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A team of developers based in Asia, sales representatives in North and South America, and company headquarters in Europe. For many organizations, managing a globally distributed team is completely normal. Remote work has dissolved international borders when it comes to hiring and onboarding and opened access to a global talent pool, allowing businesses to hire the best talent available based on skills and experience - rather than based on employee location.
While remote work has been credited with many merits - such as higher employee happiness and productivity and the fact that companies can save money with remote work - it also comes with some challenges. One of the main challenges that have repeatedly been cited in the context of working with remote teams is creating a strong and engaging work culture and making sure that employees feel connected with their fellow team mates.
The 2019 State of Remote Work Report by Buffer stated loneliness as the second biggest challenge for remote teams. Combine this with the fact that workplace isolation can decrease productivity up to 21% and you’ll see why keeping the entire team engaged and connected should be one of your top priorities.
A crucial step towards creating a sense of belonging in remote teams is making sure your employees regularly interact with each other. One way to do so is to initiate virtual team building activities.
In this blog post, we’ve compiled a list of ideas that will help you make remote team building a success. But before we dive right in, let’s look at why team building is so important in distributed teams and what you need to organize remote team building games and events.
The State Of Work
Team building is a very important exercise for any company, regardless of whether they work with a local or global workforce. It helps boost employee morale, builds camaraderie and trust between employees, improves communication, and generally allows your team to work better together. It’s no secret that a strong team ultimately contributes towards your company’s success - as stated in Forbes magazine, “team building is the most important investment you’ll make”.
In distributed teams, purposeful team building is of even greater importance. Since working remotely might lead to employees feeling undervalued, lonely and disconnected, bringing them together during and outside office hours is important for keeping everyone on board and improving mental health in remote teams. Also, employees who feel valued and well-connected will be more dedicated to their job and deliver a better performance.
Depending on the scale of the remote team building activities you strive for, you might need some resources and time for preparation. For larger virtual team building events, you need:
Planning and scheduling: The first thing is to plan and schedule the event. This might seem easy, given that no physical presence is required. But especially when you have a globally distributed team, you might find it hard to schedule an event that works for team members in different time zones.
One person designated to the event: In order to make sure your remote team building runs smoothly, you should make sure to designate a person in your organization who will be in charge of planning and managing the virtual events. Ideally, this should be someone with a lot of empathy and experience in working with people, so that they can encourage shy team members to join in.
Communication tools: In remote first businesses, this requirement is probably already fulfilled right from the start, but it’s still worth pointing out that all team members should have a stable internet connection and access to communication tools to fully enjoy participating in whatever virtual team building activity you choose.
Announcement: With different public holidays for remote team members, time differences and annual leave scheduling, it’s nearly impossible to organize virtual team activities in which everyone will be able to join. However, your goal should be to include the maximum number of people. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure that team competitions and activities are scheduled and announced well in advance. Plus, the event should sound great to encourage everyone to take part.
This might sound like an awful lot of effort at first. But as we will see in the following list of virtual team building activities, remote team building doesn’t always have to involve a lot of planning and organizing. In fact, there are many fun activities and games that can be integrated effortlessly into meetings and workflows.
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Remote team building activities come in many different forms and shapes. They don’t always have to fulfill a strategic purpose, but can also just serve as unproductive breaks. From short 5-minute social chats via Slack to fun virtual social hangouts, anything goes as long as it allows your remote staff to bond and stay connected with their co-workers.
Whether it’s in the beginning of a team meeting or in the beginning of an evening full of virtual team activities, the biggest challenge is to break the ice and get everyone to loosen up. Icebreaker games are easy to plan and play, and usually have a great effect. Some of the most popular virtual icebreakers are:
Virtual dance party: Online team building activities can become a little static with everyone sitting in front of their laptops. To shake things up, you can organize a short virtual dance party at the beginning of a meeting. Choose a song and make everybody join - no fancy dance moves required, just move along to the rhythm.
Hot chair: This fun little game requires everyone in a meeting to participate. One team member starts by raising a question and naming a colleague to answer it. The colleague then has five seconds to answer the question, think of another one and name the next person to answer it, and so on.
Rose and Thorn: Similar to Hot Chair, this little virtual team game involves all the participants in a meeting. But instead of answering a question, everyone has to name one thing they found hard or challenging (“thorn”) and one thing that turned out positive (“rose”) in the last week - or the previous day. This exercise can be particularly valuable to see where problems persist and how the general morale is among your team.
