When everyone is working together in the office, you have many easy and fun ways to build teams—have a team lunch, take an afternoon off to go bowling as a group, or celebrate the completion of a big project with a nice dinner out. However, when every employee is working remotely, holding team-building activities can be a lot more complicated.
Despite the challenges, though, remote team-building isn’t impossible, and implementing activities to support it will help your employees manage their telecommuting more effectively.
These remote activities will help your employees maintain a semblance of normalcy while they:
- Build relationships
- Increase productivity (no commute or interruptions)
- Increase feelings of alignment
- Combat loneliness
When everyone is working remotely, here are ten ways to continue to build your team.
1. Use Video Meetings (But in Moderation)
With today's video technology, it's easy to put faces to names (for those who’ve always worked remotely) or regularly connect with familiar colleagues you’re used to seeing every day in the office. Having a video meeting can help you maintain a sense of reality and face-to-face conversation. But take care and don’t overdo it. Video chats can be draining, as they require more concentration, and every meeting—fun or stressful—is usually held in the same chair at the same desk.
2. Have a Virtual Coffee Break
Online work doesn't have to be all work, all of the time. If you are in the office, you'll chat with your coworkers in the breakroom or stand at a colleague's desk to discuss the popular television show from last night. Take time to have a virtual coffee break with team members and chat about any topic but work. Set aside 15 minutes daily for this virtual chat.
You can also run an online poll on any topic during the coffee break. Steer clear of controversial or political issues. Most online meeting platforms have the ability for the host to put a multiple-choice poll out to all attendees and then show a graph of responses. This can create a lot of virtual laughter or even team-building over different points of view.
3. Check-In Daily
When everyone works in the office, it is easier to see what other people are doing, and you naturally have conversations about it. When everyone is remote, though, you may have no idea what other teams are working on at the current moment or how everything fits together. As a manager, you can build unity by keeping everyone updated on why their current project matters to the company as a whole and how it fits in with other teams' work.
Still, as a team leader, when you don't see people in person, you may have difficulty getting direct feedback or giving consistent support. To help ensure a solid support system, make sure to let your staff know you're available for questions.
4. Celebrate Important Events and Team Successes
Office baby showers, birthdays, wedding celebrations, and holiday remembrances are standard. When you're working remotely, these team-building activities get lost in the ether. You can't gather everyone around for a slice of cake, but the company can deliver a treat to the birthday person's house, and everyone can attempt to sing happy birthday during a remote staff meeting.
If a team working remotely accomplishes a business goal, while you may not be able to celebrate together in person, make sure that the team recognizes and gets rewarded for its success.
5. Make Liberal Use of Phone Calls
Texting, instant messages, Slack, traditional email, and all sorts of electronic communication can quickly become the default when working remotely. However, studies have shown that even friends can't tell tone in an email. If your friends don't know whether you're joking or serious, sarcastic, or rude, how do you expect colleagues who don't know you that well to figure it out? Pick up the phone instead.
An important part of remote team-building is making your team members feel valued. You should consider using your phone to tell at least one person a day what you appreciate about them or their work.
6. Establish Events as Remote Team Building Activities
How quickly should your team respond to an email? Is 24-hour turnaround for emails okay, but Slack messages are expected to be returned in minutes? If you send an email out at 11:00 pm, do your employees need to answer it right away, or is 9:30 tomorrow morning okay? When it comes to communication, the norms for your team should be clear, and you can actually turn the process of establishing them into a remote team-building activity. This event gives you a chance to collaborate on a project together, and the norms created can, in turn, help reduce stress and confusion.
In a second example, you're probably familiar with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. Instead of presenting a completed SWOT to your remote meeting participants, put a link to a blank SWOT slide in Google Slides, and ask them all to simultaneously work on filling it in. In under two minutes, you will have a completed SWOT that represents the collaborative efforts of the group.
7. Do Fun Things as Remote Team Building Activities
All work and no play make Jack and Jill dull kids. Share a funny TikTok video (keep it work appropriate), keep a game of Words With Friends going, do a crossword puzzle as a team, or have a Pictionary game.
At Techsmith Corporation, employees have held remote team-building activities that include a euchre tournament, senior manager team storytelling night for their employees’ children, coffee with coworkers from 8:30 a.m. - 8:50 a.m., trivia games during a Friday happy hour, a team movie watching night, and playing remote bingo for prizes. In a virtual food-cooking competition, employees started with the same ingredients and shared pictures of what they created.
The key is to do something fun that your group enjoys. Each team can have their own likes and dislikes—work in some together-time to just enjoy each other’s company.
8. Send Care Packages
An occasional box of treats, a set of new fancy pens, or Clorox wipes can foster the feeling that the boss and the company care.
These packages should be sent from the company, not personally.
For instance, PostcardMania's HR department and CEO wanted to ensure that staff knew they were appreciated (especially those with the added responsibility of looking after their school-aged kids). They mailed art-focused care packages for the kids—crayons, markers, paint, paper—that gave them tons of options to let their creativity run wild while affording the parents some much-needed breathing room. Once the kids create their masterpieces, PostcardMania will choose 12 winners to receive a prize and feature their artwork in an upcoming calendar.
9. Support Employee-Favored Causes and Local Businesses
When employees are working remotely and away from workplaces that routinely encourage team-building activities such as raising money for charity, collecting canned goods for food banks, and making blankets for newborns at local hospitals, continuing the spirit of volunteerism can be challenging—but still beneficial.
Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, MI, for example, created food banks by donating canned goods and essential products to a central location from which the goods were distributed to people in need. This was an expanded version of their usual twice-monthly food bank. All discussion of the venture occurred remotely online.
Companies can also raise staff spirits (in the interest of supporting local businesses during an economic crisis) by sending pizzas and other takeout foods from local establishments to the homes of employees. This type of philanthropic work can be accomplished while practicing appropriate social distancing and supplying information about sanitizing and touching packaging.
10. Use Virtual Training
Virtual training can serve as a vehicle to bring remote workers together while they focus on the same topic or learn something new. Companies can stream yoga or exercise videos, and actual educational classes that teams voted to attend together on topics such as communication improvement. Another great way to continue engagement is to send weekly Wellbeing Wednesday emails regarding a certain topic to help employees and their families cope.
Jackie Baumgarten, CEO, and Co-Founder of Boatsetter (the Airbnb of boat rentals), immediately recognized the need for resources for employee wellness. She launched an employee wellness newsletter to remind the team of steps that they could be taking to stay well, balance obligations at home, and cope with stress.
Finally, remember "show and tell?" Ask your employees to teach short classes on their favorite life hacks, a tech tip, their hobbies, and interests, or a topic they thought their coworkers might care about learning.
The Bottom Line
If you use some or all of these tips, your remote team-building activities can help develop your workforce, which can be extremely productive when it has the right support.