Remote teams can bring together talent that otherwise couldn’t work together because of geography, but they also bring their own set of challenges that result from physical distance. Team-building is natural when employees work near one another throughout their day. The difficulties of keeping remote teams integrated can be overcome, though, with some extra effort to keep the connections between your employees strong. Here’s some ideas for giving your remote employees’ morale a refresh and improve worker retention.
1. Arrange Bonding Time
Spending time outside of work is one of the ways professional teams bond, and this is true for remote teams as well. The challenge can be finding the right time slot that works for everyone or the right physical location if your team members live close enough to get together. If you have a team of freelancers, this can be a real productivity booster. They may be dividing their time between projects, and yours may be just another project until they get more personally involved. Bringing teams together to bond can help ensure they are emotionally invested in seeing a project through to a successful conclusion.
2. Institute Monthly Chat Sessions
A way to maintain connections remotely is to hold monthly chat sessions. The team can use this time to get to know each other at the start of a project and maintain good channels of communication for its duration. Attendance and participation in monthly chats can also serve as a barometer of morale and team cohesion. When the chats become lifeless or regularly are missing half the team, you’ll know it’s time to roll-out a morale boosting event to give the team a shot in the arm. Modern video conferencing technology works with most laptops and gives you the means to organize quick hour-long activities if the chat becomes too dull.
3. Find a Place to Meet in Person
Depending on the amount of distance between team members, you can sometimes find a strategic place where everyone can meet for a company event. For teams that are separated by thousands of miles, you can also arrange team retreats and help everyone with travel arrangements. These events can be great way to kick off a project by introducing everyone to each other and create a feeling of group effort as team members settle into their assigned roles. For long-term team projects, periodic in-person events can re-introduce everyone and give new team members a chance to meet their colleagues.
4. Create a Map Showing Where Your Team is Located
A team map can be a visual aid during online meet-and-greets as well as a reminder of the time zones and cultural identities that your team spans. You might have team members who live in the same region of a country or all over the world. Either way, put together a map that circles the cities where each team member lives. You can spice it up with graphics of local attractions in each city, like the Statue of Liberty for New York. If you do have an international team, it can help to use the map during a meet-and-greet session and have each team member talk about their locality and culture. It’s an effective way for people to break the ice and find avenues for more conversation.
5. Use a Project Management App
Remote teams can be difficult to organize because there’s more of a tendency for team members to fall out of sync with each other while working on their individual tasks than when they work together in a shared workplace. That’s where a project management app can help. Pair it up with a collaboration app, and your remote employees can be as close-knit as a team that’s working in the same room every day. A well-designed project management app makes everyone’s progress visible, so you can see bottlenecks before they become a problem, and collaboration apps make communication smoother with chat and document sharing services.
6. Explore New Ways to Communicate
Texting, email, and phone calls individually can lead to misunderstandings and frustration when they are the primary means of communication for remote workers. These technologies were meant to supplement communication, not be the sole means of it. Face-to-face time can clear up a misunderstanding or a complex topic quickly compared to the back-and-forth that we’ve all experienced with email and text messages. Look into more advanced long-distance technologies like video conferencing apps that use VoIP and sharing services. A meeting with remote team members can be as productive as in-person meetings using these technologies.
7. Break the Ice with a Photo Sharing Exercise
Many ice-breaker activities have been developed to get everyone passed day one feeling like they are part of a team and not a disparate group of people. For remote teams, it can be more difficult because the team isn’t able to shake hands and mingle or engage in face-to-face activities. One way you can open things up is to have everyone share a photo of a personal object, like a coffee mug. The photos each team member comes up with can be a conversation starter during an online meet-and-greet session.
8. Play Self-Revealing Games like Two Truths and a Lie
One game that can accelerate a team’s integration is called Two Truths and a Lie. It can be played online or with everyone in the same room. The way the game works is everyone writes down three statements about themselves, one of which is not true. Each player then reads their statements, and everyone else take turns guessing which statement is false. Players can have fun with outrageous statements, which can make getting to know each other more memorable without the anxiety of the usual ice-breaker routine.
9. Invite Everyone to an Online Movie Night
Photo by Marc Mueller from Pexels
The challenge of creating a tight-knit team is getting everyone into a comfort zone of inclusion. This makes a team much better at resolving conflicts and achieving a collaborative synergy. One remote team event you can use to move the group closer together is an online movie night. Choosing a movie that appeals to most of the team will help make it a success, so let everyone vote on a list of movies. Well-known movies that avoid major controversies are good choices, so everyone can relate to them. The team can watch the movie simultaneously on their laptops and share the experience over a live chat or a video conference session. It can be a great way for the team to spend informal time together and lighten up if work has been stressful.
10. Have a Round of Appreciation
Another difficulty for teams that don’t share a common workplace is that there are fewer opportunities for informal pats on the back and compliments to keep up morale. Team members may develop a tendency to communicate more often to point out errors or misunderstandings, or they may feel more isolated in their own locations. This can result in a drag on morale. You can counteract this dynamic with periodic group meetings to hand out rounds of appreciation. Have everyone share some appreciation for another colleague’s efforts as well as share their own accomplishments that they’re proud of. The positive energy that results can recharge a team’s morale batteries.
11. Organize Daily Online Coffee Breaks
Sometimes what’s needed is frequent contact between team members, so they maintain the personal and professional bonds that have already been created. Instituting or encouraging short chats at designated times during the week can serve this purpose. It lets everyone catch up with each other and stay in sync on the project tasks that need to be completed for the next milestone. It also recreates the social dynamic in shared work spaces when people briefly visit each other on a personal level. It doesn’t really matter what they talk about; it’s the frequent contact that maintains their bonds.
