This is a guest post from our friend Michael Alexis at TeamBuilding.com.
Working remotely is an adjustment for most professionals, but can be an especially strange shift for small groups. While small teams tend to be tight knit, the lack of physical proximity in virtual offices can create a strong sense of isolation, especially since daily online chatter might be less than on larger teams.
Here are five ways to beat disconnection and encourage closeness despite the distance.
1. Plan recurring virtual happy hours
Casual conversation is a crucial part of teammate bonding, but informal chatter is minimal in virtual offices. Remote colleagues do not walk past each other’s desks or bump into coworkers in the break room while fetching coffee. While working from home, there is often no way to gage coworker’s levels of absorption or busyness or mood before striking up conversations, and messaging just to say hi often seems strange or intrusive. Thus, teammates rarely reach out without a reason.
Yet on small teams especially, cultivating close relationships with colleagues is a must. In the absence of natural run-ins and in-person interactions, remote managers can plan virtual happy hours where teammates can gather, unwind, and learn more about each other.
During virtual happy hours, coworkers meet via video conferencing software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to share drinks, chat, and play games. Reimbursing the first round of drinks is an appreciated gesture, and planning fun activities to ease initial awkwardness and facilitate employee bonding ensures a good time. Though meeting up online seems less lively than gathering at the same bar, remote happy hours have many benefits, chiefly no loud music drowning out conversations, no strangers, and no need to hail a cab afterwards.
2. Launch a team building lottery or rotation
Creating an inclusive workplace culture is about more than just building diverse teams. Inclusive environments recognize that all employees have unique personalities, perspectives, and interests, and strive to honor and accommodate those differences.
One of the main complaints about team building is that activities often cater to niche preferences, meaning some folks get forced to participate in events they have little to no interest in attending. The obvious antidote is to pick an activity with broad appeal, like trivia or Office Olympics. Or, let the group vote on choices. While neither are bad options, siding with the majority can still alienate certain team members.
The benefit of working in a small team is that every member’s voice has more weight. Use this fact to your advantage by choosing team building activities on a lottery or rotation. Simply determine an order, or pick employees at random. Then, let the selected teammate choose the virtual outing. This approach encourages a spirit of fairness and helps coworkers learn more about each other’s interests and passions.
3. Create peer feedback channels
Respect and regard from colleagues is important in any work environment, but is especially critical for close-knit staff. The smaller the group, the more each coworker’s opinion counts. Employees want to feel that colleagues recognize and appreciate their work, but the nature of remote work can sow doubt about personal performance. By creating feedback channels, you pave the path for staff to deliver praise and constructive criticism.
For example, virtual team event company TeamBuilding fosters camaraderie among its entirely remote workforce through Slack channels like:
- #no-failure-feedback: a digital peer feedback loop where staff can share glowing reviews, as well as notes, ideas, and suggestions for improvement
- #you-are-awesome: an ongoing chat where colleagues can show gratitude and celebrate each other’s achievements,
- #small-wins: a spot for little victories that fall outside of immediate work goals
Other methods of positive virtual reinforcement include giving kudos, a weekly exchange of thanks and acknowledgement between teammates, voting as a team on employee of the month, or participating in a digital mentorship program.
Brainstorming ways to start conversations helps remote employees grow relationships with colleagues and develop into more effective collaborators. Congratulating and constructively critiquing each other fosters trust and accelerates the team bonding process.
4. Encourage random acts of digital kindness
Studies show that kindness increases worker performance. In traditional offices, teammates might treat each other to coffee or lunch, lighten the mood on a heavy day with jokes or active listening, lend a hand with errands or work tasks, give high fives in the hallway, or throw each other surprise parties. In virtual offices, such opportunities arise less frequently. By prompting acts of kindness, remote managers encourage distributed teammates to make more authentic human connections.
Here are a few ideas:
- Kindness allowance, a modest stipend that enables teammates to send each other small surprise gifts
- Compliment tag, a game where remote colleagues swap nice sentiments in succession
- Virtual parties, such as remote retirement parties, birthday parties, workiversaries, and baby showers
- Ecards designed and signed by the team for special occasions
- Gratitude ceremony, a field on the periodic check-in form or team survey where staff can designate teammates they are thankful for
- Favor forums, where teammates can ask for or offer help on work or non-work related tasks
While navigating the getting-to-know-you phase, remote team members may feel shy about doing nice things for each other unprompted. However, once these exercises become habits, teammates take initiative and spontaneous generosity arises organically.
5. Request virtual hometown tours
Virtual offices often consist of geographically diverse teams operating in different regions or countries. One of the major perks of remote teams is the ability to collaborate with coworkers across the country or the globe. Highlighting this feature provides an excellent bonding experience for remote teams.
Virtual hometown tours enable remote team members to learn about new places and cultures, while learning more about teammates in the process.
Here are a few forms online virtual tours can take:
- Reply-all email prompts about local landmarks, businesses, or traditions
- Short presentations about hometowns during video meetings
- Collaborative cloud-based photo albums
- Virtual scavenger hunts or online classes relating to hometown culture
- Team chats dedicated to sharing interesting local tidbits
These exercises foster understanding and intimacy on remote teams by providing context for team members’ surrounding environments. As an added bonus, the activity provides insider access to remote destinations, satisfying travel-loving teammates’ wanderlust.
More Ideas for Virtual Team Building
These five tips are simple, cost-effective, low-time-commitment virtual team building exercises that improve rapport and productivity.
For even more inspiration and ideas, check out this list by teambuilding.com.