important and accept that you have to let other things go.
We know you as a person who loves being active, doing sports and small adventures. What does being active like that give you as a person and what can you use from that in your work?
Doing something else and being active is where and when the good ideas come to me. I call it time for reflection. It’s a time where I’m not online. It can be difficult always to make the best priorities and sport and adventures help me a lot. I also love people and their different stories. Those I get when I make small adventures. Meeting people. Inspiration is also an important point. And taking care of the body and mind is more important than all the company work. Actually, I have often reflected, that to go for a run was better than working, because afterward the work is done quicker and better. So it is a win-win. Another thing is, that my brain gets so many ideas all the time and sports is a way to get tired physically and controlling my brain.
You’re trying to combine your work with traveling. You’re a lot away from the office but still manage to get a lot of work done. What challenges comes with running a company with a lot of employees and working out of the office?
Actually, I am more productive when I’m not in the office. For me, it is necessary because of my own balance and I know that my own well-being is important for the company too 😉 It is also my job to create and develop the company strategy, and that happens when I am not doing everyday tasks. It is interesting to think about, that I can do over 80% of my normal job from distance. All the stuff is on the computer today. My experience is also, that my colleagues make good decisions themselves when I’m not there to answer questions the whole time. My biggest challenge with working remotely like that is that I need to think less about what everyone else thinks about it. Not a lot of people in my industry thinks like this, so a lot of people think it’s a bit strange.
Ditte is currently in Malaysia visiting us. We we’re invited to visit Openminds, an agency, where the 3 founders has signed up for a future Refuga trip. Ditte did a small talk for all 30 employees about her story.
When you’re working away from the office like you’re doing now in Malaysia, what does that give you?
It gives me time, where I can decide for myself what’s important. And I can get a lot of work done because there are not other obligations and everyday-stuff that I need to take care of. I can do a lot of sports and that helps me focus and stay sharp. Also, the warm weather is also good for my body, and being together with good and inspiring people gives you something you can’t buy for money. It’s a good way to do some more deep work and get to the bottom of some projects, email etc. When traveling my brain just naturally starts thinking differently and that always gives me some ideas for the company and our strategy. It’s very difficult to measure these things in value. Also, when being away I’m not only thinking about the strategy for the company, but it’s also a good break and setting to think more about my own life strategy.
Can you give a few tips for people who are running companies with a lot of employees on how to travel more?
Just take one small step at a time. Teach yourself be productive both when you are home and when you are out. You really have to be aware of your time and how you spend it, but that takes practice. Another thing that works well for me is talking about it. As mentioned, traveling and being away from the office is very strange in my industry, which is quite conservative, but talking about it and explaining to friends, family, and colleagues, why I do it and what it gives me, really helps a lot. If you’re too concerned about what other people think about you working remotely, it will limit your freedom, so you have to let go somehow.
You’ve been on 3 Refuga trips now. Can you tell us a bit about the people you have met and the relationships that have come from the trips?
I now have a network of passionate people who love that combination of work, deep discussions and adventures, which I’m totally in love in. I try to contribute to the community by inviting people to my home for small work weekends, which I’ve had 3 times now. I have had people from Refuga trips from multiple countries visit me in the northern part of Denmark.
There is no doubt that you’re a person who is great at building relationships with a lot of people. Can you give us some tips to getting a bigger and better network, both professionally and personally?
Be helpful – never fake it. Try to find people who share your own values for life – those relationships can last for many years.
You’ve been through a lot of difficult times, a big turnaround of the company, stress and a divorce. Still you’re one of the happiest people we know. What do you think is important to be happy?
It’s the way you look at things. Many people feel that thay have no choice and they build up a lot of mental blocks – but we always have a choice.
You can find more information about KFS Boligbyg here, on LinkedIn and in this article (in danish)./
Refuga trips are always a bit intense in the way, that it’s a small group together for a short period in a remote place. It’s a setup we’ve found works best because the group gets to know each other fast, and thereby share more faster.
All groups have their own dynamics. On many trips, we have had people from 10 different countries, people who are spread out in age (we’ve had people age 16-63 join the trips) and of course people who work in very different fields. It’s difficult to define a persona or the typical Refuga participants. It’s much more about mindset, which can be a bit more difficult to explain.
When you put a group of strangers together in a remote place and you have that experience a few times, you start to notice small things about how people interact and what sparks good and deep conversations.
In this post, I want to share a few of the things I’ve noticed about good conversation skills, from my experience with traveling with over 500 entrepreneurs.
Don’t fight back when you asked about feedback
One of the things we do a lot on Refuga trips is to give each other feedback on projects and ideas. On some trips we do it in a facilitated manner and in other trips (like our adventure trips), it’s more casual and part of a conversation. Being with people doing completely different things is a great opportunity to get some valuable feedback and insights, that otherwise would have been difficult to get.