Photo by Marc Mueller from Pexels
One of the perks of working remotely is you don’t have to worry about colleagues seeing your workspace, which can lead to less organization. Of course, no one wants to share photos of a mess, so a fun way to organize this event is to make it a workspace decoration event. Give everyone a good amount of lead time to decorate their workspace in a creative way that expresses their own interests. It can be an entertaining way for everyone to reveal themselves on a more personal level. You can make it a show-and-tell event or award a prize based on a group vote if your team enjoys a competition.
13. Hold a Story Writing Activity
A productive way to boost team work can be to give the group non-project related activities that serve as practice for working together. Holding a group story writing session is an activity that can do this well. It allows everyone to take turns creating a story and encourages them to develop the rapport needed to negotiate their differences. As a team gets to know each other, you’ll notice conflicts become more self-managed, and collaboration becomes more dynamic. Hold one or more writing sessions, letting team members take turns writing the story one sentence or paragraph at a time. At first, the story will be disjointed because each writer will send it off in unexpected directions, but as teamwork emerges you’ll see the group discuss the story as they write it. The result will be a coherent story that is still has fun surprises when someone decides to take a different turn than the group expects.
14. Play Virtual Charades as a Team Builder
Another cooperative game that can build rapport and reduce interpersonal tension in a group is charades. You can use a video conferencing app to connect everyone and create an online version of this party game. It can be easiest to do with celebrity names or movie and book titles with action verbs. Celebrities can be fun to imitate, and miming titles with action verbs can be entertaining for everyone. In the meantime, the team will have a memorable experience while they get to know each other better.
15. Have a Priorities Sharing Session
Sometimes it can help to get everyone’s perspective out in the open with a sharing session. It can be surprising how varied a team’s priorities are, and when working remotely it can take longer for those priorities to be expressed and integrated. If you seem to have a team with divergent assumptions, setting up a priority-sharing session can help overcome misunderstandings. Set aside a video conference session for each team member to share their top five professional priorities. This can help everyone get to know each other’s work style better and develop smoother collaboration on the team’s project.
16. Organize a Team Retreat
Another way to overcome the difficulty of integrating a team separated by distance is to bring it together in one place for an extended retreat. Spending a week together can be a bonding experience for your team, especially if you set up a series of events for each day like a training seminar. A week is a good length of time, as it gives the team time to get passed the initial meet-and-greets and for you to cover other topics important to a project’s success. The first day can kickoff the retreat with a review of the week’s scheduled events, the goals to be achieved, and the retreat’s theme. The days that follow can serve as an orientation to bring the team on board with your organization’s culture and history. After these introductions, events can focus on the project and the team’s role in the organization’s overall business strategy.
17. Choose a theme for Team Retreats
When you do decide to have a team retreat, a theme can give you a guide for tying together a coherent event plan. Choose a theme that expresses the goals you want to accomplish. For example, if the project has been losing sight of customer requirements, you can create a retreat with customer care and agile activities as a theme. A theme can help you focus on getting the most out of the time devoted to the retreat in addition to bringing the team together.
18. Invite Your Customers to Meet the Team
When you have the opportunity during team get-togethers, it can be good to invite their customers to attend. Many projects thrive on close contact with their clients to stay on top of their changing needs and requirements. Bringing your customer contacts to your team for a meet-and-greet can make collaboration more productive and responsive down the road when the project reaches a critical milestone. Suggest that the customer give a presentation or Q&A session to let the team get to know their business and culture. This can also be done with a video conference session periodically when communication needs to be encouraged.
19. Record Retreat Events and Make Them Available to the Team
Creating a record of events at a retreat can serve a couple different purposes. It can be difficult to be objective about how successful a retreat or event was for everyone involved. It might have seemed to go well, but it may not have been as well received by some of the team members who participated. A retreat review afterwards that includes anonymous surveys and video records can help you identify weak points in how the retreat was executed, so you can improve on your technique next time. It can also be a way for the team to refresh their memory or see the events that they weren’t able to attend.
20. Get Honest Opinions with Team Surveys
A good way to stay on top of problems with a team’s group dynamic can be to use frequent group surveys and touch base often with each employee individually. If problems are cropping up, it’s important to become aware and address them as soon as they begin. Without the anonymity of surveys or personal one-on-one meetings, an issue can fester without your awareness until it impacts the team’s productivity. Surveys are one of several tools for monitoring the project’s health. You can include your customers in survey campaigns, too, to ensure that the team’s interactions with clients are going smoothly.
21. Give Your Team Feedback
Finally, honest, tactful communication between yourself and your team is something you should practice. It helps communicate your concern that the team perform well, that the customer’s needs are met, and that issues are brought up and resolved in a timely manner. When you have team members who are remote, communicating with them becomes more important because the informal channels of communication in an office environment are absent. This can leave remote team members feeling isolated if you neglect to connect with them regularly. Instituting weekly one-on-one feedback sessions is one way to remedy that problem.
It’s a difficult task at times to manage a team of remote workers because of the communication and group dynamics issues that can arise, but the flexibility to bring together talent that otherwise wouldn’t be able to work on the same project makes up for it. With a set of proven tools designed to overcome those issues, a remote team can be more successful than one that meets everyday in the same workplace thanks to the internet and VoIP communication technologies.