How to ensure even remote employees can work together

A significant portion of the world’s workforce had a taste of remote working in 2020, and many employees want to make it a more permanent arrangement moving forwards.

In the UK, for example, 26% of employees say they plan to carry on working from home.

Many companies therefore face a very likely scenario of needing to manage virtual team members on a long-term basis.

Remote working has its own challenges though, and effective strategies are needed to unlock the full potential of remote workers. We’ll discuss why team building is one of the best ways to achieve this and how to do it right.

Why team building is critical for remote workers

What are the markers of a strong team? Most of us would mention things like effective communication, trust, and mutual support. These are vital qualities for seamless collaboration, motivation and productivity, and thus, for your business's bottom line.

But when employees lack opportunities to socialise and get to know each other through informal interactions, they can find it difficult to trust one another and come together as a unified team. The 2020 State of Remote Work survey reports that 20% of remote employees admit to having issues with collaboration and communication with co-workers.

Virtual team building can bridge this gap and strengthen the bonds between remote team members. According to Nulab’s survey, 96% of employees believe that team building activities enhance collaboration and rapport with co-workers.

Team members who know each other well understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, know who to turn to for help and advice, and have a greater sense of community and shared goals.

Team building achieves another important goal too: it allows remote teams to hone important team work skills, such as collaborative problem solving and conflict resolution, in a low-stakes environment. The more practice team members have, the more prepared and confident they’ll be when they need to put those skills into use in challenging real-life situations.

Another significant benefit of team building activities is supporting the wellbeing of employees working alone. Globally, 20% of remote workers say they feel lonely, and the number is even higher in the UK, where 30.9% of employees working remotely experience loneliness.

Employee wellbeing is intricately linked to motivation, productivity and retention rates, so investing in activities that reduce loneliness makes good business sense. Building connections to co-workers through virtual team building sessions is a great way to boost morale and help remote workers feel valued and supported.

General principles for good team building activities

Choose activities that fit your team

It takes planning to get remote team building right. First, take time to personalise your programme to suit your team and individual workers. A mixed team of office-based and remote workers has different needs compared to a fully remote one.

Similarly, a fledgling remote team is likely to need more help with technology and getting used to new tools, while an established one may require more socialising to combat loneliness.

Define your objectives

When choosing a focus for a team building session, think of any common issues and complaints, and consider running a survey to find out what your remote workers themselves see as priorities. Use your findings to define your objectives and pick exercises and activities that support those goals.

Get people involved

To ensure maximum inclusivity, take into account individual personalities, cultural backgrounds and work environments too. A virtual after-work happy hour may suit many workers well but exclude others who have young kids at home or work in a different time zone. Again, surveying participants ahead of time can help you choose the most suitable activities.

Choose the right leader

Finally, facilitation can make or break virtual team building efforts. Online group activities can feel awkward at the best of times, so put someone in charge who’s enthusiastic, has a knack for motivating others and has the ability to read the virtual room. Ideally, that person (or people) should also have the know-how to be able to assist participants with any technological issues that may arise during a session.

Reap the rewards of cohesive teams

Remote team building may not seem like a top priority during what is a trying time for many businesses. However, the potential pay-off is considerable: content remote workers who have effortless collaboration with their co-workers down pat are likely to remain productive, motivated and loyal.


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