It’s a bit of a cliche, but the quote “everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change”, is kind of true. It’s very normal that people ask for feedback, but when they get it they quickly react with why that specific advice is good, but not possible to execute.
To be fair, getting feedback is difficult. You know your business the best and here you get advice, where you think that in theory, it’s a good idea, but you know how difficult it will be to actually do it.
The challenge is, that responding to feedback limits the feedback and even more importantly the openness and quality of the feedback. What we try to encourage people to do, is that when they get feedback, you should present your challenge and then just note ALL the feedback you can. Saying no is a no-go. This open ups the feedback much more and people starting digging deeper. You might not be able to use big parts of it in reality, but this is what is needed to get really deep. Spend the time noting the feedback instead of finding reasons why a specific advice is not possible.
Your tone and body language is the biggest part of your communication
One thing is what you say, another thing is how you say it. Your tone and body language is a very big part of how good a conversation will get. Saying the exactly same words, your body language and tone can make the person you’re talking to feel very different.
It’s an important thing to just be aware of because often it’s something we don’t give that much thought and it can limit the quality of our conversations. Sometimes, something that’s just natural for a person, like having the arms over cross, can send a wrong signal.
Having an open body language, keeping eye contact and changing your tone during conversations are all things that can improve a conversation. It will be more obvious that you’re interested. Of course, this is not a tool to act interested, but something you can use, to be better at showing that you’re actually interested.
If it’s more obvious that you’re interested, the other person will feel more comfortable, probably like you more and share more with you.
Research shows that we humans like people who we think are like our self. You can use your tone and body language to follow the vibe of the person you’re talking with to and use the same tone and body language and the other person will be more likely to like you and open up to you.
Don’t practice persuasion and techniques too much
As mentioned above my suggestion is that you use it to improve your conversations, not to fake your interest. This leads to my next point.
There are so many self-help books out there trying to learn you have to persuade and get what you want when communicating with other people. While it’s great to try to improve and get better, it can get to obvious that you’re using different methods and strategies. If it’s too extreme, it’s obvious that you’re not sincere and honest, but just trained.
Having real, deep and meaningful conversations are much more likely to happen if you have practiced how to have good conversations and are naturally interested.
When you disagree, don’t change the energy of the conversation
Many good conversations, where you learn something is based on some kind of disagreement or at least different point of views. Having such a conversation is a great opportunity to learn.
Often in a conversation where the other part comes with an argument you don’t agree on, it’s very easy to cross your arms and say “No, I really don’t believe that!”. Changing the tone and body language when you have some kind of disagreement / different opinions changed the energy of the conversation and is likely to lock the debate. The result will be that no one really learns anything.
Instead, try to follow the energy and ask about deeper arguments in an interested, open tone. This makes the discussion much more positive and creates a good vibe, where different opinion is a good thing.
Broad interests helps you have better conversations
In my own humble opinion, we have some pretty interesting participants. Our participants are always pretty proactive and interested in a variety of things. One thing I’ve noticed, and this is maybe a simple thing, is that people with broad interests normally have way, way deeper conversations.
If you’re good at doing business, but that’s your whole life and your only interest, then that limits the topics where you can have a good conversation.
Not just talking about one topic with someone, makes your connection even deeper and can expand a relation to another person from just professional to also personal.
I think this is a trade you see in many entrepreneurs actually. Entrepreneurs are often very curious and interested in a lot of stuff. That’s where their ideas come from. When talking about broad interests, it can be anything. I’m not meaning that you have a hobby where you’re an expert, but if you’re in general just interested in different things, what happens around you, the world and maybe most important; just learning new stuff, then it will be much easier for you to start conversations with someone else and make those conversations good.
There is always something you have in common and that can be where the conversation starts
It’s very easy to think you don’t have anything in common with someone else and then not get involved in a conversation. It’s pretty normal to consider if starting a conversation – or for that sake, starting a relation – is worth it or not – because you’re thinking that you don’t have anything in common anyway.
In my experience the vast majority of people have things in common, that could create the foundation for some kind of relation. Often when you feel you don’t have anything in common, it’s just because you haven’t dug deep enough.
It’s a bit of a cliche, but talking about the weather is a great example. It’s something that’s so easy to use as a conversation starter because we’re all experiencing it. There is nothing wrong with talking about the weather, just use as a subject to kick off a conversation that can lead anywhere.
Ask for advice or insights – It’s a great conversation starter
Everyone likes to be considered as knowledgeable and as someone people would like advice from. Asking for advice is also a great conversation starter, and it’s something where you start off by actually giving credit to the other person, which can set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
We see this quite a lot on our trips. It’s natural that you haven’t talked with all the other participants in the first day or two, but you know everyone from the presentations etc. Starting a conversation is very easy if you ask about advice or insights. If you know a person knows something about a specific area, you can ask about that or it can be asking about insights into his or hers life, country, and work.
