As we tour around the country giving workshops and training, we gather lots of inspirational ideas from managers who are making the extra effort to connect with their remote teams. Here are some of the ways real-life remote teams are working to build community.
1. Care Packages. Many companies have products or promotional items (stress balls, beach towels, mugs, etc.) sitting around their headquarters. Remember to include your remote team members when goodies and product samples are distributed.
2. Team Profiles. Ask every team member to complete a profile and post them to a shared data folder. Include basic information like how to reach you, your communication preferences (e.g. text over email for emergencies), and your most productive time of day. Add photos of the most important aspects of your life such as pets, kids, hobbies, photo of your workspace or home, etc. Then include how you like to be recognized, favorite snacks, restaurants, or way to spend a Saturday night.
3. Profile Sharing. Use team profiles to get to know each other. Once a month focus on the profile of a team member (call it “All About Me” for example) and ask them to share a little bit about themselves. It makes a person feel special and helps everyone on the team realize the things they have in common.
4. Virtual Office Tour. Does your laptop have a webcam and wireless internet access? Take it on a walk around the office to show off your office digs and give remote employees a view of your work area. Then have them do the same.
5. Shift Overlap. Take the concept of shift overlap and apply it to your global team. Some managers have experimented with coming in early or staying late one consistent day of the week so that they can meet with their global team over the phone instead of limiting their interaction to exchanging emails.
6. Go Audio Visual. If shift overlaps don’t work, try new ways of communicating. Instead of sending your overseas team members an email outlining the work that’s been done for the day, change up the format: leave a voicemail, a voice text message, or record a brief video instead.
7. Virtual Networking. One manager makes it a point to call one virtual team member a day to talk only about personal matters. She says that investing in the time has helped build relational capital that she can use when she needs a favor or something turned around quickly. Set a daily or weekly call goal that works for you.
Take note of their personal and professional information and keep an eye out for news, articles, and books that might be of interest and forward it along. Acknowledge birthdays, company anniversary dates and promotions with a quick message to let them know you’re thinking of them.
8. Celebrate Fifth Fridays. Every year there are several months which have five Fridays instead of four. One team celebrated these 5th Fridays with fun team-building exercises like virtual bingo, pumpkin carving contests, baby pic contests and the like. For virtual bingo, they sent every team member a bingo card, and sent email messages throughout the day with the call letter and number in the subject line. When someone got bingo they emailed everyone with BINGO! in the subject line.
9. Decorating Contests. You don’t need a cubicle to have an office decorating contest. Consider alternatives like decorating a computer monitor, filing cabinet or company hat. Send team members the supplies they’ll need and ask them to take a picture of their creation. Post the photos to a shared PowerPoint deck and ask everyone to vote on the best one. Then reveal the winner and send a prize. Or use video-conferencing so everyone to show off their creation and rally team members for their vote.
10. Level the Playing Field. Help remote team members feel more included in teleconferences by having all team members (especially onsite ones) remain in their workstations for the call. Or if you must meet in a conference room, bring teleworkers tags, photos, or name badges with you to place on the conference table, so you don’t forget they’re on the call.
BONUS IDEA !
Shared Storage. Sounds simple but creating one community or shared drive where all of your team’s team-building documents go makes everyone feel included no matter where they’re working. Store team member profiles, flex team agreements and blueprints, goals, project plans, etc. so that no one ever feels excluded because they can’t find a document. It also makes the statement that team building files are as important as the documents required to run your business.