Distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder; it can just as well wreak havoc on the heart. Similarly, it can also prove to be the greatest obstacle in establishing and maintaining good working relationships.
As remote and virtual teams become increasingly common, the need for effective team bonding strategies among people who have minimal face to face contact grows increasingly urgent.
Whether you run a hybrid team of in-office and remote employees, or a fully remote team, the fact remains that the stronger the team spirit, the better their collaboration. Research, though, indicates that remote workers often feel excluded, isolated, and lonely.
Hence, managers leading virtual teams need to be proactive in reaching out to remote workers and initiating inclusive conversations and team activities that facilitate relationship-building. Here are four ways to do just that.
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Many of the things that traditional office workers take for granted are often crucial for bonding. Lunch buddies, drinks after work, and the particular camaraderie that emerges from staying late in the office together—these are things that remote workers don’t typically enjoy.
For that reason, managers must make it a point to substitute them with alternative team activities that provide the benefits of bonding without necessitating physical proximity.
The easiest and most cost-effective solution here is for managers to have regular informal check-ins with remote workers. Even though it sounds like stating the obvious, it’s also an under-utilised strategy.
Since studies have found that remote workers continuously feel left out, reaching out to them regularly is a simple but effective way to bring them into the fold. Generally speaking, managers who pay attention to each of their people are often in better positions to provide coaching and support. It’s no different for virtual team managers.
Alternatively, you could consider organising virtual get-togethers where everyone participates in non-work-related activities. For example, Zapier, a fully remote web service company, uses Donut, a Slack app that randomly pairs two team members together each week to talk about anything at all.
Similarly, the social media management company Buffer runs Mastermind Partnerships to facilitate stronger bonding between team members. Under the mandatory program, two team members are paired in the interests of “[establishing] a deep connection… for long-term support, accountability, and continuity.” Each Mastermind is a mandatory, structured, hour-long session that occurs twice a week.
Psychological safety is of paramount importance in ensuring maximum participation and information sharing during collaboration. People want to feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks with each other, like voicing out an unpopular but justified opinion during meetings.
This doesn’t happen in a vacuum though; team members need first to have mutual trust and understanding. With remote teams, the problem is often compounded. How do you trust someone you rarely ever see face to face, or in some cases, ever?
To that end, yearly retreats serve a dual purpose. For remote companies, they’re a chance to create and re-iterate company culture, as well as to facilitate stronger interpersonal relationships.
Zapier, for one, holds four-day company retreats twice a year. Here, team members participate in everything from hiking to Game of Thrones screenings to bond with each other. Likewise, Buffer holds annual international retreats in places all over the world which are more recreational in nature. Employees working near each other also have “on-sites”, which are decidedly more collaboration and work-focused.