Little effort is needed to organize online team building games. All you need to do is pick a schedule, choose some games and invite your employees. Of course, virtual team building activities don’t always have to take place outside office hours. Integrating some of these fun little games into the daily team routine is a fantastic way to drive engagement and prevent monotony. There is a variety of different games to choose from. Among the most popular are:
Typing speed races: Pretty self-explanatory. One team member types a preselected text sample as quickly as possible and the others follow, trying to beat the time set by the other typers.
Spreadsheet pixel art: If you’ve ever messed around with Google Sheets, you know how much fun it can be to try out the different formulas and graphs. When playing spreadsheet pixel art, you use the graphs to create images and pictures, and replace the numbers of the graphs by colors.
Remote work bingo: Instead of using a sheet with numbers, you create a template with different statements and accomplishments regarding remote work (e.g. “Cleaned flat during lunch break”). The rest is just as normal bingo, i.e. players cross off the different spots on the sheet as the respective item is mentioned.
Guess the word: Divide your team into two groups. One member of each group gets to pick a random item from a prepared list and then has to explain it to the other members of their team, until they guess it. This fun game is perfect for little unproductive breaks or as a longer version for virtual social gatherings.
Of course, the list of online team games is endless and with more and more companies specializing in offering virtual team building games, organizations now have a big pool of games to choose from, including strategic games, spoken word games and more.
What many remote workers find challenging is the physical separation from their colleagues. Chats at the water cooler or during coffee breaks don’t happen in the world of remote work, unless you make them happen. Organizing virtual social gatherings is the most effective way of giving co-workers the chance to socialize and interact with one another without talking shop. Here are some ideas for social gatherings among team members that can be conducted fully remotely:
Virtual coffee or lunch breaks: An open Google hangout or similar at a fixed hour of the day where everyone can join if they want to - and if they are free at that time.
Virtual birthday gatherings: When working in an office, it’s quite common to bring cake or any other form of snacks to the office on your birthday for a quick and informal celebration. Why not do the same online? For instance, you could create a Slack channel dedicated to birthdays or organize a short informal meeting.
Companies traditionally hold certain events for their staff over the course of the year. Just because you have a globally distributed team, this doesn’t mean you have to stop doing so. Well on the contrary! The only difference is that these events will take place online. Given the lack of face-to-face interaction, it’s even a good idea to increase their number - also to make sure everyone can join at least one event. Here are some ideas:
Virtual party to begin the festive season: Christmas, Hanukkah… Your global workforce might celebrate different events during the festive season at the end of the year, but that doesn’t prevent them from enjoying a party together.
Online coffee, tea or wine tasting: One of the learnings of the pandemic was that most events can also be organized and held virtually. This includes tastings. Make sure everyone is set up with the necessary tasting samples and you’re ready to go!
Virtual pub crawl: The basic idea is to get everyone together in a virtual conference call to share some drinks and chat over a glass or two. To turn the event into a virtual pub crawl, have all participants go to a specific website that gives plenty of interesting input for conversations. After 15 minutes or so, change to a new website - and grab a new drink!
Online pub quiz: Another pub-related tradition that can easily be recreated online is the good old pub quiz. As for the virtual pub crawl, get everyone to join a video call with a drink. Then divide the participants into different teams and let the quiz begin.
Virtual games night: We’ve already mentioned some online games you can play with your remote team. Some of them are really addictive and guarantee a fun virtual games night.
With a globally distributed workforce, it’s very likely that the members of your team come from different cultural backgrounds. Embracing cultural diversity is both a challenge and a great potential for bringing your team closer together. The best way to do so is by initiating virtual team events that focus on cultural differences and help improve cultural competence in your remote team. Here are some inspirations:
Virtual social hangouts to mark a special cultural celebration with input from some of your employees concerning traditions, origine and so on.
Cooking classes with traditional recipes from different countries: Ask your employees if they know how to prepare traditional dishes and if they'd like to share them with their co-workers in a cooking class.
One of the reasons why remote workers are said to be more productive than their in-office colleagues is the fact that remote work basically eliminates distracting office talk. However, talking only shop with colleagues can, after some time, lead to a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Plus, it’s difficult to bond with someone if you know absolutely nothing about them.
In short: Even when working remotely, employees need a space where they can talk about topics they feel passionate about. This could be their pets, their hobbies or sports. For example, you could set up a Slack channel dedicated to personal communication where employees can post pictures of their four-legged companions or their sporty adventures. Their colleagues can then comment and reply. You can even use the channel to initiate a messy-desk photo contest or gif battles - the virtual alternative to nerf wars.
Team building in remote teams is a challenge. And so is building and growing a globally distributed team - maybe even more so. At Lano, our mission is to help businesses and organizations build and grow their global teams in full compliance.
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