Gone are the days when teams all sat together. When we quietly worked away, nestled in our offices and cubicles, knowing our coworkers were just steps away. Whether you needed an answer to a quick question, directions to a meeting room, or even a lunch buddy, your teammates were there. And forming personal relationships was easy – because you knew each other, saw each other, and helped each other. Every day.
Fast forward to 2019. Teams are no longer in one place. On a team of 20 people, you’d be lucky to find 10 who are physically in the office. Because Mike works in Atlanta in his home office, Janice telecommutes three days a week, and Tony only flies in for executive meetings every other week.
What is virtual team building?
Virtual team building is the practice of bringing in-office and remote employees together to connect and collaborate on a personal level, often using interactive digital tools. It can help strengthen relationships across the team and make remote workers – who often feel left out or disconnected – feel like they’re part of the action.
The ultimate goal of team-building exercises is to provide employees with a way to get to know each other better – which can translate into improved communication, collaboration, and productivity across the team.
Top reasons team-building activities fail
Even with the best intentions, many team-building initiatives fail. Let’s explore some of the reasons why.
When it comes to employee engagement initiatives, ownership is often unclear. Is it up to individual managers to devise a team-building strategy? Or should it be HR that mandates team-building activities across the organization? Knowing collaboration (or lack thereof) can have significant impact on the bottom line, you would expect executives to have a stake in the game, too.
If it’s a joint initiative (which it often is), then the challenge becomes finding the best way to sync up on objectives and roll out an effective game plan together. And this is where the plan often stalls or gets pushed down the priority list.
Another reason why virtual team-building fails is that employees don’t see the value in it. They don’t see how taking time out of their busy day to “get to know” their coworkers hundreds of miles away will help them accomplish their work. If they don’t see the purpose, they’ll be hesitant to engage. And for a team-building activity to be successful, you need your full team.
If an organization is truly committed to creating a culture of teamwork, it’s critical for employees to understand the benefits of teambuilding (i.e. personal connections, collaboration, knowledge sharing) and how the organization expects them to participate.
Perhaps one of the most common barriers to connecting dispersed teams is a lack of virtual collaboration tools. It could be due to a lack of budget for additional tools or a team to manage the implementation and roll out. Luckily, with the multitude of products and solutions available on the market, it can be an easy challenge to overcome.
Conference calls and email threads aren’t dynamic enough to support rich and meaningful discussions across the team. In a recent study, 87 per cent of remote workers said they feel more connected through the use of video conferencing. The company intranet is another example of a tool that can be leveraged, considering 81 per cent of employees say they use their intranet on a weekly basis.
5 ways to connect virtual teams
Connecting virtual teams has its challenges, but it’s not an impossible feat. There are some quick and painless solutions that you can implement today.
- Create a team room: A team room is a dedicated space for teams to share updates, manage projects, and interact with each other throughout the day. Think of it like a virtual area of the office where your team congregates.
- Populate personal profiles: It can be difficult to build a connection with someone you’ve never met. Personal profiles are an easy way to bridge the gap. Employees can add their photo, experience, and interests as a quick introduction to each other – as if they ran into each other in the hall.
- Encourage team chatter and sharing: In your team room, you can add a newsfeed that acts as a virtual water cooler for small talk or to share important updates throughout the day. Set up and designate an area for each department, team, or topic. So team members can share interesting or funny stories, photos in the social area, while sharing the latest product update communication in the corporate area.
- Start on day one: As part of your team onboarding, introduce employees to their coworkers, direct them to the team room, and invite them to fill out a “getting to know you” survey in the team forum area.
- Organize social activities: While in-person events like dinners and outings may be out of the question, there are many social activities that can be organized online – like a team fitness challenge, photo scavenger hunt, or gift exchange.
Do more for virtual teams
Just because some team members are out of sight doesn’t mean they should be out of mind. In fact, they should be top of mind. Because engagement and productivity can start to dwindle the moment remote workers feel ignored or think they’re not integral part of the team.
Building high-performing virtual teams is possible, thanks to digital workplace solutions that enable teammates to not only collaborate, but build personal connections with each other that can have a positive effect on everyone’s work.