team in virtual meeting on laptop
From virtual lunch meetings with company-expensed meals to group personality tests, there are several ways that remote teams can come together and engage in non-work-related ways. — Getty Images/filadendron

Since 2018, more than 50% of companies have had some team members work remotely. As that number continues to rise, remote teams face the unique challenge of collaborating from a distance.

Some collaboration challenges can be met by adding the right productivity tools, scheduling regular all-hands meetings, and creating an onboarding process that helps new hires integrate quickly. Outside of the daily routine, however, many small businesses use team-building activities to build a company culture and unite remote workers behind the company mission. Here are some tips to build camaraderie within your remote team.

[Watch: Workshop Wednesday: Managing and Motivating a Team During Coronavirus]

Set the parameters for your team building

There are a few logistical challenges to hosting a team-building activity for remote employees. Set some parameters from the beginning to make your team-building activity effective. Before you decide which activities to try, answer these questions:

  • Will the activity be live or asynchronous?
  • Do you prefer to use Slack or another messaging platform, video, or meet in person?
  • What props or tools do your team members need?
  • Are you looking to add some fun to the day, or should this activity have the secondary purpose of improving the way you work?
  • Are there cultural or language differences you will need to overcome?
  • Is this something you do once (maybe during onboarding) or something that happens weekly?

Once you gain clarity over your goals for this team-building activity, you can start to plan something that feels aligned with your organization’s culture and goals.

[Read more: 4 Business Management Trends for Leading a Remote Team]

Get employee buy-in

Many of us hear “team building” and immediately think of trust falls. Team building gets a bad rap, and remote employees may resist participating in a team-building exercise if it seems pointless or lame. Make sure you ask for feedback before hosting a team-building activity. Discuss your goals for hosting a team-building activity and how it will help move the business forward. Then, pitch a few ideas of some fun ways to improve the company culture that won’t take up too much of your employees’ free time. Let your team guide the way in selecting an activity that will make everyone happy.

Discuss your goals for hosting a team-building activity and how it will help move the business forward.

Ideas for remote team building

Here are some ideas that might work for your remote team, depending on your goals and parameters.

Virtual lunch hour

Trello, a project management platform, is a fully remote company well-versed in team building. Their engineering team hosts a monthly video conference during lunch to bond and catch up “in person.” Trello allows team members to expense up to $25 for a meal from their favorite restaurant or delivery. Sometimes there’s an agenda item, other times this lunch hour is protected free time during the workday for social fun.

“The aliens have landed”

This game comes from Miro, another remote work project management tool. “The aliens have landed” is great for teams with different languages and cultural customers. The team pretends that aliens have landed on Earth and are asking for information about your company. Because the aliens can’t understand human languages, you must communicate using five symbols or pictures. Each participant draws five simple images that describe your company culture or product. The team can then talk through common themes (or try to guess what each person’s drawing represents).

Workspace pictures

This activity falls on the side of fun. Atlassian, a remote software development company, plays this regularly to keep things interesting. “When you work in an office, you feel compelled to keep your desk at least minimally clean: no used tissues, 3-day old cereal bowls, or constellations of coffee rings. But when you work from home, there’s no such social contract to uphold,” wrote the company blog.

Ask your team members to take pictures of their home workspaces. At best, your remote workers can humblebrag about their tidy, stylish at-home setup. At worst, you can commiserate over your messy desks and laugh over mess of a desk. And, it brings everyone together by allowing you to picture where your teammates are getting work done.

Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder

A great way to go deeper as a team is to take a skill test like Myers Briggs or Clifton StrengthsFinder. Both of these assessments focus on finding your strength and can be positive and affirming for remote workers to go through. Bring the team together on a call to share results, talk through where your strengths lie as a group, and get to know one another’s talents. This is a practical exercise that can also improve your business operations, helping you capitalize on previously unknown skills or identify gaps to fill during hiring.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 20, 2020