Despite companies like Yahoo and Aetna that recently eliminated telework options, the number of remote workers in the US is growing. Gallup’s 2016 report showed that 43% of US employees work remotely at least some of the time. And why not? The benefits can be huge: increased productivity and efficiency for disciplined employees, lower real-estate and overhead costs, better morale, lower employee turnover and less negative environmental impact.
But, having a top-notch remote workforce doesn’t just happen by itself. Forging strong bonds is critical. It takes dedication and purpose to create ongoing opportunities for employees to build relationships with their coworkers. Some methods may feel forced at first – or even contrived – but they work.
Building Strong Foundations & Connections with Purpose
Regardless of where you are in the organizational hierarchy, bonding with remote employees takes a true team effort. You’ll be well-served to treat team bonding activities as seriously as your most challenging project. Without a close-knit team, your group’s productivity and projects are bound to suffer.
Whether you’re just starting to experiment with telework options or regularly onboarding new remote staff, you have lots of options right at your fingertips (pun intended!).
Acknowledge up front that remote team building can feel a little forced, especially at first. That’s okay. Before you know it, habits like the ones below will be part of your routine, which helps them feel more natural and spontaneous.
- Make it personal. Start each meeting with personal chitchat or an icebreaker question for the group. You can also use email or online chat platforms for fun (and quick) get-to-know-each-other questions.
- Show off your workspace – and your personality! Set up virtual walk-throughs of team members’ workspaces. It’s a great way for employees to show off family photos, talk about their hobbies and introduce the pets that keep them company every day.
- Share meeting responsibilities—and leadership opportunities. Top-notch communication is the cornerstone of remote teams. Take turns leading meetings and rotate other tasks such as agenda creator, facilitator, note taker and timekeeper. Even if they’re not running the whole meeting, make each employee responsible for delivering their own updates on goals and progress.
- Use video chat to host virtual coffees, lunch or happy hours. These work well for small groups as well as one-on-ones between peers or managers and their direct reports. Being able to see body language and facial expressions plays a major role toward clear communication of ideas, feelings and concerns.
- Virtual high-fives. Don’t let your company join the ranks of businesses that rarely acknowledge the contributions of their people (no wonder employee engagement scores are in the tank). Infuse employee recognition into your culture. Use weekly meetings to give team members the opportunity to give shout outs to their coworkers.
- Create a team charter. Allow the group to contribute to the “remote rules of the road.” It may sound corny, but you’ll be amazed at the buy-in and the great ideas that will emerge. Once the charter is set, set a schedule to occasionally revisit it. Also, consider giving your team charter a cool name so that it sounds more fun.
- Meet up in person. Many teams make a point to get everyone together in person eventually and with some regularity. If your team works remotely even though they’re geographically local, try meeting in person on a weekly basis. Otherwise, make it an annual event and incorporate multiple elements—team-building sessions, one-on-one opportunities, as well as group training, all-hands meetings and more.
- Select systems that enable remote work. Finding the right software to support a productive workforce is key, whether they’re on-site, remote, or a blend. The good news—finding the right software isn’t difficult! Look for solutions that make essential business functions easy, such as:
- Online chat, audio, video, and screen sharing: Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts, HipChat, JoinMe
- Project management: Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker, JIRA
- Document creation and file sharing: Google Docs, Microsoft Office Online, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box
- Calendars: Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, Doodle
- Others: Skitch, Dashlane
Run these ideas by the members of your team. Which ones resonate with them? Involve them in the process of selecting what activities and processes will work best for the group. Whatever you do, make it purposeful, be authentic and keep it going.