Telecommuting has a host of benefits for employees and employers alike, including greater flexibility and freedom for workers as well as lower costs and a bigger talent pool for employers. But it does come with a few challenges. Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 found that the most commonly cited downside to telecommuting is the lack of the socializing, collaboration, and personal rapport that naturally occurs in an office setting.
To counter this, team leaders need to be proactive about team building — not just to combat loneliness — but also to promote company culture and help forge stronger working relationships. This article covers several team-building activities for telecommuters that can help bring your employees together — no matter where they’re located.
Team building activities for telecommuters
- Meeting “icebreakers”
- Show and tell
- Throw a remote party
- Play games together as a team
- Plan an in-person event
1. Meeting “icebreakers”
Before planning special team-building activities, take advantage of the meetings you already have to encourage casual socializing. A video conference call can be an awkward place for mingling, so help it along by consciously guiding your team to just talk. Henry O’Loughlin, director of operations at Nectafy — a company that is fully remote — recommends building nonproductive time into meetings and starting every meeting with an icebreaker.
“With telecommuters, there is no idle time just getting to know people like in an office,” he says. “On my team, we do an icebreaker every meeting. We already know each other well, but it’s just a way to have a nonwork thing to talk about, so we can get to know each other even better. You lose that from the office, and you want to build it back in.”
Icebreakers can be about almost anything. They can be as simple as the perfunctory, “How is the weather?” or “What did you do this weekend?” But why not get creative and solicit opinions on a random topic or give a prompt that allows people to open up and share more of their life story? “What was your first job?” or “Where is your favorite vacation spot?” are good options.
Just remember to keep icebreakers lighthearted and appropriate for a work environment.
2. Show and tell
The idea of “show and tell” may take you back to kindergarten, but since your team is interacting through a screen, use the visual element to your advantage. Have team members share their lives through pictures and video. Why not turn a video meeting into a vlog where team members show off their home or workspace?
You can make an ongoing ritual out of it by having people send photos of their desk, pets, or morning coffee. Or allow people to show more of themselves by sharing pictures from a vacation or cherished memory, sparking conversation about it. Another option is to create a guessing game; for instance, collect baby pictures from each team member, share them, and have team members guess who’s who.
3. Throw a remote party
Just because your team isn’t at the office doesn’t mean you can’t throw an office party — virtually. Virtual events are a great way to bring your team together and don’t require a complicated setup. Here are some ideas:
- Virtual lunch. Schedule a time for team members to eat lunch together over video chat with no agenda, and reimburse telecommuters for their meal.
- Movie night. Survey team members to choose a movie, then allow everyone to watch it together over a video conferencing tool while providing commentary in the chat.
- Pizza party. Founded specifically to show that “remote teams can have just as much fun as co-located teams,” Pizzatime is a service that helps employers organize pizza parties for remote teams. Just pick a time and provide the addresses of your team members, and they’ll coordinate all the deliveries.
- Holiday party. Just because your team isn’t in the office doesn’t mean you can’t throw a holiday party. According to O’Loughlin, “You can still do a Secret Santa gift swap — just have your team members send gifts to their assigned person’s address before the party, then have everyone open the gifts at the same time on camera.”
4. Play games together as a team
Games are a fun way to bring people together; they also promote cooperation and low-level competition. Why not have a virtual game session? Visual games such as Pictionary and charades work well in a video chat format and require nothing but a pen and paper and a free random word generator. Or choose a web-based or mobile game that telecommuters can play from home, and schedule sessions on a regular basis.
If you’re planning to incorporate team games for the long term, there are numerous services designed for remote team gaming that can help. Houseparty is a “face to face social network” that allows users to create virtual rooms with chat, video, and games. Jackbox Games is a popular provider of easy-to-play online party games that remote teams can play together. Make the investment in high-quality games your whole team can enjoy as a group.
5. Plan an in-person event
Sometimes you can’t beat the classics. If your team works in the same region, bring in telecommuters for an event at your office or a local venue just to get some time together in person.
For fully remote teams, O’Loughlin recommends having an annual team retreat, an increasingly common practice for distributed teams. “Take some of the money you save on an office and reinvest it in bringing people together once a year,” he says. Fly the team out to a location everyone can reach, rent an Airbnb, plan some activities, and create real memories together.
At the end of the day, the investment your company makes in bringing your employees together pays dividends through an effective, collaborative, and happy team.