Remote work was around before, but it wasn’t mainstream. Fast-forward to a year ago, and suddenly everyone is working remotely. And while we absolutely advocate for remote work, we also advocate for doing it properly in order to actually reap the benefits thereof. Before anything else, we are human and we need to feel connected - virtual team building thus becomes paramount to a remote company’s success.
You obviously want to keep your team happy and healthy because that will ultimately define their productivity and the quality of their output. The fundamental way to do this is to replicate organic socialization and professional positivity.
A study by Gallup found that if you have a "best friend at work" you will be more engaged, produce a higher quality product, and have a higher wellbeing.
Getting to know your remote employees on an individual level will help manage the team’s interactions as a whole. It will make it easier to find remote team building activities that make sense for your team. At the same time, you will be able to build relationships on a deeper, more genuine level and your employees will certainly appreciate that.
Always assume the best
Not everyone is vocal about their lives, and the water cooler moments in the office make things easier to create connections. Communicating remotely makes building rapport much harder. We can’t easily read each other over a screen. Humans get so much information from each other in face-to-face interactions in the form of non-verbal cues.
When we don’t have these cues, then we usually assume the worst in the other person because we don’t have all the information to understand their intent.
Change your mindset from negative to positive, and assume that people are being positive first. It can be easy to miscommunicate and so check in with team members if there appears to be a conflict. A cup of coffee and a chat with the parties could help get to the bottom of the issue.
Promote video calls
Always use video on calls with the team. As mentioned above, the visual aspect of meetings is incredibly important. There are so many cues one can observe visually that simply cannot be replicated with only audio. However, don’t force it. Advocate for it, but let people turn their camera off on a bad hair day or if there’s absolute chaos in their background. Managing a remote team involves many different strategies and tactics, but being able to put faces to names is one of those with strongest impact.
Get on the gifs & emojis
Just like body language, animation adds to written communication. When you’re not using videos, use gifs and emojis to add context to your texts. A study by Dr Owen Churches at Flinders university found that we react to them in exactly the same way as we do a real human facial expression. They help make intent clear and demonstrate our reactions to a situation. Add Giphy to Slack and encourage emoji use in the team to add a little fun.
Celebrate good things
Use reminders for team members’ life events, such as birthdays and moving house, to send messages of congratulations and good luck. Send flowers or presents for big life events, repurpose the Friday beer fridge budget to nice things for the team, or organize a virtual pizza party to commemorate a milestone.
Researchers from Brigham Young University in the US found newly-formed work teams experienced a 20 percent increase in productivity on subsequent tasks after playing video games together for just 45 minutes. You obviously don’t need to go as far as introducing gaming events - what your team likes to do depends on, drumroll, your team. You can introduce any number of things. For the curious, organize quizzes; for those into cult shows and movies, organize a virtual Comic Con; and for the foodies, a cooking night.
Having a space where colleagues can share about their lives is important. It’s not the daily catch up or the big meetings - it should be time set aside for this activity specifically.
Give perks (that you can afford)
Think about perks that you could provide your virtual office, decide on a budget, and let the team vote for their favorite or two. Options are really endless and we would need an Excel sheet to list them all. For example, Zapier created an office radio by providing everyone with Spotify premium accounts. They share an office playlist and people can add songs throughout the day. On the other hand, you could buy everyone a coffee twice a week in their local coffee shop. Seriously, options are endless.