Remote work has plenty of benefits: increased productivity, zero commute stress, healthy work-life balance, and more. But, what it doesn’t have versus the in-office work is a lack of options for team building. You do work without knowing who’s your colleague. When that happens, collaborating becomes tough, and people feel lonely and isolated.
This doesn’t have to happen, though. With a bit of planning, you can strengthen team building even in a remote environment and improve team collaboration, trust, and efficiency. Here’s how to do it:
1. Record a podcast with every new hire
Getting to know each other is the first step to strengthening team bonding. What’s the best way to do that? Nathan Barry, the founder of Convert Kit, recommends creating a private team stories podcast. “Everyone has the same get-to-know-you conversations starting from zero. Instead, interview every new hire about their life story for a private internal podcast.”
Ask them about their personality traits, how they like to work/communicate/receive feedback, the qualities they like/dislike in coworkers, and more. Record the podcast and save the file in a shared Notion document—so that everyone can listen to it and “get a head start on building relationships.”
2. Create a space for social conversations
Unlike the in-office environment, remote work offers little room for water-cooler conversations where employees can discuss work-related or personal talks. These conversations may seem trivial, but they build friendship and trust amongst each other—necessary traits for work collaboration and employee engagement.
So, how do you encourage social conversations?
a) Every Monday morning, ask a social question on your Slack channel. It could be, “What did you do over the weekend?” Or “What books are you reading?” Or “What's been your inspiration lately?” Or you can even ask everyone to share their dog pic. Basecamp has an automatic bot that asks this question every Monday morning. “These questions are meant to shake loose some stuff that you’d love to share with everyone else, but you hadn’t had an opportunity to do so. This kind of internal communication helps grease the social gears.”
b) Once a month, schedule time for water-cooler conversations (a talk without any agenda). Employees can cross-communicate about anything—sports, favorite books, personal stories—they want to and get to know each other.
c) Host virtual happy hours every alternate Friday for 30 minutes. You can play online games, read books, or talk to each other.
3. Celebrate more
You must celebrate accomplishments, product releases, and other team achievements. The best way to do so is to host a meeting, acknowledge everyone’s effort, and reward them. This will boost everyone’s confidence and incentivize them to work and collaborate.
Also, celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries. Host a virtual party and gather every team member to deliver birthday/anniversary wishes. The team can even send a surprise cake to the person’s house.
Remember: Celebrations shouldn’t be limited to big milestones. Celebrate every achievement—whether big or small. For example, one company created a personal emoji for each employee who had been there for six months.
4. Host feedback sessions
This is yet another team-building activity recommended by Nathan Barry. Here’s how it happens: “A small team (usually 4-8 people) gathers [in a pre-decided location] to talk about someone in the hot seat as if they aren't there for 10 min. When it's your turn all you can do is sit & take notes, then you get 5 min to respond.
Here are the prompts:
a) What does this person do that you find remarkable? What do you brag about them to other people?
b) If they were up for the promotion of their career in 6 months, what would you tell them now to give them the best chance of getting it?
c) Assume you're working with this person for the next 10 years. What behavior isn't a big deal now but will get annoying or frustrating over that time?
This [activity] results in the best compliments, the most constructive feedback, and a culture of direct, candid conversations.”
You can even conduct this feedback session via an online meeting. Ask your team members to meet via Zoom and follow this method to provide feedback to one another. Ensure you host the meeting.
5. Plan annual retreats
Nothing builds trust, transparency, and bonding than a face-to-face conversation and time spent together. So, plan an annual get-together—all employees can meet at a common location and have fun. As a leader, you can encourage meaningful conversations, brush up on your company’s vision/goals, and lay the foundation to achieve them.