From digital coffee dates to game play and rewards, business leaders share their top tips for encouraging bonding between remote teams
Working remotely is one thing, but working remotely as part of a team is quite another. From feeling disconnected to the dangers of miscommunication, being a part of a distributed workforce can bring up a variety of challenges.
With 73% of teams predicted to be made up, at least in part, of remote workers by 2028, we’ve compiled some top tips from business experts on ways to encourage positive interaction with your colleagues.
Encourage personality differences
We all have different working styles – something that’s important to acknowledge when your coworkers are working remotely. Offering personality assessments, such as DISC or MBTI can be a great way to help your peers learn more about themselves and the people they work with.
Give everyone a chance to take the test, then schedule a group call to discuss interesting trends, findings, and learnings. Knowing what both motivates and irritates you – and your colleagues – means you can help to eliminate friction and find better ways to work together.
Allow for asynchronous asides
One of the most frustrating aspects of working remotely is the lack of immediacy when it comes to communicating with others. Remote teams often use instant messaging or chat tools to stay connected, but this can lead to an always-on situation, with people feeling the need to ‘check-in’ at all hours of the day.
By shifting to asynchronous communication (where you don’t expect an immediate response), you make allowances for people’s schedules while managing the expectations of the business as a whole for how to get things done.
Courtney Seiter, Buffer‘s Director of People, recommends an app such as Threads, which enables asynchronous communication and keeps everyone on the same page. “[Asynchronous technology] has been the perfect way to talk in-depth across many time zones, easily make decisions, and have a place where longer-form communication could live.”
Prioritise onboarding of new colleagues
‘Affective trust’ is built on emotional bonds and interpersonal relatedness. In the workplace, this develops organically and is responsible for those moments where employees feel ‘we’re in this together’ or ‘you’ve got my back’. Studies have found that it’s critical to foster this affective trust at the start of a new relationship – which means starting as you mean to go on with new hires.
If in-person onboarding isn’t possible, create a ‘buddy system’, where the new employee is connected with someone who’s been at the company for a while. At fully distributed company, Automattic, each new hire is added to a check-list, which will guide their work for the next 12 weeks. The new hire has activities to complete, while the buddy is tasked with checking in at certain points to hear about their progress and answer questions.
Game-on for gamification
Encourage teamwork by factoring in game play that rewards collaboration. Some businesses already use a form of finite gamification by offering rewards or benefits tied to hitting targets, for example. However, ‘infinite gamification’ facilitates continuous improvement by measuring business success for the long term. In sport, the analogy would be with the NFL or the World Cup, which take place over and over again. The goal is not (just) a reward at the end, but the benefits of the feedback provided by the game itself.
“The key to creating a good infinite gamification program is to keep it simple and start small,” says Toby Beresford, author of Infinite Gamification, in a Forbes article. “Keep asking your team what feedback will benefit them and keep additional rewards to a minimum.”
Have digital coffees with Donut
Meet up with various members of the team for informal chats around a virtual water cooler. According to a study by Slack, 85% of workers want to feel closer to their remote colleagues, but without casual face-to-face interactions, relationships can take longer to develop.
Of course, thanks to ever-advancing technology it means that there are new and inventive ways we can have these serendipitous meetings, such as Donut, a free Slack app that randomly pairs up colleagues for chats.
Encourage acts of kindness
Worried about your colleagues feeling lonely? Get them to do something for someone else: a study shows that asking people experiencing loneliness to be kind to others significantly reduced their feelings of loneliness.
The study also shows that online acts of kindness, such as donating to a crowdfunding campaign, are just as beneficial as face-to-face acts of generosity. In a work environment, this might mean getting your team involved in a virtual charity event, or encouraging peer-to-peer thank you notes.
Celebrate every win
When working remotely it’s important to stop and acknowledge every success and celebrate as a team, whether it’s hitting your target, winning new business or honouring a colleague’s birthday.
“If schedules allow, invite a senior leader to your team video call to tout the accomplishments of those involved,” says Claire Hastwell of Great Place to Work. It means a lot to colleagues to know that their work is being recognised by those at the top.
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