Building a team with remote employees

Distributed workforce employees often struggle to feel included in the company and team. Many remote employees feel left out when they hear of their office or others have company events like ditch days, breakfast or lunch brought in, costume contests, birthday celebrations, happy hours, or bring your pet or child to work day.

These social engagements help build community within an office, but there are steps a remote manager can, and must, take to build that culture and community for their team, as well.

Some managers create virtual water coolers to help the team cohere. All that time-consuming small talk that happens at the “water cooler” in office environments has an important purpose that is missed in distributed teams: It builds team camaraderie and culture. A remote manager can find ways to create virtual environment to foster this “small talk.”

Plan a small amount of “open time” at the beginning or end of team conference calls for small talk. Use ice breakers, openers, and getting-to-know-you exercises and games during team gatherings, calls, interactions, etc. This also can include a virtual bulletin board to post “getting to know you” related info about team members. One company sent Starbucks gift cards for their team call so everyone could have “breakfast together” on the call.

These are some other ideas for bringing your team together.

  • Create and encourage inter-team communication – Communication among distributed employees helps build camaraderie and strengthens the team by fostering an environment of reliance on each other for help, support, and ideas. It builds trust within the team and promotes internal team partnerships to make it stronger and more productive.
  • Partner remote employees for projects – Find reasons to partner team employees on projects, especially those that do not always work together. This can include mentoring, developing best practices, or preparing topics to present to the rest of the team on a conference call.
  • Re-live the past – Find opportunities to re-live shining moments from the team’s past. This brings back positive memories of the group and will help to renew and reinforce that feeling. This can be highlighting team-wide or single-employee accomplishments or experiences–even funny things that happened when they were last together.

A common team-building mistake made by new managers is to pit the team against another in comments and remarks, such as “our team is better than theirs,” or “this is the best team in the company.” This alienates other co-workers and the company. Although competition can be a strong motivator, this approach within the company can have potential future negative effects. What if a member of another team becomes a member of yours, or vice versa? It will be that much harder to assimilate. Managers should complement their team without denigrating anyone else.

For more management techniques see our Management Tips.