The above both shows respect and in interest in the other person and that’s a great way to start a conversation.
The 30-day conversation challenge
Being able to have great conversations is an art form and something you can practice. It’s something we take for given, but just being aware of trying to start and have great conversations will lead you to better conversations, meeting more people and create better relationships.
But how do you train to be a better conversationalist? Well, one fun idea could be to do a 30-day conversation challenge where you have to have a conversation with a stranger every day for 30 days. Not just hi and goodbye, but an actual conversation over some minutes.
This will both challenge you to find people to have conversations with, improve how you start a conversation and lead to you being better at asking, listening and having a conversation.
The great part here is that you will be forced to kickstart a conversation and that will slowly make it easier for you. It will become natural to talk to strangers. For some, this challenge will be easy because it’s already natural for you, but for most, it’s really difficult.
I’ve struggled with this challenge myself and have yet to reach 30 days straight. It’s not easy, but an excellent way of learning! My experience is that for me at least, it’s very difficult to start conversations with complete strangers, so I’ve started out with the most natural situations, like talking with Uber drivers.
I hope you can use some of these pointers to create better conversations yourself. Let’s finish up with a quote, that actually says it all very precisely:
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”
This post was sponsored by our friends at Åderbråcksklinikerna.
At Refuga we don’t have a fixed office or fixed team. Instead, everything is done remote and we work a lot with freelancers, some permanently and some more on a project basis.
This works super well for us for several reasons. First of all, our participants are spread out globally, so you can say that we compete globally, so it doesn’t make sense to limit us to only hire locally. Second, a project like Refuga has a high expense level. Executing our trips is expensive, and that’s where the vast majority of our revenue goes to. This means that hiring on more flexible terms and hiring for specific tasks is a super good fit.
Since I personally started working with freelancer and working with people across the globe, I’ve really grown even more positive about remote work. I wrote an earlier post, about how remote work can change the world for the better. I truly believe that. One of the reasons is meeting and working with Jackiya Tiliareng.
Jackiya and I met on Upwork.com, where I was looking for a virtual assistant to help with some admin work. Jackiya worked with this for quite a long time, where we just discussed work and didn’t really talk much more than that. Then I wanted to try to create a trip to Kenya and since Jackiya is from Kenya and living there I asked for a bit of help with research.
She was extremely proactive about the task. Without me even suggesting it, she had traveled quite a bit on a weekend to do research, paid for her own travel there. I was of course positively surprised and thanked her a lot. After a while, we wanted to go to Kenya to do some more research, so my girlfriend and I went there for a week, meeting up Jackiya and that was a great experience. Jackiya showed us around, helped us do research and we got a small idea about her life.
For us, it obviously a perfect match for the tasks we have in Kenya. But it was also a good reminder of how remote online work can create opportunities that we take for granted in the Western part of the World. Jackiya has worked with a range of clients over the last few years, making it her full-time job, supporting her daughter. It’s a great story in a country where there is a lot of poor people (Nairobi has the biggest slum in Eastern Africa for example).
Remote work has been Jackiay’s way to take charge of her own life and create opportunities for herself and thereby a better life. I asked Jackiya a few questions about her life, her advice on creating work online and her tips for what to see in Kenya:
Tell us a bit about yourself Jackiya?
I grew up in Uasin Gishu County and attended boarding school in all my high school years. I live in Eldoret and I am a graduate in Tourism Management from the School of Business and Economics, Moi University Eldoret. I am a mother of one beautiful girl called Talia and I am a full-time freelancer focusing on Customer Service and Travel Planning. I’m very passionate about Wildlife and Environment and was one of the reasons I majored in Tourism.
How did you get started with doing online work?
Started taking online work seriously in April 2014. I had just received my first payment from a research job I had done for an agency and I immediately bought a laptop. At this time I had no job and I thought it is time, I fully focus on applying for jobs and see what comes out of it. After about three weeks of applying,
After about three weeks of applying, I landed the first job and you can imagine my excitement. I was to deliver the task the third day after I was awarded the job. Being my first job, I really needed to impress the client and deliver accurate work within the timeline that was stipulated. I got 5-star rating from the client and now I was getting more interviews from the jobs I was applying for. When I started, my idea was to work part time as I would look for a really good paying job in Nairobi. I really didn’t know working virtually was actually the job I will be doing full-time 2 years down the line.
What did you do before you started working online?
I worked part time for a company called System Check doing sales and marketing online for computers, laptops, flash disks and hard drives. I was being paid on commission for every customer that I brought in.
How does a normal day look for you?
