Illustration: Alex Kiesling
Whether your team has been working from home for years or you’ve all been figuring out this new lifestyle over the past few weeks, this fact holds true: remote team building can be tricky.
Despite advancing technology, a lot of us still rely on face-to-face communication for forging solid connections.
One study by Forbes Insights found that 85% of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during in-person meetings. A separate survey by Harvard Business review discovered that a whopping 95% of participants said face-to-face meetings are crucial for building and maintaining strong professional relationships.
You get it—it’s tough to replace in-person communication. But being face-to-face and side-by-side isn’t a possibility for your team right now.
Maybe you’re all spread across the globe and get-togethers are few and far between. Or perhaps it’s social distancing recommendations that are keeping you all spread apart for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of the specifics, you need to get creative and find ways to keep those team bonds strong from afar.
Team-building is especially important when you consider that loneliness and social isolation are some of the biggest drawbacks of remote work. According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work Report, loneliness was cited as the second biggest struggle of working remotely—ranking only behind unplugging after the workday.
Yes, remote team building is important. But how do you make it happen? We’re sharing 10 different ideas for ensuring that your remote team actually enjoys working together—regardless of where they’re located or how often they see each other in-person.
Remote team building activities: Getting down to business
The term “team building activities” likely inspires visions of things like trust falls, blindfolded races, and lively games.
It’s true. There are plenty of fun and playful activities for keeping your team’s spirits up (and we’ll get to those in the next section). But when it comes to team building, it’s important to recognize that you need to start with a solid foundation.
Before we get into the off-the-wall and just-for-fun activity suggestions, let’s cover a few fundamental tactics you can use to ensure that your team is set up to collaborate efficiently and effectively.
1. Create personal user manuals
Here’s an alarming statistic: people consider about 22% of the people they work with to be strangers. How can we possibly work successfully with someone that we know practically nothing about?
This is why it can be so helpful for your team to create their own user manuals, which are essentially guides to working with them effectively. This is especially important if you’ve all recently made the switch to working from home and are still figuring out how to collaborate in this new arrangement.
People are free to include whatever information they think is important in their own guide, but you might want to start with at least a basic template so that people hit on the must-have details. Make sure to ask people to describe:
- Their typical working hours (and even whether they’re a morning person or not)
- How they like to receive feedback
- Their preferred communication methods and uses
- Their pet peeves
Once everybody has created their own manual, share them with your team and then store them somewhere easily accessible. Everybody will be equipped with the information they need to work well with each other—rather than taking guesses or making assumptions.
2. Keep up with your regular team meetings
If you’ve recently made the switch to working remotely, it’s easy to think that you need to forgo any previous traditions you had in the office. That’s not necessarily true, especially when it comes to your regularly-scheduled team meetings.
If your team usually met every Monday afternoon to discuss what you were all working on that week, continue to do that via a video conference.
Not only does keeping up with these meetings provide a much-needed sense of consistency and stability for your team, but it also gives them a chance to converse with each other face-to-face.
Make sure to leave some time at the start or end of these meetings for some small talk, which would naturally happen if you were meeting in-person. Even just a few minutes to talk about the weekend or the latest Netflix series they binged will help your team feel more connected to each other.
3. Provide recognition for great work
Whether your team is working side-by-side in the office or spread across the globe, adequate recognition matters. In fact, 79% of people who have quit their jobs say they did so because of a lack of appreciation.
When you’re remote, it becomes even more challenging to praise people for a job well done. It’s not as simple as bringing in donuts to celebrate the completion of that team project or stopping by someone’s desk to thank them for their great work on that presentation.
The good news is that there are plenty of solutions out there to help remote teams continue to prioritize recognition. Kudos, as just one example, makes it easy for your team to applaud each other, to recognize milestones and birthdays, and even provide customized rewards.
Don’t want to enlist the help of technology right away? Even something as simple as ending your team meetings with shoutouts or starting a designated Slack channel for congratulatory messages will go a long way in making your team feel appreciated.
Remote team building activities: Just for fun
With that foundation in place, your team is ready to have some fun. But, how can you enjoy each other without being under the same roof?
It’s not nearly as challenging as you think it is. Here are several different activities that your team is sure to love.
4. Indulge in a virtual lunch or happy hour
If your team is used to working in the office together, they might have been accustomed to shared lunches or after-work drinks. An abrupt switch to working from home can put a major damper on socializing. So, why not host a virtual lunch or happy hour?
Set up a Zoom video conference room that people from your team can access to enjoy their lunches or an evening cocktail together (along with some friendly conversation, of course).
