9 tips for team building with remote teams

by Nune Igityan

9 tips for team building with remote teams

Remote working doesn’t have to feel like working alone. With a bit of planning - and the right tech - you can bridge the gaps to create a connected team. See how to bring people together when you’re apart.

Millions of people are discovering something a little surprising right now. We really miss our teammates. We're all waking up to the fact that the communities we're part of at work play a meaningful role in our lives.

Why is remote team building so important?

Millions of people are discovering something a little surprising right now. We really miss our teammates. We're all waking up to the fact that the communities we're part of at work play a meaningful role in our lives.

It takes a lot of effort to nurture this community - these friendships - when we're working remotely. But it's an effort that more than pays off in the long run.

Productivity, commitment, engagement - all these things improve when people can work together effectively. When we're apart, not only do they get harder - we're also more likely to feel lonely and isolated. That can lead to companies losing some of their best people.

So team bonding and team building are vitally important – but a lot of companies don’t do it. In fact, an estimated 65% of remote workers have never had a team bonding session. If that’s the situation with your team, you need to put it right.

It’s not just about getting people to share ideas and work together on projects. Of course, that matters a lot, but it’s not the whole story. We also need friendship and fun. That means building a sense of community among people working in separate places so they can be there for each other, no matter where they are.

Get it right, and you won’t just have a united team - you’ll have a high-performing one. A set of studies by Stanford University showed that when organizations treat people as though they were working together on a challenging task – rather than working separately on the same task – they persisted up to 64% longer. And the people involved in the studies weren’t even in the same physical space. Here are some tips any business can follow to get started with remote team building.

Remote team building tips

1. Schedule regular catch-ups

We’re social animals. That’s why the casual connections we make chatting in the lunch queue, wandering over to someone’s desk or offering to help on the till are so important to us. When we’re stuck on our own, these connections can’t happen - unless we plan for them.

So don’t leave team spirit to chance. Regular team get togethers need to be scheduled – usually more rather than less frequently for remote teams. Get a minimum of two all-team meetings a week into the calendar and make sure people understand that they need to be there.

It’s also great to have a regular, end-of-the-week virtual get-together so remote work team bonding can happen once work is complete, and people are feeling more relaxed - just like you’d all hang out if you were working in the same place. This shouldn’t be compulsory – people may have other Friday commitments – but if it’s fun, everyone will want to join in.

Also, schedule in any other pre-planned remote team building activities, like simple games or quizzes. Again, no one has to join in, but if it’s fun, people will want to.

2. Do lots of ‘getting to know yous’

Great teamwork starts with trust. But building that trust is tricky when you can't just hang out after work, grab lunch together, or do anything else to share the small intimacies that bring teams together.

Fortunately, there's one tried and tested method for getting to know anybody, anywhere, in any circumstances. Coffee. (Or, at a pinch, tea).

Organize a virtual coffee break via conference call or video conference once a week, so people can get to know each other without pressure. Start conversations around icebreaker questions, but make them fun – things like, ‘Do you collect anything?’ or ‘What’s your favorite food?’ These sessions shouldn’t be interrogations, but chances to get the conversation flowing.

3. Build bridges between your remote and in-house teams

No one means to do it, but remote teams and on-site teams can easily end up working in separate silos - and that’s not great for culture. So it’s important to make people working remotely feel part of the organization. At the most basic level, always make sure you invite people to join in whatever is going on.

An excellent way to bond remote and in-house teams - and see what people are having for lunch - is by having regular lunch ’n’ learn sessions. A team member – whether on-site or remote – picks a work-related subject they feel expert in and creates a simple presentation to share with the whole group on a video call. Have question and answer sessions afterward to get the conversation going and help people get to know each other’s areas of interest better.

4. Meet on video as much as you can

As communication experts know, it’s not so much what you say (or write), it’s the way you say it. Body language matters. That's why team members need to see and hear each other. And it’s not just psychologists who think so - executives agree that video calls can improve understanding and team effectiveness and strengthen relationships. And 97% agree it can improve remote workers’ sense of connectedness.

But it also gives us a glimpse into people’s non-work lives. We all love seeing our colleagues’ kitchen or home office. And who doesn't like reviewing that oh-so-important presentation in the company of someone's pet dog? Embrace the fun you can have when working together remotely - after all, it's a feature, not a bug of working from home. Use your video calling application to let you see multiple participants at a time, and video call and chat whenever you can.

Get the most out of your meeting: read our virtual team meeting guide.

5. Separate your channels

Estimates suggest that people will send and receive over 347 billion emails every day by 2022. That’s an awful lot of mail to go through, so it’s no wonder many people find it a chore, with employees spending an average of over three hours a day checking their inboxes.

So ask yourself this: Do you need to add to the load? Think long and hard about what kind of messages you’re sending out, how many you need, and where you should put them.

What's right for chat? Video chat? Groups? And, yes - if you really feel the urge - email? That way, your team can get together when they want to around the important things without being distracted by email notifications or having to sift through lots of irrelevant stuff. Choose applications that integrate with your primary communication tool to avoid the need for multiple sign-ins.

6. Chat, chat, chat

It’s good to talk. This is an actual scientific fact. An experiment by the University of Michigan showed the performance of people who’d had a 10-minute chat before carrying out a test increased as much as those who’d engaged in ‘intellectual’ activities for the same amount of time.

So if your team is working remotely, you need to make sure that water-cooler conversation happens.

First of all, set up a separate chat channel. People might be a little shy of using it at first, so if that’s the case, lead the way in getting the team to swap jokes, memes, videos, and supportive work chat. Soon conversations will start to grow organically, just like they would if you were sharing an office.

7. Celebrate together

Boosting each other’s confidence is a big part of building a team. So trumpet people’s achievements by posting congratulations on your chat channel - and don’t stop at gifs and emojis. If there’s a rewards scheme in your company, make sure your remote employees are part of it, and if there isn’t, set one up with vouchers and gifts for successes.

8. Make the most of diversity

Diversity is great for teams and will make yours stronger as you build your own team culture. To make the most of diversity, do your research and get to know each team member, their cultural backgrounds and how they like to approach tasks, issues and activities.

Plus, stay up to date with global calendars for celebrations and holidays - you might be able to work together to create some fun team activities around them.

9. Organize remote team building games

Here are some tried and tested ideas for remote team building activities.

Getting to know you

Personal playlists

Get everyone to pick their favorite song when they were 16, favorite dance track, favorite romantic track and favorite ‘work to’ track, then put them together in a team playlist.

Quizzes

Emoji quiz

Got an emoji expert on your team? Get them to make a list of people’s names, movie titles or popular words and phrases, then hold a competition to see how many people can decode. (Be warned: This is much harder than it sounds).

Get visual

Strangest object

Each team member joins the end-of-the-week video chat with the most bizarre object they can find in their homes and tells the story behind it.

Find out more about working remotely and why your organization should be doing it.

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