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Right now, boosting team morale is more important than ever due to the high risk that employees in social isolation will become disengaged during the COVID-19 crisis.
Team-building exercises traditionally take place face-to-face – think about trust falls, after-work drinks, paintballing excursions, or scavenger hunts. But with these options off the table (for now), how can managers boost morale remotely?
Let's examine seven ways companies can build teams, boost camaraderie, and lift spirits with remote team building activities.
Why is remote team-building essential for remote teams?
Remote workers enjoy a lot of benefits, but they also miss out on dozens of little face-to-face interactions throughout the week that their office-based workers take for granted. In contrast to planned team-bonding activities, these interactions tend to happen organically.
"Water-cooler" chit chat, coffee breaks, shared strolls around the block, chatting to others while waiting for the office microwave to heat your lunch, or just stopping by a co-worker's desk to share your thoughts on the previous evening's episode of a favorite TV show … all of these micro-interactions may sound purposeless from a productivity point of view. Still, they are extremely valuable in terms of building team cohesion.
Teams that get along work better together. They're more collaborative, efficient, inclusive, and suffer less from toxic disagreements or misunderstandings. Getting to know someone by learning about their life outside the office – their hobbies, their kids, their pets – builds trust and camaraderie.
The value of having a close friend at the office should never be underestimated – after all, many people spend more time with their co-workers than they do with their family members.
As a rule, remote or distributed teams miss out on this aspect of team building, mainly when separated by time-zones. It's, therefore, imperative for HR professionals and team managers to come up with ways to boost team bonding remotely. Employers and employees may feel (at first) that deliberate team-building exercises feel a little bit artificial or even trite. Still, everyone will appreciate the end goal of creating a more robust team culture.
Remote team-building ideas
1. Getting to know you
One of the most challenging aspects of remote team-building is introducing new employees into the team. With the usual face-to-face introductions off the table, you'll need to get creative. This may involve:
- Using remote onboarding software, which includes a guided process for managing introductions.
- Conducting an ice-breaking exercise in the team chat or video meetings. For example, everybody in the team could get the chance to ask the new starter a question about themselves (such as their hobbies, pets, or favorite sport), or this could be done in the form of a guessing game.
2. Create a virtual space for water-cooler chatter
It's a good idea to replace the lost opportunities for general chit chat with a virtual equivalent. For example, Slack users can create a channel named something like #watercoolerconversations, with the understanding that non-work chatter is encouraged to take place here.
- Create as many channels as you like – funny working from home memes, pet pictures, and more.
- Having dedicated channels also helps keep non-work chatter off the work-related channels.
- Encourage team members to use common sense; don't post anything inappropriate, and don't spend too much of their day sharing memes (just as they wouldn't spend all day chatting at the office).
- Some app extensions like Donut randomly pair together team members to have a "Donut date," or an online meetup. The app will send the team members reminders and notifications to encourage them to get together.
3. Show and tell
Get to know each other better while working remotely by getting a glimpse into each other's homes. Organize "show and tell" sessions where people upload to the team chat pictures or videos of:
- Their working-from-home setup (whether it's a stylish home office, the kitchen table, or just an ironing board being used as a standing desk).
- Their family members or pets.
- What they're currently working on via a shared calendar.
You could even consider leaving a camera permanently on to create a "live remote office" to reduce the sense of isolation for other team members. Just be careful that the camera or microphone doesn't share anything that you wouldn't want your workmates to see or hear!
4. Video conferencing fun
Online meetings should follow the same rules as face-to-face group meetings – they should only take place if they're essential and should follow an agenda to be as efficient as possible. Online meetings can be frustrating with connectivity problems, frozen screens, audio quality issues, and people talking over each other. But they can also be fun.
- Consider starting each meeting with a brief ice-breaking exercise. The team at Adore Beauty posted this fantastic example on LinkedIn, where the team all danced The Macarena together.
- Some video conferencing apps allow you to add Insta-style filters such as cat ears or whiskers, while others let you change your background. Zoom users, for example, can customize their backgrounds, so it looks like they're joining the meeting from an exotic location.
5. Team-building while learning remotely
One of the other ways team members bond at the office is through face-to-face training. Used intelligently, remote training can also be a great team-building exercise. Use a Learning Management System (LMS) such as GoSkills to:
- Train employees as a team: remote learning doesn't have to be lonely.
- Make training fun through gamification.
- Encourage friendly competition between teams.
6. Recognize and reward
The best managers know that one of the ways to keep employees engaged and motivated is to recognize and reward good work. Luckily, there are apps to help companies do so remotely.
- Consider whether you want to reward and recognize employees on an individual basis or as teams.
- Apps include Bonusly, where employees earn points that can be converted into tangible gifts from an online catalog and Teamphoria that allows users to send digital high-fives and encourages friendly competition with a leader-board.
7. After-work activities
Just like co-workers sometimes meet up for social activities after hours, remote workers can get together on the chat channel or video conferencing software to relax together. This might involve:
- A "movie night" where participants watch the same movie together and chat about it on the channel.
- "After-work drinks" and chatter that is purely social (consider banning work-chat for these get-togethers.
- Keep in mind that after-work activities should be voluntary, as many employees will need to spend time with their families.
Over to you
How have you built morale amongst your remote team? Let us know in the comments below!
The common thread you might have noticed running through all the ideas above is technology. If COVID-19 had struck the global community even as recently as ten years ago, managers would have had great difficulty finding ways to build cohesion in remote teams as much of the technology simply wasn't available. Today, there are thousands of HR technology providers with solutions to support every aspect of working remotely, including remote learning.
Whether your team will be working remotely for the short or long haul, the GoSkills LMS is the ideal way to train your team, help them gain new skills, and keep them productive. Access GoSkills' award-winning course library, upload your own courses and resources, and watch your team bond and grow together, even while they are apart. It's free to sign up and add an unlimited number of learners!