A lot of trust is required when it comes to working from home. Managers need to be able to trust that their team members are doing the work they need to. Team members have to trust that they’ll get the support they need from each other and their managers to have what they need to do their jobs. Camaraderie among colleagues leads to trust, which is why fostering a team mentality with remote team building activities is so important.
Who are you more likely to trust? The random guy you’ve maybe spoken to once or the friend you dished about the latest office gossip with over lunch? When you get to know someone on a more personal level, you’ll have a better understanding of whether you can trust them to follow through when you need them to. It also creates a sense of accountability within the team. No one wants to let their work bestie down, right?
Building a strong team mentality is hard work even when everyone is in the same office. It’s an even bigger task when the entire team is working from home and potentially spread across timezones. But it’s arguably even more essential in a remote work environment as the natural barriers of remote work make it difficult for strong team relationships to develop naturally.
Having managed and worked as part of remote teams for several years, here are a few tried and true methods I recommend for facilitating a team mentality when everyone is working from home:
1. Organize team bonding meetings + activities
I groan at the thought of organized fun, but there’s a reason it’s so popular when it comes to team building. While these types of activities may feel forced and people may be less than enthusiastic to participate, they often tend to enjoy them, in my experience.
Hosting online holiday parties or happy hours is a classic team bonding technique. Come prepared, though. A little push may be required to get the conversation flowing so plan some activities and games ahead of time.
Regular ‘get to know you’ activities and questions on Slack are also a great passive way to encourage engagement within a remote team. Ask questions that are quick to answer, people will find value in, and that will tell you something about the person. For example, “I need a new Netflix recommendation, what should I watch next?”. It’s a simple question, but it can easily spark conversation and connect colleagues who share common interests.
2. Encourage individual relationships
Not every team-building exercise needs to involve the entire team. There will always be wallflowers who want to hide in the corner of the screen and those who overpower the group, so make sure you give everyone the opportunity to shine. One way to manage this is to split up into smaller groups for competition style games at larger team events. This will give your team members the opportunity to interact directly with people they might not work with on a day-to-day basis.
Also, encourage team members to have one-on-one virtual coffee hours and lunch dates with each other. This may be as simple as letting them take a certain amount of time on the clock for this or actively making it happen. A company I used to work for sent around a list every month of randomly assigned lunch date pairs. This was a great, low-pressure way to get to know people working in other parts of the company. With a virtual team, pick a day and send everyone calendar invites for these meetings. It’s as simple as that.
3. Send physical tokens of appreciation
Even though your business operates in a virtual world, bringing it into the physical space in a small way can have a big impact. Mailing someone a physical note thanking them for their contribution, for example, adds a human touch that no amount of Slack messages or Zoom calls can ever reach.
Sending your team members some company swag will also make the group feel more cohesive. They’ll wear their company logo shirts with pride and that little desk calendar in their home office will be a constant, passive reminder that they’re part of something bigger.
4. Share each other’s success
If someone does an awesome job helping you with a project, shout them out! Everyone loves hearing that their work is appreciated and doing so publicly shows that you’re sincere enough to tell other people how great they are. Recognize their work by sending them tacos on Slack with the app ‘HeyTaco!’ or giving them a great recommendation on LinkedIn.
Team-nominated awards are another fun way to encourage teams to celebrate each other. People will have to actively pay attention to what their teammates are doing in order to nominate someone. This will encourage more general awareness within the team and build morale through boosting each other up.
5. Make it part of the work culture
Fostering a team mentality doesn’t have to be all about cheesy remote team building activities and events, though. Making simple changes to daily operations can work toward this goal as well. For example, take the first five minutes out of each meeting to genuinely ask how everyone is doing. Working from home can be lonely so showing your coworkers that you care how their day is going will go a long way.
Asking everyone to turn their cameras on when video chatting is another easy way to help your team connect. While it may seem annoying because it means you have to put on clothes and brush your hair, it lets your colleagues put a face to your name and voice. You’ll also be able to pick up nonverbal cues more easily when you can see facial reactions to whatever it is you’re discussing.
Also, have everyone switch to ‘grid view’ if you’re using Zoom. This makes it easier to see everyone and creates a feeling of equality as everyone is placed in the same size box. People will be more likely to contribute if they feel that they’re on the same level as everyone else.
6. Operate as if you were in an office
One of the easiest, albeit less fun, ways to create cohesion in a team is to make sure that everyone has the same tools available to them as they would in a physical office. Using different software and tools adds confusion and logistical issues. It also prevents a common vocabulary from developing. Make “Slack me that” or “let’s hop on Zoom” the new equivalents of “pass me that file” or “step into my office”.
If you’re working across timezones, make sure that there’s some time overlap between team members so they can interact in real-time. It’s much more difficult to form a bond with someone when you’re playing email tag. Also, stress the importance of boundaries. If you wouldn’t call your coworker after they’ve left the office to ask about something, don’t do it when they’re working from home either. Working from home already blurs the lines of home and work so do your colleagues a solid and respect their “office” hours.
What remote team building activities have helped you manage a digital team? Share in the comments below!
Victoria is a communications strategist and content creator. She served as Public Relations Manager at InterNations and Communications Director for nonprofit The Unmentionables before successfully transitioning to a full-time freelance career. Her work ranges from travel tips for publications such as Fodor’s and Time Out to in-depth white paper content for SaaS providers.