The modern workforce is shifting
With the current rise of safety requirements, available technology, and a globalized society, more people are working remotely than ever before.
These days it's not uncommon to be managing an entire team who never see one another in person.
However, the lack of face-to-face contact can be challenging for team members who need to collaborate closely on projects.
Or just miss the talk at the water cooler.
In Buffer's "2021 State of Remote Work" 16% of remote workers say, they are having difficulties with loneliness, and another 16% are struggling with collaboration and communication.
Although we are seeing many companies quickly moving towards a remote work-driven culture, it seems to be challenging to manage the transition.
"The modern workplace requires companies to meet new employee expectations, connect a more distributed workforce, and provide tools to create, innovate and work together to solve business problems."
- Kurt DelBene - Executive Vice President at Microsoft
Whether you are a fully remote company, have a hybrid work culture, or just allow a couple of remote days per week, you have to make sure, that your team culture is on point.
That's why you are probably searching for ways to engage your remote team, encourage creativity, stay connected and thrive with problem-solving.
Or maybe you just want to implement some quick and fun activities to lighten up the day of your team.
In all cases, this guide is for you.
We will share our favorite remote team activities for building a good team spirit and strengthening your team culture.
We've got everything from short little interactions to longer and deeper ways of connecting with your team. The best aspect is, for the main part, you do not even have to spend a dime and can start right away!
So, let's dive straight in and check out some of these awesome ideas!
But before we begin, we will lay out some foundation.
Don't worry, this is just a short section covering some basics.
Feel free to skip directly to the topic you are interested in.
Remote Activities, Remote Events, what's the difference?
Remote Activities: Regular short interactions e.g. every Thursday virtual "coffee hangout at 2pm" via zoom.
Remote Events: One-time events e.g. virtual escape games played once via the website of a service provider.
Just to be clear on what we are talking about here are some definitions.
Terms to know
- Co-location: Colocation means that people are in the same place together. A traditional office is a co-location setting.
- Distributed team: A distributed team is a group of people who do not work in the same place. They can be separated by e.g. different time-zones or locations (homeoffice, coworking, office, country).
- Hybrid-remote: Some employees can work from home (or another place) and never have to go to an office. Others have to go into one or more offices each or every other day.
- Remote-first: The company is designed to be run by remote workers. If they come together e.g. in an office, or rent a coworking space, it is only once in a while.
- Remote only: There is no work in a physical shared office. But some companies have "core team hours."
- Digital Nomad: Digital nomads are people who work from anywhere (Coworking Spaces, Cafés, Hotel Rooms etc.) without having a fixed location for working and / or living. They simply use technology to do their jobs.
- Async work/communication: Async is short for aynchronous meaning that information can be sent and received at any time. It's a term used for communication or working styles whereby the sender does not expect direct feedback, but rather within a given time-frame. This allows for individual working times and schedules.
- Single source of truth (SSoT): This term comes from information systems architecture, but it's also used in any environment where information is distributed. The idea is simple: there should be one central place where all the information is kept and that place should be kept up to date.
This was not too bad, right?
Now that we've got that out of the way let's continue with having a look from the bird's view on the topic.
What is remote team building and why does it matter?
Remote team building is a strategy used to increase productivity, creativity, and a good team spirit by fostering collaboration between team members who are not co-located.
Or short: A fun and productive work environment.
The goal of remote team building is to cultivate trust, respect, and empathy among the group.
Just as a quick reminder: remote teams typically follow an agile process that includes identifying problems, generating solutions with input from all stakeholders, deciding on priorities for each solution based on feasibility and impact factors, then implementing solutions through experimentation.
These teams may or may not have an office, but they will need to work together on projects regardless of location.
To be successful at remote team building it’s important the organization must have access to the right technology tools which can include
- Video Conferencing software such as Skype or Zoom
- Collaborative document editing software such as Notion, or Google Docs
- Secure file-sharing platforms like Dropbox
- Project management software like Asana or Trello
- Collaborative visual editors like Miro, or FigJam
Remote Team Building takes more than just assigning roles and expecting it to all work out.
It requires the same level of attention as in-person team building, with some extra considerations for coordination across time zones working hours.
But how have we gotten to the point of working from different locations and collaborating across the globe?
We'll approach this question by taking a small jump back in time.
The History of Remote Work & Virtual Teams
The Remote Work movement dates back to some time around 1964.
In 1964 a prediction by Arthur C. Clarke (writer of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey") mentioned digital nomads working from Bali in 2014.
Though many factors led to the rise of telework and virtual teams, one can argue the risen demand for PCs was one of the major factors that pushed this development.
PC sales progressed ever since the early and late 90s and skyrocketed in the first decade of the 2000s.
This development created not only greater convenience for entertainment and games, but also new work opportunities like establishing company policies via email instead of a physical visit.
