When you hear the phrase “building team culture” you might envision lively office parties and team lunches, but with geographically-distributed teams and 70% of the world’s workforce working remotely, culture in the future of work means thinking beyond the physical office.
Wondering how to strengthen your small business’s culture when you have remote employees? Part of building a positive company culture is prioritizing your teams’ relationships. I manage a team that’s spread across five U.S. locations. At the beginning of 2019, my team decided to focus on building bonds with each other. We brainstormed and experimented with different ideas. Here are our recommendations for remote small business teams to build strong, personal relationships and contribute to positive company culture.
1. Build a culture of getting to know each other into team meetings
Team building doesn’t happen overnight. It’s built on mutual trust, and with 89% of SMB leaders valuing trust above all else with their employees, it’s vital to foster it. To do so, make time in your team meetings to get to know each other.
To build those personal connections, my team started every meeting with an ice breaker. At the opening of every meeting, we now “break the ice” with a fun question, like what’s your favorite outdoor activity? Or what condiment could you not live without? And we rotate the responsibility of who owns the ice breaker every week.
Takeaway: This simple act helps us share our personalities and learn more about each others’ past experiences and fun facts — all of which we wouldn’t have heard otherwise. The best part? Everyone is eager to share and participate. If you’re on the search for the best ice breakers, a simple online personality test or Buzzfeed quiz is a good place to start.
2. Get creative with virtual team offsites
A virtual offsite is admittedly more difficult to plan than an in-person one, but it’s not impossible. Set aside time to connect as a team and try out new activities that work for your remote team. This year, my team participated in a virtual cooking class where we all made galettes and omelets together over video calls. We made sure we were mindful of a meal plan that worked across time zones! Learning cooking tips from one another and seeing how everyone’s dishes turned out proved to be an amazing bonding experience.
Takeaway: Whether it’s cooking, painting, or even an online game, figure out what activities can be brought online for your team to bring everyone closer together.
3. Make the most of technology
As part of our team’s effort to build relationships with each other, we use chat apps like Slack and encourage each other to share photos of their pets, friends, family, and anything fun. This channel gives us a more casual way to engage with each other and allows everyone to show their personalities through gifs, reactions, and more. We always use Google Hangouts for our meetings so we can see each other virtually and react to nonverbal communication.
Takeaway: Make sure your remote team is actively using technology — beyond a regular phone call — to engage with each other and make connections from anywhere.
4. Encourage remote team members to meet 1:1
As a manager, I meet 1:1 weekly with each of my team members and encourage my team to meet with each other as well. Although not everyone has the opportunity to connect regularly, when employees meet 1:1, they’re able to form personal relationships and find areas to work cross-functionally.
Pro-tip: If you’re remote, get on the video call a couple of minutes before the meeting to get some extra time to ask about life outside of work with whoever joins the meeting early. Also, always turn on your video camera. As mentioned earlier — technology is your friend, and it’s important to use it to connect and make an impression!
5. Take advantage of the time you have together in person
While building strong team bonds remotely is necessary, it’s important to take advantage of any time you have in person. After months of connecting online, it’s gratifying to meet in person, get to know each other — and even better, laugh at all the inside jokes that will inevitably come from a few off-the-wall ice breakers or those virtual team offsites.
Pro-tip: Try to coordinate travel when possible and look for opportunities (like conferences or customer events) where you might be able to overlap.
While my team has definitely built closer relationships with each other this year, we always have room for improvement. What are your top tips for team building with remote teams? Share with us on Twitter. Learn more about the business value of culture and how you can start strengthening it at your small business with this Trailhead module.
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