The trend towards remote work has certainly been exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19 and resulting social distancing. However, even before most of us had learned the term “coronavirus,” remote work was trending steeply upwards. So the answer to the question, “Why is team building with remote employees more important now than ever?” has nothing to do with team building becoming suddenly important, and everything to do with the fact that remote work has become more prevalent sooner than we originally thought.
While some processes have become as refined in a virtual setting as they are in-person, the practice of team building with remote employees is still far from hitting its virtual stride.
This is due in large part to how counterintuitive the issue is: when people think of team building activities, they typically think of in-person strategies like happy hours or company retreats. Circumstances permitting, shared in-person experiences are, indeed, effective ways to bring a group of colleagues closer together, but right now that’s not an option. The truth is, modern technology makes it more feasible than ever to spend meaningful time with one another without being in the same physical location. Leaders might still be learning the best ways to leverage the technology available, but the tools are well within our reach.
This article shares some of the best practices — and most compelling outcomes — that leaders of virtual teams should keep in mind to remember both why team building with remote employees is so important and the most effective way to accomplish it.
Team Building Outcomes
To make the argument that team building with remote employees is worth spending precious company resources on (especially since businesses are now dealing with tighter budgets than ever), we’ll quickly review some of the most compelling reasons to invest in team building using the hardest language to argue against: cold, hard data:
96.3% of employees say team building has a positive influence on their relationships to colleagues
- 94.2% of employees say team building activities have improved their relationships to their employers
- 94.5% of employees said team building helped facilitate open dialogue in the workplace
- A single conflict in a team of 6 people earning $100,000 annually would cost the company an estimated $255,000.
- Team building boosts engagement, and companies with engaged employees make as much as twice the profits of their unengaged counterparts.
Are you inspired to revamp your approach to team building with remote employees yet? Below are three best practices to keep in mind when you do.
3 Key Strategies for Team Building With Remote Employees
If the numbers above did their job, you’re convinced that companies that invest in team building with remote employees benefit from their efforts. To add urgency to the issue, many employees are newly remote as a result of COVID-19. These people might feel like they’ve had the metaphorical rug ripped out from under them in terms of how much social interaction they now have built into their day-to-day work lives. Now more than ever, it’s important for you to intentionally facilitate a healthy social environment, even if it’s virtual.
An effective strategy will be unique to your company’s culture, and certain activities that make sense at one company might not be right at yours. That said, there are a few key practices everyone should keep in mind when team building with remote employees. These three strategies are high-level, which means they’re not just applicable to team building with remote employees — they’re applicable to team-building, period. Because it’s timely, we’ll mostly discuss how these strategies are applied to remote teams specifically, but they can be used for all teams in any future circumstance that concerns team building.
1. Assemble Your Pep Squad
As in-person social lives evaporate, we’re all learning the rules of socializing in a newly virtual world. Because it’s unfamiliar and still a little awkward (nobody likes it when the sound cuts off on your video calls as two people talk over each other), there might be less enthusiasm than usual for team building with remote employees.
You can combat this by recruiting a few spirited employees to help get the rest of the team excited. Call on employees with a knack for socializing and building colleagues up. These people help set a positive group dynamic in real life, and they can do the same in a virtual setting and boost participation as a result.
Once you have identified which candidates you want to be part of this squad, get their input as you plan for team building with remote employees so their enthusiasm for the activity is genuine. You might organize a recurring meeting where the group brainstorms ideas for activities, discusses what’s going well and what can be improved, and strategically plans for effective team building with remote employees. This can be a great opportunity to get a pulse on your workforce’s state of engagement, and having the time formally carved out sends the message you’re taking this initiative seriously. Additionally, try to keep the group diverse, as this will help you make team building with remote employees as inclusive as possible.
2. Prioritize Inclusivity
The note about diversity above is a perfect segue into our next point: the importance of inclusivity. Especially now, people are doing their jobs in different work environments. While some employees might be alone in a studio apartment, others are trying to balance a suddenly fused family and work life. Here are some differences you might strive to keep in mind as you plan for team building with remote employees:
- Time zones
- Family life
- Preferred socialization style
- Substance use
- Preferred communication methods
Different kinds of team building activities — such as after-work virtual happy hours or midday Zoom lunches — might be more feasible for some people than others, depending on the other demands made of them at home. If you’re planning team building with remote employees to take place at a specific time, try to schedule the activity in advance so people can plan accordingly, especially if your workforce is distributed across several time zones. Additionally, create broadly inclusive activities — like an email thread that encourages employees to share photos — that doesn’t necessitate being available at a specific time to participate.
3. Get Creative
With some elements of business, it’s best to play it safe, but team building activities are not one of those things — and team building with remote employees, even less so. Nobody wants to go around a Zoom chat room and share a fun fact about themselves. It’s not engaging, it’s not specific to your unique company culture, and everyone has probably done it a thousand times before.
Instead, consider something more creative like a company talent show, virtual trivia, or public employee recognition program. Stay true to the culture that makes your company unique and try to push the boundaries of what can be done with the virtually-connective technology that’s available to us.
Track Your Impact
The key to success with any project is to make it iterative. As you unfold your approach to team building with remote employees, stay open to adjusting and refining the program as you go along. Make space for employee voices by establishing a climate receptive to feedback and then respond. The more openly proactive you are in response to employee’s opinions, the better your program will be. Little by little, you’ll learn how to bring your team together even when they are apart.
Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.