It’s one thing to build an atmosphere of trust and understanding between people who spend eight hours a day in the same building. But how do you recreate that special feeling of camaraderie if some (or all) of your employees work remotely?
To help you answer that very question, here are five virtual team building ideas that are easy to implement and can go a long way towards helping distributed teams bond:
If there’s one disadvantage to distributed teams, it’s that they lack the so-called “water cooler effect” that you see in a regular office. This is basically the sort of conversation that is had when co-workers bump into each other at the water cooler and talk about things completely unrelated to work. Trivial as they may seem, these interactions can have a noticeably positive effect on overall team morale.
But do you even need a water cooler? Many variations of the Pyramid of Communication, which ranks forms of communication in terms of intimacy, place video conferencing only one or two steps below the best form of communication: face-to-face.
One way to replicate that special water cooler effect in an online team is to arrange a weekly 30-minute video call, during which every team member will get a chance to share a few personal updates.
Most people are camera-shy to begin with, so expect these virtual meetings to be pretty awkward the first couple of times you try them. You might even want to prepare a couple of cringe worthy — but effective — icebreakers, if this is what’s needed to help your co-workers lose their inhibitions.
Over time, your team will start to feel a lot more comfortable about giving their colleagues a glimpse of their personalities, and you will notice them actively looking forward to the next video update.
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The family photos and other trinkets we use to decorate our workstations reveal a lot about our personalities. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see what the desks of your colleagues look like if they are spread all across the globe. So why not take virtual meetings to the next level by giving your team a tour of your office space?
You could just show your desk and your executive stress ball, but we’re sure your team members would also love to have a look at your meeting rooms, lounge areas, kitchen, and other fun places around the office. Make sure everyone takes part, even if they do work at their kitchen table with a cat on their lap!
You could go even further and equip yours and your remote team’s offices with cameras and screens that would always show what’s going on the other side for the ultimate feeling of being present in the same workspace.
No list of remote team building activities would be complete without mention of a virtual team room. Set up a group chat for the whole team in Skype, Slack, or any other team communication tool you’re already using, and think of it as the equivalent of a coffee break area in a physical office. The group chat will quickly become a perfect place to share fundraising or charity events you’re involved in, send birthday wishes, add links to interesting things you’ve found online, and — most importantly — post cute cat gifs.
Yet another great opportunity for a geographically dispersed team to get to know their colleagues a little better is to invite everyone to collaborate on a playlist centered around a certain theme. For instance, you could ask everyone to add a song they associate with a poignant memory in their lives, and to share that memory in the next video update or in your group chat. After that, simply create a playlist featuring everyone’s songs. If there’s a holiday coming up, every team member could add their favorite song associated with that holiday to the dedicated playlist.
Building an intranet is more time- and resource-consuming than the ideas mentioned above, and for this reason probably isn’t worth the while if you only have 10 people on your team.
However, if your online team is quite large, an intranet will not only become a great knowledge base accessible to all team members at all times, regardless of their time zone, but will also prove to be a valuable team building tool.
Adding personal pages with photos, contact details, and personal intros for every employee to your intranet will streamline the channels of communication between geographically dispersed team members and make the onboarding process go so much smoother for newbies.
An intranet is also a great place to add business ideas, share company news, create communities according to members’ interests, play games, run contests, post questionnaires, and much more besides.
If there’s one key takeaway from this post, it’s this: never underestimate the importance of informal communication. Be open with your team, listen to what they have to say, and you’ll soon realize that they’re your best source of excellent virtual team building activities that everyone will enjoy.