Promote Remote Team Bonding
Daily virtual check ins with your team 15-20 minutes a day sharing topics not related to daily projects for mental health. Show empathy because everyone deals with stress differently. Take time to connect on a personal level. How are you feeling? What is distracting you? Host a virtual coffee break and informal messaging…important to stay connected.
Organizations around the world are struggling to maintain key relationships and connections within this new remote working structure. Indeed, maintaining strong team relationships is so important not just for morale but for day to day productivity (which ultimately impacts long term profitability). We don’t realize how much those quick chats in the break room, hallway conversations and meeting room banter create and sustain team bonds until they’re gone. Now with everyone working from home, teams are unfortunately forced to rely on notoriously impersonal communication modes like emails, chat rooms and video conference calls to engender a sense of personal connection. Not to fear though – there is hope! Leaders and teams around the world are using specific daily habits to bridge the gap and promote bonding with their teams. These four thought leaders share specific actions they’re taking or recommending to enhance bonding for newly virtual teams.
1. Host a Daily Virtual Team Check In
Sunil Prashara, President & CEO, Project Management Institute
Sunil leads the Project Management Institute, a global nonprofit professional organization for project management, and he has decided to start each day with a morning virtual check-in with team members around the world.
“We have worked to ensure that the human connection doesn’t get lost as the full organization adapts to working remotely. Each morning, I host a 15-20 minute virtual meeting discussing topics not related to ongoing projects. We keep these meetings very positive, sharing everything from best practices for working virtually to showing off new colleagues (e.g. employees’ kids, pets and plants). It’s been an effective and lighthearted way to keep employees connected, and we’ve been seeing conversations that started during the morning meeting continue to evolve on our internal collaboration tool, Yammer, throughout the day.”Sunil Prashara, President & CEO, Project Management Institute.
2. Show Empathy
Mikaela Kiner, Executive Coach, Founder and CEO Reverb
Executive coach and author of Female Firebrands: Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the Workplace, Mikaela Kiner advises that team members should empathize with each person’s unique situation, challenges and concerns.
“Recognize that everyone responds differently and some people may need more time to adjust. Parents with kids at home are going to need a lot more flexibility right now, so don’t hold that against them. Parents need extra time and support right now. Also, there may be people on the team who will feel more anxious than others. Watch for signs if anyone is behaving different than normal, or reacting more strongly than others. Offer help and make sure everyone knows about resources like your employee assistance program (EAP) and other coaching or mental health services. You won’t necessarily know who needs help when, so offer it to each other frequently.” Mikaela Kiner, Executive Coach, Founder and CEO Reverb
3. Take time to connect on a more personal level
Miri Rodriguez, Global Head of Internships at Microsoft and Author of Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story
Miri Rodriguez emphasizes the importance of carving out time for intentional one on one connection. These brief virtual connections can try to compensate for those hallway chats, elevator smiles and other small relationship building points that occur so naturally in a traditional work environment.
- Create a trusted space to acknowledge how team members may be feeling during these anxious and fearful times. Start your meetings by asking “How are you feeling and what is distracting you?”
- Spend some time having fun with team members and having “virtual morale” activities. From “quarantinis” to Xbox online tournaments, it’s important that the team bonds over lighthearted activities.
- Every team member is being impacted by this situation differently. Be sure to check in with each team member individually to offer support at the level that they may need.
4. Host virtual coffee breaks
Niamh O’Keeffe, Leadership Advisor and Author of Future Shaper: How Leaders Can Take Charge in an Uncertain World
Leadership advisor Niamh O’Keeffe recommends incorporating virtual coffee breaks into the team’s day. Taken together, these virtual breaks don’t just promote team bonding, they also provide a nice mental break for the individual that can enable them to recharge and ultimately increase their productivity.
“Invite colleagues to have virtual coffee breaks during the work day to catch up more informally. This promotes the social and emotional health of the team and encourages the team’s social cohesiveness. Informal time, along with informal messaging during the day, can be used to have fun, check in on each other’s emotional health and promote social bonding with that sense that we are all in this together. Leaders need to encourage informal bonding time too and recognize that a lot of idea sharing, innovation and problem-solving takes place during informal time.”
Indeed, a key challenge for physically dispersed teams is that the relationship building will rarely happen naturally. The physical distance creates a natural inertia away from authentic light-hearted personal connections and toward days filled bouncing between solitary work and task driven meetings (sprinkled with occasional administrative/logistical headaches along the way). If you’re a team leader, think about how you will embed activities into your team’s processes to ensure that those bonds are being encouraged. If you’re an individual contributor, proactively integrate daily/weekly activities to enhance relationships with peers, customers, suppliers, senior leaders and other key stakeholders.
While some of these habits may seem like trivial luxuries that we can’t afford during days filled with important meetings and endless task lists, remember that strong relationships are a key element of (if not a prerequisite for) long term task effectiveness. The truth is that work is accomplished through effective collaboration, negotiation and communication and when relationships fray, those critical skill areas tend to break down. In the worst-case scenario teams can become dysfunctional and ineffective. Looking through that lens, the thought of conducting a daily virtual coffee break or a five minute check in at the beginning of meetings might just be a worthwhile investment.