In addition, a new approach to finding new places to work from was trending and allowing people to work from a wide variety of locations around the country.
Further important timelines
- 1983 Steve Roberts, a tech-hacker from the US, built his own solar panel on his bike to fuel his computer connected to the pre-internet. Great Book "Computing Across America" (shown on the image)
- 1990s newspaper articles on "telecommuting" are being published
- 1997 Tsugio Makimoto coins the term "Digital Nomad"
- 2007 Tim Ferris' infamous book "The 4-Hour Work Week"
c) Timeline and further historical info on NomadList
The Pros and Cons of Remote Team Activities
Remote teams are becoming more and more popular.
They allow team members to work from different locations, which can increase productivity and creativity. However, there are some downsides to remote teams as well which we have already slightly touched upon. Let's go a step further and look into the pros and cons.
- The first major issue that often arises is the lack of physical presence. This can lead to less collaboration and empathy among team members, which could eventually lead to lower job satisfaction for the employees who have a high need for social interaction at work.
- Another downside might be that remote workers also risk being not as productive when they first start their new jobs because they often have trouble finding the motivation if their teammates aren't nearby or working on the same projects together.
- Lastly, the diffusion of work and private life leads to a lack of control over when you can take breaks from work. This can have a crack on mental wellbeing and lead to a high level of stress.
Especially the last aspect is a double-edged sword, as you will see in a bit.
- The single most mentioned benefit of remote work is the ability to have a flexible work schedule. Remote workers usually do not have to sit at certain places at fixed times (although some companies do require this)
- The pros of remote team activities include the opportunity for innovation.
- An increased work-life balance, and less stress.
These pros and cons of remote work and also be adapted to remote activities.
You can plan and implement them quickly, without having to think about designated spaces or locations.
With the rise of remote work, there is a rise of tools and software you can use for activities like finding games to play. This saves a lot of time and clears out the calendar.
But, what exactly are remote activities, and what can you do with your team?
Examples of Remote Team Activities
As a leader of a remote team, it is important to design and implement activities that help your team bond.
This can be accomplished through real-life or digital group outings and experiences, setting up company-wide events, and hosting competitions.
The ultimate goal should be for the team to feel like they are working together as one cohesive unit.
By implementing these types of activities into your work routine you will see an increase in creativity and productivity from your employees which will lead to better results for the organization overall. When it comes to remote team activities you do not have to carve out a whole day to have fun with your team.
Small little gestures, routines, and habits can do the job.
Take inspiration from these activities
You know it.
Everybody loves memes.
Let your team member posts their favorite meme into you chat channel and have them add a caption of what they expect of the week, or what they are working on.
Create your Meme with this website and post the meme in your slack/team chat-channel
#2 Typing Queen/King - Async Gaming
Pair up with your team members to play a round of games every week.
Asynchronous playing is possible too, but you'll need some kind of leaderboard.
Simple screenshots will also do the job.
Go to TypingTest.com and find out who types the fastest
#3 DrawBattle - Sync Gaming
Host a quick and engaging drawing battle with drawbattle.io and find out which team members have the most creative drawing skills.
The sessions do not have to last long and can even be utilized before or in between long meetings.
#4 Music Hangout
Remember the nice songs you hear in some elevators on your way to the office?
Well, you can now spice up your remote working experience by having shared music sessions - no Spotify account needed!
Just use the online app JamHouse to create a music room and listen to songs together.
It's 100% free.
#5 Remote Exercises
We all know, humans have not evolved to sit at a desk 8 h a day for 5 days a week.
Especially with the missing walk to the bus or train station, you have to keep your body active throughout the day.
Doing small exercises as a team will most certainly boost mental clarity and foster togetherness as you have had a shared experience.
Try these 4 Office Posture Exercises
6 Quick-Tips and Reminders for Remote Team Activities
- Create a plan for your remote team activities
- Keep in mind that it's okay if not everything goes as planned - just keep trying!
- Communicate with the team before, during, and after the activities (if possible)
- Be open-minded - some people may not want to participate in an activity that you are organizing remotely
- Keep remote activities short, so that people can still focus on their work tasks while participating remotely
- Get feedback from teammates about how they felt about the activity
Further Ressources for Remote Team Activities
- Entrepreneur.com - 5 Science-Backed Tips to Manage Your Remote Team Effectively
- Atlassin.com - The best (and most fun) virtual team building activities for 2021
- Slack.com - Distance is no match for these remote team-building activities
- Microsoft.com - Reimagining virtual collaboration for the future of work and learning
Remote team building can be an effective strategy for increasing productivity in the workplace. With the rise of safety requirements, available technology, and globalization, more people are working remotely than ever before.
The key to success is fostering collaboration between remote team members by leveraging tools like video conferencing or easy chat tools to let them work together on projects without being in the same physical space.
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