I wake up at around 6:30 am to prepare my daughter to school, thereafter on my computer I check my emails for 2 hours max at this point they are literally like averagely over 40 unattended emails. After that I do a few exercises in the house, I sit a lot so I find it very relaxing and good for my back to stretch a bit. For the next 5 hrs of so, I am learning a few things on YouTube and running a few errands in town if I need to. I take a short nap in the afternoon and at 6 pm again for the next hours 6 hours I am at work and I start it over again the next day. On weekends, I go out for movies and spend time with my family.
Can you tell us a bit about the work you have done for Refuga?
For Refuga, I started working on admin work. Months later, Refuga was planning to bring the team to its first trip to Kenya and that is when I was asked to help organize the trip. Organizing a safari trip, a talk with local athletes and a trip to a local school and talking to local entrepreneurs.
We visited Kenya last year. Can you tell our readers a bit about the days we spent together?
When Nikolaj first told me he will be visiting Kenya briefly with his girlfriend Michelle, I was excited to finally meet them. Having worked online for over a few months without meeting face to face, I was a bit nervous but that changed the second we met in Nairobi for Dinner. We talked a lot about what Refuga does, his vision and about the trip to Iten for Refuga participants. I got to learn that Michelle is also working with clients online and generally talked about my life in Nairobi and challenges working online. We enjoyed an African dinner and we meet again in Eldoret on Tuesday. The next afternoon we met with an athlete, Ben Chebet, and his colleagues and after that, I showed them my old university in Eldoret.
I often tell people about you, because I both love to work with people across borders and our partnership is a good example of that. But also, because you really impressed me, when you were the woman behind planning our whole trip to Kenya and meeting up with professional runners. Can you tell us a bit about how you got in contact with the runners and got that arranged?
Most of the athletes live within the greater home of Uasin Gishu County and some train around the University of Eldoret. I meet two athletes through a relative of mine and got to know them briefly. Months later I helped one of them organize accommodation in Nairobi for some of his friends who were escorting him to the airport when he was leaving for an event trip to Italy.
Most of the athletes train and hang out together so when you know one of them, it is very likely to meet other professional athletes as well.
Do you have any recommendations or tips for other people who want to create their own job online, just as you have done?
There is no magic or shortcuts working online. You need to understand how the system works, how employers run their business and you have to be willing to continue learning every day. One important thing that I think comes with online work is being patient, I didn’t sleep well when I started applying for jobs and I almost gave up. You should not give up, sometimes it is really hard to keep up because there is a lot of competition from other freelancers who have had years of experience but you have to keep going.
Just like any other job, it is demanding, needs a lot of commitment and expectations are very high. Working virtually is not as easy as it sounds. One must be professional at all times, deliver before deadlines, meet the goals set and be honest. There are a few sites like www.upwork.com that I high recommend and one can actually make good money doing jobs that best suits their skills. All you need is working laptop, reliable internet and a good attitude behind that laptop.
What are your dreams looking a bit out in the future, both in life and your work?
For the foreseeable future, I plan on starting my own virtual assistant company and take on 3 or 4 really committed people to my team. I hope to bring in more employers especially in Kenya to embrace online working into their structures. It will save a lot of operating cost and create jobs. Looking forward to traveling more in the future and appreciate the many cultures around the world.
We tried to invite you to our trip in Spain, but the visa application was rejected. Something we have – sadly – experienced often. But we will try again 🙂 Which one of the trips would you prefer to go on?
That was sad, but I would love to join the trip to Morocco or Thailand.
I’ve only been in Kenya once, but I really loved it. It such a beautiful country. If some of our readers are considering going to Kenya, what would you recommend them to do and see?
This country is beautiful and so rich in different cultures (we have more than 42 tribes and each has its own cultures and norms) and somehow it is difficult to just mention a few places but here are some of my recommendations.
Ultimately a safari experience should definitely be at Maasai Mara. You will get to see the Big Five and have bush dinners. If you don’t have enough time to visit Maasai Mara then go to Nairobi National Park, the only park near the city, where it’s also possible to see a lot of the animals.
Mombasa City is about 8 hours drive from Nairobi and an hour by flight boasts of amazing culture and history. We people from Nairobi and other parts of the world when we visit this part of coastal Kenya they refer to us at ‘’watu wa bara’’ (people from the city). They make some very delicious food and the people are amazingly cool and friendly. I must say they are the most polite community in this country, it is a part of their culture. In the bigger north and southern coasts, you will find beautiful white sand beaches and visit historic places like Fort Jesus, Vasco Da Gama, Shimo la Tewa caves and Gedi Ruins.
If you want to explore some of the cultural events then you must attend the Morans festivals where young men graduate to manhood. It is a rare culture that you will enjoy the dancing and singing. You can see a video from it here.
I know you’re busy with all your clients, so I won’t take more of your time. I hope we will work much more together in the future and I look forward to seeing you in beautiful Kenya soon!
If you want to get in contact with Jackiya and hire her yourself, please send us an email at email@example.com and we will set you in contact.