Flexible schedule, time for the family, the ability to work from anywhere: these perks of working remotely have been echoed by the respondents in the annual report prepared by Buffer. On the other hand, however, the State of Remote Work shows that loneliness is still one of the main downsides for people working in distributed teams.

At the same time, remote managers admit that “fostering a sense of connection without a shared location” is the most difficult part of their role. Remote team building is a natural response to that challenge.

Companies come up with different strategies to foster social connections between their team members. From onboarding strategies, employing remote-friendly software, to organizing face-to-face meetups, they give their employees multiple occasions to hang out together.

If you’re managing a distributed team yourself, you might want to follow in the footsteps of the most renowned remote-first companies. Let’s learn from the best and take a look at some examples of remote team building at different stages of the employee journey.

Team building for remote teams – get inspired by other distributed organizations

Note: For the sake of that article, we’ve chosen one type of remote team building strategy per company. Granted, they always do more in order to keep their employees connected. Some of them even produce software that’s specifically built for effective remote collaboration.

Hotjar: “10 things about you” lists created by newly hired employees

Remote team building starts when a new person joins the team. The newcomers should be introduced to the rest of the team, ideally sharing something about themselves in the process. One of the tasks new Hotjar employees complete during the onboarding period is writing down a set of facts about them.

This process an instant icebreaker, because people may learn that they have a common passion or a shared pet-peeve. New team members are not just defined by their job title: their personality shines through from day 1. On top of that, newcomers can learn more about their new colleagues by reading their archived “10 facts” lists.

Doist: Mentor trips for new team members

Most remote companies agree on the importance of in-person interaction. While team meetups and retreats are essential here, they have their own schedule which is not aligned with recruitment. Imagine joining a company a month after such an annual retreat and having to wait 11 months for a chance to meet more colleagues in person.

Doist, a company known for their remote-first approach, decided to introduce mentor trips for their hires. New team members get to spend a week working alongside their mentor in-person.

Buffer: Using technology to boost team spirit

Buffer is known for sharing their approach to building a remote-first workplace culture. In one of their blog posts, they’ve listed a couple of apps that help them foster social connections. Add them to your Slack channel as well:

  • Facegame, a team-building activity from Officevibe. The premise is very simple: you need to match a photo to a team member. Not only does it help to, quite literally, put a name to a face, but it’s also a good idea for a re-energizing work break.
  • Bitmoji, which allows employees to create unique emojis based on their own features and hobbies.
  • Donut, an app designed to strengthen personal connections. One of its features is all about pairing up employees who don’t work together too often so that they get a chance to talk and get to know each other.

Apps like these help you to increase the sense of belonging and camaraderie among your team members. Remote team building is not only about big-bang retreats but also smaller everyday activities that help people feel like a part of something great.

Read as well: Productivity-boosting Slack Apps for Project Managers (remote friendly!)

Gitlab: Fostering informal communication with breakout calls

There’s a whole handbook on Gitlab’s remote culture and it’s definitely an interesting read for people working with virtual teams. One of their priorities is to enable informal communication, which is more challenging to achieve in remote teams. Their approach is to officially create opportunities for employee interaction.

The breakout calls, which are organized daily, are devoted to non-work-related topics. Gitlab employees are divided into groups which are changed every two months based on the group attendance (the goal is to keep the groups rather consistent). Breakout calls last for 10-15 minutes and are devoted to hobbies, culture, family etc. Every participant is encouraged to share something during a call.

Breakout calls can act as water cooler chat: employees get to know each other and they have an opportunity to switch context, as the breakout calls take place after the company-wide calls.

Zapier: Remote team building during biannual retreats

People working at Zapier meet up twice a year. Those company-wide retreats last for 4-5 days (the last day is optional). When it comes to the schedule, while they do spend some time discussing work-related things, they focus on team-building activities.

We’ve decided to pick Zapier as an example company here for a reason. Their retreats show that remote team building can be successful with simple activities. If you have a budget (and volunteers) for skydiving, great! But don’t sleep on humble board games evenings or movie watch parties: they may be exciting and memorable as well (BTW, if you’re interested in Zapier’s favorite board games, here’s a list).

Close: Recording team meetups to revisit them later

As many remote-first companies, folks at Close organize company-wide retreats for their employees. What’s interesting about their approach, however, is that they pay a lot of attention to recording the event. The advantages of this approach are twofold:

  • Recordings and live streams of work-related meetings will be useful for those people who weren’t able to join the retreat. The rest of the team will have a chance to revisit these as well.
  • Photos and videos will serve as a great reminder of how fun it was to hang out together. Looking back at happy memories will re-energize remote employees.

A lesson for you? Have fun in the moment during the team meeting, but make sure that someone is capturing it as well.

Learn more about managing remote teams

With remote workforce growing to 3.9 million people in the USA alone, the no-office trend is definitely still on the rise. Remote team building strategies outlined in this article will help you build a sense of camaraderie and boost employee engagement. They’ll, in turn, positively affect your team’s performance. A study cited by Susan Pinker in her book, The Village Effect, showed that people who have spent 15 minutes socializing had a 20% increase in their work performance and, as a result, your business. Clearly, remote team building cannot be ignored.

Remember about gathering feedback. Encourage your workers to share their favorite team building activities and the ones they didn’t particularly enjoyed. Both positive and negative remarks will help you provide them with a better remote work experience in the future.

For more resources about managing distributed teams effectively, make sure to follow our blog and check out these articles:

  • Team workload management – learn how to increase the visibility of your remote team members.
  • Project transparency – clear communication will help you avoid misunderstandings.
  • Mobile time tracking – time tracking on the go might be a great solution for the digital nomads on your team. They’ll be able to control their working time conveniently and you’ll get the big picture report about your team’s workload and the progress of your projects.

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