Want to take things a step further?
Ship cocktail kits directly to your employees to help them make the most of your virtual happy hour. Alternatively, provide a small stipend for participating employees to order delivery from their favorite restaurants to enjoy together.
The folks at Caroo even put together an online event-inspired Happy Hour Box that can be used as a great icebreaking activity. It’s an extra treat that’s sure to take your virtual event up a notch.
5. Encourage learning with regular video seminars
Nope, this one isn’t about providing an in-depth tutorial of your new software or walking through the workflow for your next project. This is all about learning something for fun—meaning, something that isn’t at all related to work.
Involve your team members in this process by asking who has a topic they’d like to teach about. Maybe Lenora wants to give a video lesson on crocheting, and Neil has tips for top-notch iPhone photography.
Create a simple signup sheet for team members who want to teach, and then schedule these opportunities on your team’s calendar (you can make them optional, of course). You’ll prove that you’re invested in their learning both inside and outside of the office, and also give your team time to connect about something beyond just work-related conversations.
6. Host a GIF battle
Everybody loves a good GIF. A GIF battle is a great way to bring your team together for some friendly competition with the aim of answering this: who can find the very best GIF on the internet?
Getting started is easy. Copy this Trello board template for your own team, and then check out the “How it Works” card for full instructions of how the battle should run.
Rest assured, the concept is pretty simple: everybody finds a GIF that fits the prompt in each column (feel free to customize these prompts for your own team!). Then, have everybody vote on the best GIF for each prompt and declare your winner. Need a tie breaker? There’s a column for that too.
You can continue to adjust the prompts (and even source ideas and suggestions from your team) to host multiple rounds.
7. Set a theme for a photo contest
If your team isn’t into GIFs or wants to do something a little more personal, opt for photo sharing instead. Create a designated Slack channel with a daily or weekly theme and encourage team members to share photos that fit the theme.
Maybe you want to see everybody’s worst haircut. Or their high school prom portrait. Or pictures of their pets.
The options are practically limitless, and you can also ask your team to suggest photo themes for future contests. Within Slack, people can easily use emojis to react so that you can crown a winner if necessary.
Alternatively, you don’t even need to treat it as a competition. It’s just as effective as a way for everyone to provide a peek into their lives outside of work.
8. Put together a get-to-know-you game
At this point, your colleagues probably know each other’s go-to emoji or their favorite way to sign-off their emails. But, how much else do they really know each other?
A straightforward get-to-know-you game is a great way for them to connect more deeply by uncovering some little-known facts about one another.
Two Truths and a Lie is a classic icebreaker. Team members share facts and fibs about themselves as colleagues try to guess which statements are false. Or have everybody submit a baby photo of themselves, and have their coworkers guess who it belongs to. This also works with random facts.
All this barely scratches the surface on the possibilities here. Games are fun, but they also help teams learn a bit more about the people they work with every day.
9. Create a collaborative playlist
Do you have a bunch of music lovers on your team? If you’ve ever worked in an on-site team, did you ever participate in regular Friday afternoon dance parties? “The Final Countdown,” anyone?
Continue to foster that love of good tunes by starting a Spotify playlist that your entire team can contribute to. Setting up a collaborative playlist is easy and will give everyone a place to add their favorite songs.
You can even take this activity up a notch by creating several different playlists. Maybe you want one where everybody adds their favorite tracks for productivity and focus. Another playlist might feature everyone’s favorite mood-boosters.
Get creative! Your team is bound to pull together some impressive playlists, and this is a tradition that can keep going, and will keep giving. Your playlists will just get bigger and better!
10. Engage in some friendly competition with a game
Get-to-know you games are fun, but they aren’t the only type of game your team can participate in together. There are plenty of other online options that will get your team members fired up about some friendly competition.
Jackbox Games features games that your team can play using their own smartphones or tablets.
Games range from trivia games (think “Family Feud”), more freeform drawing games and more. You’re sure to find a game or two (or tons) that your team will enjoy playing together—even if you aren’t in the same space.
Level up your remote team building with these activities
It can feel challenging to connect with each other when you aren’t under the same roof. But giving your remote team a chance to bond is important. Luckily you don’t need in-person happy hours and shared appetizers to keep those work relationships strong.
Lean on one (or even a few) of the activities above to strengthen team ties. Remote team building shares a lot of principles with team building in general. A team with strong ties is not only better at collaborating, they’re also going to enjoy it more.
Read more: The Toggl Guide to Working from Home
Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.