Over the years, a lot of research and effort has gone into figuring out how to bond teams together and build camaraderie among coworkers. A bonded team is a trusting team, which leads to higher levels of productivity, better collaboration, and an improved feeling of job satisfaction and happiness.
That’s all well and good, but unfortunately for those of us who work from home, not all that glitters is gold. In fact, 65% of remote employees report they have never had a team building session. When it comes to feeling like part of the workplace collective, remote or distributed workers often get left behind.
And that just ain’t cool, you guys. Especially when getting to know your fellow virtual cohorts is just so easy. Here are six ways to bond with remote coworkers on your team.
1. Create Space
First and foremost, if your team isn’t exclusively co-located, it’s important to create a virtual space for your remote workers to socialize. This is often referred to as a virtual water cooler. Without one, email threads will come and go and weeks might pass without someone simply asking how their teammate’s weekend was. Having a dedicated space for off-topic conversations makes it a much more natural and casual process. (Simply put: Almost no one is going to send a picture of their new puppy to a team-wide email thread. But they might share it on Facebook!)
Whether you use Slack, a private Facebook Group, or a larger communications tool like Sococo, create a space for coworkers to talk about what’s happening with them IRL. You can either facilitate these interactions in a formal way (more on that below), or you can simply open up the floor for friends to take a brain break and catch up. While too much idle chat may be bad for productivity, a few minutes to connect is good for morale, especially for remote teams who spend most of their days cooped up in a home office.
2. Ask More Personal Questions
At the top of meetings and standups, take a few minutes to allow your team to touch base about non-work stuff. Or, if you are working with a group of quiet introverts—Small talk! Gross!—kick off every video or call with a quick round robin prompt (‘How do you think Jack died on This Is Us?’) to get the conversation flowing. Not seeing each other in person makes it easy to forget your coworkers exist offline, too, and without some personal chatter, big milestones and life developments might go unnoticed.
My favorite example of this you-don’t-know-what-you-don’t-know epidemic? When I was 8 months pregnant, I was on a rare video call with a client who was typically all business and never asked about my life or routine. I stood up from my desk during the call, and she audibly gasped when she saw my watermelon figure.
Yeah, lady, I’m growing a person, thanks for checking in.
If you want to get to know your teammates, go out of your way to ask about their lives. It’s that simple.
3. Host Clubs and Coffees and Games and Movie Nights
Becoming acquaintances with your coworkers may be as simple as asking about someone’s day, but bonding and building a trusting relationship takes more time and commitment. If you want to transition your virtual office from a friendly place to a place of friends (h/t to my reverend for the turn of phrase there), then you just might need to plan a happy hour. Or a club. Or a movie night.
Find like-minded friends at work and ~make it a thing~. Even if you can only meet to talk about Game of Thrones once a year after the season finale, sharing common interests with your coworkers is a great way to feel like you are hanging out offline, even if you live across the country from one another.
Most of these activities are 100 percent easier with the right virtual office tool. For a movie night, you can pick a Netflix selection, have everyone press play at the same time, and chat about jokes or twists or big reveals in Slack. A Google Hangout is perfect for discussing a book over video and mugs of fresh coffee.
If you are a team leader with a budget to work with, you can even send everyone a gift card for Starbucks ahead of time so everyone can pick up their preferred cup on the house.
4. Leverage Virtual Fitness Apps
Look, boozy hangouts aren’t for every person or every team, I get it. There are plenty of other ways to connect with your remote coworkers. Back in the early days of Don’t Panic, every new team member would receive a Fitbit in the mail, plus an invitation to our tracking team. We’d share steps, workouts, nutritional information. And because I’m super humble and not at all competitive, I did not walk around my living room in the evenings while my husband watched television to make sure I got more daily steps than everyone else. I absolutely did not do that. I did not.
Join an online workout program together, or share weekly meal plans on a private Pinterest board just for your team. Just because you can’t run on the same track doesn’t mean you can’t have a running club.
5. Adventure Days
The adventure day is an idea I collected from Trello that is straight awesome. For your team members who are co-located, plan an annual or semi-annual outing that is completely unrelated to office work. Choose an activity that would be fun for the majority of your team (tubing down a river, hitting up a music festival, a beach day and barbeque… the options are endless) and do it on a weekday. The key is playing hooky—completely prohibit work conversations while out and about.
But what do you do for your remote workers, you ask? Aren’t they excluded? They are not, my friends. Give each of your remote team members an appropriate daily stipend (Trello recommends $100 per person) to have their own day out on the town doing whatever they please, too.
Get matching shirts, take lots of pictures, upload everyone’s big adventure to the same place either using a hashtag or a shared group or channel and celebrate all the cool, fun new shit each of you did.
(Alternatively, you can do this exact same thing, but with a philanthropic twist. Everyone cuts work and volunteers with the organization of their choice for the day.)
6. In-Person Meetups
If you want to really and truly bond with your remote team, there’s only one thing to do: take it offline. Even if you can’t host an all-expenses-paid annual retreat, there’s no reason you can’t schedule smaller, regional meetups, or invite the person on your team who lives 45 minutes away over to your house for a work session/lunch date. At the end of the day, the only way to prove you aren’t a bunch of robots is to get together and give one another a hug or a high five.
Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president of TalentSmart, points out that “More than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss.” Bonding with your team isn’t just good for relationships. Whether you’re the CEO, a manager who wants to help their team collaborate better, or simply a virtual team member yourself, bonding with your remote team is an essential business function if you want to have a high-performing team.
Try one of these activities today to get to know the people in the virtual cubicle next door. It’s good for you!
And if you’re working with or managing a remote team, I’d love to hear about how you’ve created bonding time or built your company culture. Let me know in the comments!