A sense of community and involvement in the workplace is essential to the productivity and well-being of employees. But when working in remote teams, opportunities for bonding and collaboration don’t just happen naturally. You have to work to foster team spirit.
Without the casual coffee-break conversation, deliberate efforts have to be made to ensure team members feel connected and engaged.
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Remote working also increases independence, flexibility, and productivity, while simultaneously saving time and money. It is the fastest-growing segment of the workforce and largely mandatory during the current global pandemic.
As many leaders are no doubt realizing, working remotely also comes with specific difficulties.
Challenges of remote working
Many remote workers report feeling isolated. Loneliness is arguably the biggest challenge that comes with remote work. It can lead to disengagement, which in turn leads to poor performance.
People need to feel like they are part of a team in order to feel good, collaborate effectively, and perform to the best of their ability.
Benefits of remote team building
In a successful remote team, team members feel valued, have strong relationships, and provide mutual support.
Remote team building activities strengthen relationships between team members and allow managers to understand their employees better.
Trust and communication is key
The main goal of remote team building is to establish mutual trust and confidence among team members. To do that, it is essential to create personal connections.
This requires a strong focus on communication. When working remotely, communication is not to be taken for granted: it needs continuous attention.
Tools and resources for remote team building
Creating team spirit in a remote team requires investment. The most important tools and resources for remote team building are:
- Leadership and clear communication: successful team building requires an initiator and clear information about the company’s communication and collaboration strategies.
- Time and money: it is essential to schedule a portion of work time for team building activities and have budget available.
- Digital channels: as a rule, it is necessary to (at least) have one platform for virtual meetings, such as Zoom, and one platform for internal communication, such as Slack.
Four essential elements of remote team building
Although there are countless ways to create connected and resilient remote teams, all remote team-building efforts center around four main elements:
- Getting to know the person behind the name
- Creating channels for sharing about non-work related topics
- Arranging virtual meetings and online co-working opportunities
- Celebrating professional achievements together
Based on these premises, the following section provides inspiration for activities to promote team bonding in remote teams.
Introducing new colleagues
A warm welcome is a good start. When working with a new team or welcoming new team members into an existing team, the way team members get introduced matters.
Icebreakers are questions to get a conversation going and a great way to start a bonding process. It is recommended to start with opinion- and preference-based questions about relatively safe topics. Think of questions such as:
- “What is the most memorable vacation you have ever taken?”
- “Are you a morning bird or a night owl?”
- “What is your favorite gadget?”
10 facts about yourself
This activity requires (new) team members to list ten fun or interesting facts about themselves and upload their list to a shared online work environment.
You might just discover some hidden talents and common interests or unexpected conversation topics.
For a more conventional but no less effective kick-off, you can have new team members introduce themselves to other team members in a short video.
This immediately puts a face and voice to the name.
Getting to know each other on a personal level
Once team members are familiar with each other, the next step is to go beyond the surface level and create deeper personal connections.
One fun way to go about it is to have team members take pictures of their workspace and share them online. Who is the one with the immaculately clean desk and who has piles of empty coffee cups all over the place?
Another popular option is to have team members show their home environment through short videos. Within a team that is dispersed all over the world, you might find some interesting differences.
Companies often have a shared calendar for work-related events. How about having one that includes personal events too? You could, for example, have a calendar showing John’s birthday and Katie’s son’s first school day.
This creates involvement with each other’s lives on a personal level.
Time and space for regular informal exchange
As team building is an ongoing process, it requires channels for regular exchange about topics that are not related to work. Think of it as the remote alternative to coffee-break chit-chat.
The company’s communication platform should have at least one channel designated for anything but work. This can, for example, be a separate thread on Slack for informal chatting, socializing, and joking around.
Themed chat channels
A twist on the above option is the themed chat channel. This involves the creation of a separate thread on a specific subject or fun challenge.
A classic and hilarious example is a thread dedicated to pictures of team members’ dogs.
Chatroulette involves setting up random one-on-one meetings between team members. The meetings are usually around 30 minutes long, during which colleagues can chat about anything but work.
A popular application for this is Donut.
Fun activities to strengthen relationships
Besides ongoing communication on regular channels, extra team building activities can boost the relationships in a team. Struggling with how to keep your team spirits buoyed? Always remember, higher morale = happier team members.
Shared lunch, happy hour, movies, game night
Remote employees don’t have to miss out on traditional team outings, like company lunches and drinks. Simply set an appointment for a virtual lunch or happy hour, provide team members with a budget to order food or drinks, and meet online.
Virtual movie or game nights are other popular options.
A small personalized gift is a great sign of appreciation. Quarterly gifts can be a nice incentive. To add an extra dimension, team members can be asked to buy each other’s presents, adding short personal messages to them.
Virtual team building activities
To take things to the next level, there are tons of virtual team building activities. Either arrange them yourself or have a professional take care of it. From pub quizzes to scavenge hunts and co-op games, the options are endless.
Virtual meetings and co-working opportunities
Virtual meetings are essential in remote-working teams. Work-related meetings can be optimized for team-building purposes too.
Starting each virtual work meeting with a check-in can be a real gamechanger. It means reserving some time to catch up and share what is on each team member’s mind.
Alternately, check-ins can take place at the start of each workday, or at dedicated check-in meetings at the start of the workweek.
Daily co-working space
Virtual co-working spaces allow team members to work together at a distance. The first team member to go online on any given day opens a virtual meeting space, after which others can join in.
To make things more interesting, you can add theme days (Wednesday Working-At-The-Coffee-Shop Day).
Theme classes and learning sessions
Theme classes on work-related subjects can be organized as virtual meetings and attended by the whole team. Team members can also be asked to prepare classes on subjects that match their expertise, resulting in virtual peer-to-peer learning sessions.
Can anyone say virtual potluck/ cooking class?
Sharing company achievements
As remote workers don’t always get to see the results of their efforts in real life, it is essential to get them in-the-know through other channels.
A proven strategy to keep employees engaged it to send out weekly messages or newsletters, sharing the most important developments and achievements of the company.
If your company participates in real-life events, it’s a good idea to send video compilations to team members who aren’t able to attend them in person. That way, they will feel like they are part of it too.
Sharing individual achievements
Just as important as sharing company achievements, is having individual team members share the projects they have completed. And most importantly: celebrating individual successes with the whole team.
The occasional real-life meeting
Remote team building activities go a long way in creating a sense of togetherness, but the occasional real-life team meeting is the cherry on the cake. A company retreat is the ultimate way to solidify established bonds and deepen existing connections.
The best fit for your team
With a little creativity, the possibilities for remote team building activities are endless. The most important question is: which methods suit your team best?
To answer that, it is essential to consider your company values and team characteristics. The best methods are the ones that comply with the time zones of your remote workers and match their preferences.
A successful team building activity isn’t forced upon team members but creates energy and engagement for it to succeed on its own. Working out how best to manage your remote team will take time and effort. But there’s no doubt fostering team spirit will be your ticket to success.