Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Team Building Tips for Remote Workers

More workers than ever before are skipping the commute and setting up our offices in their own homes.

While there are many benefits to this, there is the risk that employees could end up feeling a little isolated if it isn’t managed properly. The social element of going into the office goes a long way to creating a cooperative team that works well together. So what can you do for a team that works remotely and where the members rarely, if ever, see each other face-to-face? Does team building even make sense in this context?  

Why is team building necessary for remote workers?

Whether your team is working in the office or from home they will be working to a set of clearly defined goals. While they may all have their own tasks and areas of expertise, the overall outcome should be a shared goal. Cooperation is key. When all of the cogs are working together, the process will be much smoother and the outcome will be better. 

Ultimately, team building exercises for a remote team will enable your staff to collaborate better at every stage of a project, from the planning right through to the final product. A team that is able to communicate effectively and adapt to challenges as a unit as well as individually, will be far more efficient and this will benefit your business no end.

Creating a team atmosphere can be very tricky when you’re not all in the same space. Lunch and coffee breaks help you get to know your colleagues and collaborating with someone can seem much easier when you’re physically sitting next to them. However, communications and collaborative platforms have improved exponentially in recent years and, if the correct processes are put in place, an effective remote workforce can easily be created.

A healthy remote working environment will help staff connect and reduce the risk of isolation. It will encourage your team members to add a bit of fun and energy into each other’s days, inspiring new ideas and refreshing those brain cells. It will help to avoid a dangerous sense of monotony creeping into their days and causing a loss of energy and increasing the risk of discontent.  

Even if your team members have very active social lives outside of work, it can be lonely working remotely without regularly engaging with other members of the team. If your workers have very little interaction with other members of the team, they could easily start to feel left out or undervalued.

As a starting point, make sure you reach out to your team regularly, arrange weekly team catch ups and use these to acknowledge progress but also to encourage a bit of good old bonding time. This will give everyone a boost and increase productivity. 

Make a plan...and stick to it

The prospect of team building with a remote workforce may seem daunting but it is actually far easier than you might think. Planning ahead and working at it consistently can definitely help you achieve your goal It definitely  isn’t something you’ll be able to achieve over one or two Zoom meetings, so be prepared to create a clear action plan that is ongoing.

Creating an action plan is crucial if you want to make team building a success in the long run. The elements of the plan (we’ve made some suggestions below) will depend on the size of your team and where the main issues lie. However, you should always include a timeline as part of your plan to keep you on track. If you don’t block out regular chunks of time on your team members’ calendars for team building, you will struggle to keep it up and you’ll find their time being filled entirely with work-related matters. 

Businesses often encounter a problem with team building exercises and plans in that they don’t seem as important as fulfilling client work. These sessions are often the first to go when projects get tight for time. However, a team that is working like a well-oiled machine will be a greater benefit to your business in the long run, so it’s important that you impress upon your staff how crucial these sessions are.

Your plan should also include some goals that you can check in on monthly or quarterly to keep on top of progress. You should be able to see the improvement over time yourself in the way the team collaborates and communicates, however, there are several ways to check how your staff are engaging with each other and whether there are any communications issues. The easiest and probably the most accurate way to do this is to speak to each member of the team individually in a one-to-one. This will give you a good idea if there are any problems holding the team up and how far they’ve come. A quick quarterly questionnaire could be worth implementing.  

Organise team catch ups 

When a team is working on the same project or projects but don’t see each other very often/at all, it’s really important that you hold regular catch ups, even if the main topic of conversation isn’t even work. A weekly virtual catch-up via video call can do wonders for morale.

Sometimes these chats can feel a little strained and as if they have no direction if there aren’t many updates to go through from a work point of view. Ensure that someone is leading the call so this doesn’t happen. Make sure this person has a few conversation starters ready that will get everyone involved. Over time, you’ll find you need this fallback less and less. 

The reason that video is particularly effective for this rather than just a conference call is that you pick up on physical communication cues as well as just what you hear. This is much more akin to speaking to someone in person and can help you feel more connected. And, if your team hasn’t actually ever met in person, it’s always nice to put a face to the name. 

Make sure it’s not all about work 

Encourage your team to connect beyond the project they’re working on and you’ll find that just by knowing each other a little better, they will be able to collaborate better. Create virtual spaces for them to do this, such as creating groups or channels on your chosen chat platform which are specifically for non-work related conversations. Start off with some themes or topics, such as a tv show everyone is into at the moment or a fantasy football league if that’s an interest everyone shares, and let it snowball from there. You may need to give it an occasional nudge when you first set it up but make sure it doesn’t go the other way and let everyone get distracted.

Get a weekly competition going

Schedule in 15 minutes each week for a quick game and set up a leaderboard to encourage everyone to stick at it. Maybe even introduce some prizes to bring out everyone’s (friendly) competitive side. You could introduce a new game each week and rotate the person responsible for setting it up. This means it doesn’t take up too much of any one person’s time and keeps it interesting week after week. 

Host a weekly virtual movie night or quiz 

Streaming services are starting to introduce tools where you can watch movies or TV shows on separate devices with a chat feature built in. This is perfect for hosting virtual film nights with the rest of the team. Or, if your team hasn’t tired of all the virtual pub quizzes hosted during lockdown, get a weekly or fortnightly quiz going. Keep it short and sweet, rotate the quiz master and switch up the topics to make sure everyone stays engaged. Making sure everyone has a go at hosting  will help team members gain confidence in speaking in front of the group. 

Get everyone together every once in a while 

Whether it’s the Christmas Party, a quarterly catch-up or dinner, or even a trip away together, bringing everyone together is the best way to encourage team bonding and collaboration. If there are any conferences in the diary for your industry, get everyone along and arrange a dinner while everyone is in the same place. As far as geography allows, get everyone in the same room every now and then and make it a positive experience. Even though it might seem like a bit of an investment, this will give the whole team a boost and there are sure to be lots of new ideas and inspiration when they get back to their desks. 

Once you’ve got your strategy together, the key is to implement your actions little and often. It’s easy to start off with all the good intentions and then let it fall by the wayside when schedules start to fill up. Start small with weekly catch-ups and then start throwing in virtual movie nights and competitions. All the while, putting a little budget aside for team meet-ups face-to-face. Investing your time and energy into these simple ideas will really pay off in the long run.