With an increasing number of businesses offering telecommuting benefits, as well as a steady rise in positions for remote freelancers and contractors, the concept of the virtual team is as real and relevant as it has ever been. When you add the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic into that mix, too, it becomes even more clear that managers and business owners need to be able to handle their people from afar.
However, by their very nature, it is often hard for dispersed teams to be just that: teams. As a group of isolated individuals located all over the world, achieving a sense of belonging and camaraderie can be hugely tricky – not to mention pose a significant management challenge.
Therefore, it is vital that you focus on virtual team building for your remote workers. Whether it is to integrate workers into your company culture, break the ice for the formation of new virtual teams, strengthen pre-existing professional relationships, or simply stay connected, remote socialisation is critical.
To help your workers bond and collaborate, we've compiled a list of nine virtual team bonding exercises that you can introduce, each of which is intended to help increase cohesion amongst your remote workforce. Why not give them a go?
1. Take Advantage of Video Conferencing
Weekly or biweekly video conferences are not just imperative to the smooth operation of your projects; by gathering in a more visual manner, it becomes an opportunity for remote teams to feel more integrated into the regular office's work environment.
It also allows relationships to develop more naturally, as it is easier for individual personalities to shine through in this manner than by sending and receiving emails or instant messages. By addressing each other face-to-face, your team will have a much better picture – figuratively and literally – of whom they are working with every day.
2. Incorporate Icebreakers
Helping team members to get to know each other is difficult enough in a conventional office environment, let alone within remote teams; to help counteract this, consider using icebreakers to help create and develop a sense of personality for each staff member.
You can get your team to open up to one another by asking professional icebreaker questions, such as "where do you see yourself in 10 years?", or, if you'd prefer to keep it less formal, more personal questions such as "what has been your best vacation?"
Activities like these enable employees to feel more comfortable talking to fellow workers (whether it be via email, video conferencing, or an in-person conversation), as well as helping them to learn something about their colleagues. Over time, everyone will feel more open with one another, allowing for more robust and honest discussions about project tasks.
3. Keep a Joint Company Calendar
Another way to take advantage of modern business technology is to create and implement a joint company calendar, usually hosted through a cloud service. This will help all employees stay on track for deadlines, meetings, and other key events, as well as allow them to add their own comments, notices and thoughts.
By having one centralised calendar that everybody regularly sees and works off, it increases the sense that everybody is on the same page and collaborating closely.
4. Use a Cloud-Based Professional Chatroom for Communication
Using a professional chatroom to cohesively keep track of every critical company matter allows everyone – be it your in-house or remote team – to feel connected. Proprietary team collaboration software tools such as Slack enable employees to communicate across different relevant channels, ensuring that workers are on the same level of communication regardless of if they are three seats away or three continents away.
Another benefit of using such software is that a 'random' thread can also be created, where employees can chat amongst themselves about non-work-related topics. This might sound like a waste of company time, but this is an essential opportunity for your staff to build a deeper connection amongst themselves; after all, you want your employees to get to know each other!
5. Take Photos of Company Events
Unfortunately, not every virtual worker will be able to attend each company event, especially if they are located far away. However, this doesn't mean that they should be excluded from such events; as a virtual team building activity, companies should take videos and photos from important functions to share with those who were unable to make it in-person.
Where possible, try to make your remote workers part of the celebrations, too. If it's somebody's birthday, for instance, then get everyone into the conference room for a video call to sing, while if your team is running a charity 5k, put the names of all your team members on their t-shirts.
6. Send a Gift
Without being able to see someone daily, it can mean a lot when you go the extra mile for remote workers. Whether it be for a holiday, a birthday, or just as a simple 'thank you' for their efforts, sending a small gift to your virtual team members is a sure way to elicit a sense of satisfaction and belonging within your out-of-office crew.
This is an excellent way to boost employee morale, too. Employees who feel appreciated contribute not only to a positive work culture and environment but also to the ongoing success of your worker-led endeavours.
7. Play Games
One of the more entertaining activities you can undertake as a virtual team-building exercise is setting up weekly gaming sessions amongst your employees. Pick a day of the week and set time aside for remote teams to log into a designated online platform to play group games with one another. This interactive (and fun) practice will not only create a sense of unity amongst out-of-office workers but also help to lower work-related stresses.
If all else fails, the good old-fashioned Zoom quiz can be a fun alternative, especially if there are prizes for the winners.
8. Arrange Meetings In Person
Obviously you will need to stay within the COVID-induced lines on this one, but, where possible, don't just limit the interactions for remote workers to the virtual world. Organise meet-ups for all staff members, be it a group get-together for dinner, coffee, or just a movie night. The effort involved in coordinating a small event like this will offer up significant returns due to increased employee satisfaction and a sense of personal investment within the company.
Of course, arranging such a meet-up is easier said than done, especially for those workers who are particularly far-flung. While you can arrange for your remote workers to spend a week or so at your office (on your expense, of course), another option could be to arrange team trips to the places in which your virtual staff are located. You can incorporate these trips into reward schemes, either as working holidays or as team-building getaways.
Regardless of the sector in which you work, virtual team building for your remote workers must be taken into account, especially if you want to see productive results. Fostering meaningful interactions, both on and offline, are extremely important to the strengthening of workplace relationships, employee well-being, and the overall cohesion and success of your company.
What methods have you used to strengthen professional relationships within your remote team of employees? Let us know your experiences and your thoughts in the comment section below.