As many leaders have learned in the past few months, uniting teams from behind screens is no small feat. The lack of common spaces, ability to read body language, and basic physical proximity in virtual offices presents challenges to building and maintaining camaraderie. Developing team rapport becomes a more manual and intentional process in remote offices.
Leading a 100% remote workforce and facilitating virtual team building events for clients at Teambuilding.com has taught me several valuable lessons about remote team bonding, which I’m happy to share.
Your role as a leader
As the leader of a remote team, your role is to guide or shepherd your staff. Socializing does not occur as naturally in cyberspace as it does in centralized headquarters, so your remote workers may not interact. At-home workers may appreciate a boost in productivity thanks to an absence of chatty coworkers, but remote work can also lead to feelings of isolation, weaker relationships with colleagues, and decreased morale.
Interactions in the digital workplace almost always spring from a specific purpose, such as asking a question or requesting a favor. Rarely do teammates send emails just to say good morning, share a joke, or ask about a colleague’s vacation plans. Not to mention, the online equivalents of these exchanges can lack the warmth and “personality” of talking face-to-face.
One of your most pressing responsibilities as a virtual team leader is to bridge the gaps between distanced teammates and create opportunities for meaningful connections. This mission requires precision and finesse. Overschedule team gatherings, and your team may fall victim to Zoom meeting fatigue; adopt a laissez faire approach, and your teammates might start feeling like Tom Hanks in Castaway. However, if you follow the advice in this article, then you are likely to strike a strong balance in your virtual team bonding efforts.
This advice may seem like a no-brainer, but introducing remote teammates is an often overlooked step in virtual workplaces. Effective collaboration requires a level of familiarity. Asking for help involves vulnerability, while collecting opinions requires trust. If these elements are missing from your team, then remote colleagues might seem more like strangers than viable resources. As a result, remote coworkers are less likely to reach out for help, and might make more errors in process and judgment.
You should develop a virtual onboarding process to welcome new employees. This process might involve an announcement in an email thread or online forum, accompanied by team responses.
Introductions shouldn’t stop at new employees. Remote team members might work together for years before partnering on a project. When assigning collaborative tasks to unacquainted parties, it helps to introduce the groups in a new message so that teammates do not need to track each other down.
Lastly, you should make an easy-to-find employee directory so remote team members always know who to ask for help. Providing an organizational map or chart to all teammates is a great way to help boost feelings of inclusion. You can also use a program like Pingboard to make a virtual coworker cheat sheet.
Create spaces for natural conversation
In physical offices, coworkers can swing by each other’s desk to make lunch plans, swap baseball scores at the water cooler, and share vacation plans in the conference room before a meeting. Remote offices lack shared spaces where natural conversations can occur, which means less distraction, but also less interaction. Casual communication builds trust and empathy within teams, cultivating stronger and more functional relationships.
As a remote team leader, you can recreate communal office spaces through the following methods:
- Virtual breakrooms
- Instant messaging
- Video chat rooms
- Slack channels
- Pen pal programs
Small talk is essential in creating dynamic working relationships. Unfortunately, the nature of virtual work does not lend itself well to chit chat. By designating digital spaces as leisure zones, you enable your virtual employees to form friendly and supportive relationships with peers.
Plan virtual team building activities
One of the most practical and reliable means of promoting relationships between remote teammates is through virtual team building activities. Online games, happy hours and similar provide virtual colleagues with face-to-face time to relax, reconnect, and learn teamwork skills such as problem solving, communication, and conflict resolution.
At Teambuilding.com, we host a variety of guided virtual team building sessions such as tiny campfire, an interactive digital camp experience complete with tealight s’mores and ghost stories, or the Online Office Games, a virtual office Olympics full of friendly competitions. These events stimulate collaboration and discussion between dispersed teams, providing remote workers with mutual purpose and shared experiences that form a basis for deeper connection.
Though you may feel limited in virtual team building options, you might be surprised to learn how many remote team building activities exist.
Examples of other virtual team building activities:
- Virtual happy hours
- Virtual coffee dates
- Online team trivia
- Online office parties
- Cyber scavenger hunts
- Digital escape rooms
- Web fitness challenges
Virtual team building exercises offer ways to boost engagement, improve communication, and sharpen focus within your remote teams. Our team building blog contains many helpful resources for running successful online team building activities.
Not every team building activity needs planning. In fact, some of the best team bonding moments spring up organically. By devising unscheduled and ongoing team activities, you allow remote workers the opportunity to bond with colleagues on their own time, which in turn makes your teammates less stressed and more receptive to the concept of team building.
Examples of anytime virtual team building:
- Weekly check-in email with a reply-all prompt
- Slack channel for compliments and recognition (example: #you-are-awesome, a space for teammates to shout out colleague’s accomplishments or kind deeds)
- Online team games like quizzes, Words with Friends, or Uno
- Social media groups
- Team text or instant messaging chats
- Web-based bulletin boards and group photo albums
Giving remote teammates the freedom to connect with colleagues on their own time takes the pressure off team building, and allows the experience to feel more like gathering with friends than meeting with coworkers.
Virtual workers often collaborate across different time zones and even continents. Connecting distant employees may seem like a daunting task, but remote offices allow for many innovative and engaging online team bonding opportunities. If you follow the advice above, then you can combat loneliness, boost productivity, raise remote employee morale, and encourage active collaboration within your work-from-home teams.