Keeping employees engaged isn’t easy—even when you’re all together under one roof. For remote teams, maintaining company culture and team spirit is an ongoing challenge. The longer you remain in a remote-first environment and onboard new hires who have never even met their colleagues in person, the tougher it gets.
Engaging Remote Teams
The good news is, even when restricted to Zoom, there are tried and tested ways to liven up your virtual workplace. The key is regularly making personal connections. Sadly, a few seconds of small talk before meetings won’t cut it. Away from the office, we miss those conversations in the corridors and by the water cooler. Nothing can ever truly replicate that intimacy—but doing your best to try and bridge the gap can prevent employees feeling isolated, stave off burnout, and help recent recruits feel welcome.
Remote Team Building Activities
First off, you should follow basic best practices like scheduling regular team meetings and 1:1s. And it goes without saying: even in a remote-first organization, it’s still a great idea to meet up in person for the occasional meeting or happy hour whenever possible.
However, often it’s just not possible to meet up in person, especially when teams may be distributed anywhere across the globe. That’s why we’ve collected our top ideas for remote team building, for boosting engagement no matter how far apart team members may be.
It’s simple, but effective: sometimes you need to talk about anything other than work. You can schedule a time just for this (lunch hour can work well) or take a regularly recurring meeting and wipe the intended agenda. The important thing is that you ignore work and concentrate on other topics: how everyone is, what they’ve been up to on the weekend or anything that comes to mind, so long as it’s not work-related.
Of course, “just don’t talk about work” can be a hard instruction to follow. An easier way to ensure that co-workers connect is to offer a starting-off point for conversation. This can be simple, like sharing a photo or video of your work-station, a moment from your day outside of work, or even introducing your kids or pets.
Challenge or Competition
Some employees might find request for photos a distraction—until you add an element of competition. If you create a photography challenge, with participants voting for the best photo, suddenly the chance to win (even if there’s no prize) can motivate even cynical team members to get involved.
It doesn’t have to be photography. You can pick what your team are most interested in—or have them vote. There could be a challenge for who can walk the most steps in a week (which also promotes healthy work-life balance), a fantasy football league or even online gaming.
Playing games online doesn’t have to mean immersive gaming with high-level equipment (though it can—depending on your company). There are plenty of free and simple games that a remote team can play together and bond over. It could be Pictionary, Charades or—the ultimate team building activity—puzzle solving challenge or a trivia quiz. This last option can also be enjoyed with no software: you can appoint a quizmaster or, even better, request that everyone come up with a few questions that the rest of the group will enjoy.
For a more intense remote team building activity, you may want to bring in reinforcements. There are many event planners and facilitators out there who can organize a special group problem solving event. These can be themed and it’s up to you how challenging you’d like it to be—the important thing is that employees are required to cooperate, which can help them work together smoothly in future.
A more sedate remote team building activity is starting a remote book club. Choose a list of books and set aside 30 minutes per week to discuss them. By suggesting their favorite books, employees get to share a bit of their personalities and what’s important to them.
A day out of office volunteering has long been a popular way to bond as a group while giving back to the community. How does that work in a remote environment? One way is to give employees a day off, and allow them to volunteer with an organization of their choice. Everyone can then meet afterward and share their experiences.
Celebrate International Holidays
If you operate an internationally-distributed team, you’ll know that successful interaction isn’t just about knowing each other, it’s about understand and acknowledging cultural differences. Celebrating events that are important to one location—like local holidays or national independence days—is a perfect way to show respect for and celebrate other cultures. Give employees a chance to explain to the group about what life is like where they are and what’s important to them. Of course, this can be a valuable activity even if employees are only spread around states, rather than countries.
For new employees, group team building exercises may well be overwhelming. To welcome new recruits, you can try icebreakers to reduce tension and encourage discussion. Employees can describe their perfect vacation or even their ideal home-office. Working at home also provides the perfect opportunity to return to a classic childhood activity: “show and tell”. Employees can pick any object from their home and describe what it is and why it’s important to them.
Paycor Can Help
Paycor builds HR software for leaders of medium & small business. For 30 years, we’ve been listening to and partnering with leaders, so we know what they need: HCM technology that saves time, powerful analytics and expert HR advice to help them solve problems and achieve their goals.