With teams that meet in person daily, bonding and communicating happens naturally – in the hallway, breakroom, and quick face-to-face meetings. If your team is one of the many that has recently started working remotely unexpectedly, you’ll want to quickly establish new ways of working together. Now, more than ever, team leaders must proactively work to keep their teams supported, help team members be supportive of each other, and create a sense of team cohesion.
Working remotely has many benefits – especially in terms of productivity. An Indeed study found that 57% of employees surveyed felt they are more productive working from home. Even more importantly, 72% of employers agreed with those workers in that their employees have higher productivity working remotely. With 22% reporting that their employees were equally as productive at home or in the office, only 3% reported lower productivity with remote workers.
There can also, however, be some drawbacks to working remotely. The Buffer State of Remote Work found that the top three challenges reported by remote workers are unplugging after work (22%), isolation (19%), and collaborating/communication (17%). Heightened stress levels, combined with many people working remotely for the first time, mean that team leaders must purposely work on virtual team building during the current crisis. Team leaders should also encourage their team to sign off at the end of the day to avoid people working around the clock.
Here are five ways to build camaraderie on your remote team:
1. Set time aside for chit-chat during meetings
Before an in-person meeting, team members usually talk among themselves – often about work matters, but sometimes they share personal details with each other as well.
Because team members may want to talk about the current crisis with the people they previously spent most of their waking hours working closely with, let your team spend extra time chatting before or after virtual team meetings. You can even kick things off by asking how everyone is holding up and start the conversation by sharing your own concerns. Or, to keep people’s minds off the current crisis, consider adding a fun ice-breaker question to the meeting.
2. Use video chat for meetings
While it may be tempting to have team meetings over the phone to limit distractions and save time getting presentable for the camera, video chats can help your team feel more connected than voice phone calls. Not only will teams likely have fewer miscommunications because you can read body language over video, seeing faces other than their roommates or loved ones can help alleviate boredom and stress.
Given that team members may be juggling children at home, or working in close quarters with a roommate or partner, let everyone know that noise distractions are part of life right now. Help reduce concerns over keeping kids from barging into the home office during a chat, or a cameo by a roommate making coffee, by reminding everyone of the possibility of special guests.
3. Create a group chat
Your team is used to sharing about the movie they saw over the weekend or getting up to speed on each other’s kids in the hallways of your office. Set up a group chat in your team’s preferred chat app to give people an outlet to share when they have the time and inclination.
Because team members may be working flexible schedules with schools and childcare facilities shut down, virtual conversations let team members stay connected without accidentally interrupting each other. You might also encourage team members to leverage your collaborative work management software to create recommended reading lists (complete with book reviews), playlists, or share other fun resources with each other.
4. Create contests – with prizes
To help lighten up the mood and add a little bit of fun to everyone’s day, hold a contest – or five. A photo contest, such as best dressed, funniest pet photo, or best lunch, can help people connect and be creative. Or you may want to start a meme contest for the funniest original meme.
The old standby of bingo – with custom cards based on your team’s inside jokes and the current situation – can be a fun addition to your day. Be extra creative with prizes — or just grant bragging rights for the day.
5. Create a virtual breakroom
Your team likely gathers informally at your office in a breakroom or lunchroom for a meal or cup of coffee throughout the day. With everyone scattered, create a virtual meeting room that people can log into when they want to take their lunch or afternoon break with company. This gives people a place to go when the mood strikes and they need a friendly face. By providing an outlet for informally chatting, you are acknowledging this stressful time and giving people a way to connect when needed.
At first glance, these suggestions for team building may make it appear that you are giving your team the opportunity to be distracted from work projects. However, by acknowledging their need to stay connected with each other, your team will actually be more productive and have lower levels of stress throughout the current crisis.