Today there are more and more teams working remotely across the world. How can you bring such a team close together despite the distance? In this article, you will find several ideas, tested and proven by the teams I work with. My company, a sourcing agency headquartered in Ukraine, has team members in the United Kingdom and Poland.
We call meetings or video calls once a month with a randomly selected teammate. We used to handle it with a randomizer helping us to pick a coffee partner (you can find plenty of such services on the Internet).
When we moved to Slack, we set up the Donut bot. Once a month this bot automatically splits the whole team into pairs, creates chats for us and offers to meet up or call and have a small talk.
It’s a great opportunity to learn more about a person you don’t talk much with and who’s not in your direct team.
I came up with this idea after reading the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. We used to have Thanksgiving Fridays every other week when we shared why and for whom we’re grateful. Some “thanks” went to teammates; others, to the families. In moments like those, we discovered many new things about each other.
As time passed, this tradition faded away, replaced by others.
Learning and growing
This is where you can bring loads of ideas, but not so many as to make them a burden. Here are some ideas:
- Shared library — including both online and printed books.
- Internal TED talks — Encourage your colleagues to prepare presentations and talks or invite guest speakers.
- Book club — Reading same books and discussing them together.
- Language learning groups — Ours were to learn English.
When working remotely, meetings become very special. You can go together to a co-working space, meet at a conference or just have coffee in a nice place.
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Most of our teammates live in Ukraine, so they often get together. If someone comes to Ukraine (for instance, me from London, or those living in Poland), we all get together. We always plan something exciting: flower bouquets and mosaics workshops, bowling, a strategic session, a boat trip, a picnic.
I guess this one is the greatest things you can do for your team! For example, we went to Italy last year, and we still cherish our memories of it.
Here are two examples of how to organize these trips:
- Our experience — To make it happen, we, a recruiting agency, saved 5% of the placement fee we got for each closed vacancy for a year. At the end, we had what we needed to book the apartments and flight tickets. All the other personal expenses (like meals, transport and so) we covered ourselves. Also, everyone was able to bring their spouse or partner with them at their own expense.
- One IT company we know did it this way — They asked their employees if they wanted to go to Bali for a month to live and work there. Then the company picked 10 people out of the applicants. They were employees who’ve been working for a company the longest and were mature self-starters. The company arranged a villa for them near the ocean, took care of the internet and meals. The employees just needed to pay for their flight. Based on feedback, the team enjoyed the trip so much the company decided to do it again for another team.
Things to consider
When you’re introducing new activities for the team, it is important to stick to these rules:
- Avoid repetition — Even the most entertaining ideas can become a bit boring over time. Agree on the time limits. If activities work well and everyone on the team enjoys them, you can always get back to it again at a later time.
- Don’t force everyone to get involved — If someone doesn’t feel like participating, don’t require it. They can just observe. Eventually, even passive employees will begin engaging in activities.
What else can work?
- Childhood pictures — For instance, for a couple of weeks have people share a childhood picture and story and have the team guess who.
- Extraordinary question — Once a week one of the teammates asks in the chat some unusual or weird question, like for instance, “What would your perfect day be like?”, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”, “Who’s your favorite superhero?” and so.
- Cooking week — Every day someone shares their favorite recipe
- Postcard — Randomly send a postcard to a colleague. Can you imagine how exciting and unexpected it is to get a postcard by the land mail?
- Volunteering or doing charity together — Collect toys for children, plant trees, collect clothes for charity, etc.
Experiment and come up with new ideas as a team. After all, this will bring you a little bit closer!