Top 5 Team Building Exercises for Remote and Virtual Teams

Technology continues to improve, pushing businesses, leadership, and teams into a continually advancing and global work environment. The idea of virtual teams is not a new one. Actually, they started gaining relevance almost 15 years ago. And although there are challenges, there are a lot of benefits to having employees work remotely. In fact, home workers tend to be 13% MORE productive and, in general, happier than their traditional desk-bound coworkers. Companies can also see savings in overhead costs, reduce their carbon footprint, and even promote healthier work-life balances for their employees. There’s also the added benefit for companies doing international business – employee’s working in different time zones allow your company to operate all day without working past “normal” operating hours. And with the advances in technology and communication, having virtual teams is becoming easier and easier to implement.

There are a few challenges to having employees working remotely. There is often a lack of clear and constant communication, social interaction and team bonding usually suffers, and virtual employees can feel disconnected from the overall vision of the company. While having the latest technology in video conferencing, CRM systems, and file sharing might help, effective leadership and consistent team building will always keep your business running smoothly – whether all your employees work in the same office or are spread across the globe. Here are the top five team building exercises we found for remote and virtual teams to help your business succeed.

Top Team Exercise #1: Virtual Coffee Breaks

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We read a bunch of articles (our favorites are here, here, and here) on the best team building exercises for virtual teams, and virtual coffee breaks were mentioned in almost all of them. Simply put, this exercise is a coffee break – a time for coworkers to gather for a cup o’ Joe (or tea), take a break from work, and chat about their lives, pets, weekend plans, you name it, and get to know each other.

Why it works

Humans are social creatures. We become more productive, engaged, and positive when we enjoy our environment and connect with our coworkers. Coffee breaks offer a casual way to connect and catch up.

How to implement for your team

There are a couple of different ways to do a virtual coffee break. You can have it in your office or in a coffee shop. The best way to do this is to buy gift cards for all your employees (both local and remote) to a popular coffee chain (Starbucks is always a great option). Then make sure that your coffee break is scheduled for everyone. The first way to do this is to have your office-bound team members meet in a room with their coffee while the remote team members join in via a group Skype or Google Hangout at their local coffee shop. Have a few icebreaker questions ready to get the conversation flowing – “Cathy, how are your children? They started school today, right?” Try asking open ended questions or ones that allow for multiple people to have input – “Any fun plans for this weekend”, “I’m looking for a book to read, any suggestions?” Another option is to have smaller groups meet at a time and have each person remote in from a coffee shop or location to chat. This offers a little more intimacy and can be a little less awkward than big groups.  The goal is to have your team members build relationships and get to know each other so that communication is smoother and everyone feels a part of the team.


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Top Team Exercise #2: In-Person Training

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Employee training is important to the success of any company. It becomes even more important the more geographical distance there is between your employees. Training sets the tone for your company’s culture, the systems your employees follow, and the resources they use to communicate. One of the best ways to build a successful virtual team , whether hired remotely or not, is to have them come into the office for in-person training.

Why it works

All new employees, both remote and in-office, will get the same experience when starting at your company. It will allow you as an owner, manager, leader, to get everyone on the same page at the get-go. During training, you’ll be able to build relationships and foster trust early on, in addition to creating and promoting a shared vision, setting communication standards, and company principles.

How to implement for your team

This exercise will be implemented differently depending on the size, scope, and capabilities of the company. The basics, though, shouldn’t differ. Have a set location for training – whether that’s your main (or only) office, a central training facility, or a company retreat location that all new (and returning) employees will go for training. Have a set schedule or module for training that has standard elements, no matter the position being trained. Allow for team bonding exercises and games to build relationships and trust. And, if possible, have a mix of training sessions for one-on-one and groups.

Top Team Exercise #3: Weekend Review

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Everyone has a life outside of work, even remote or virtual coworkers/employees. The easiest way to get to know one another and build relationships among your team is to simply ask “So what did you do this weekend?” Here at EXHIB-IT!, we have team meetings every Monday morning to go over our workloads, schedules, goals, and projects for the week. And we always start it with asking how everyone’s weekend was. Having virtual employees shouldn’t change this. Start out a meeting by asking how they’re doing and what they’ve done in their free time.

Why it works

Learning what your coworkers or employees do on the weekend (or in their free time) will let you learn about the person themselves. You’ll gain talking points for later and learn their hobbies, allowing your team members to connect with one another. In addition, you’ll subconsciously be promoting a healthy work-life balance, which younger generations gravitate towards.

How to implement for your team

During your Monday meetings (or whenever you have a meeting where you haven’t talked to the employee or team for more than a few days), make it a habit to start with asking how everyone’s weekend was. Make sure everyone has a chance to answer, including those on the other end of the computer screen. If you don’t video conference, open your email by telling them what you did, and then asking what they did. This can also work great at the end of the week by asking what they are planning to do over the weekend.

Top Team Exercise #4: Friendly Competition

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Everyone loves a little friendly competition. It can be in the form of counting steps, an online tournament, having a company-wide March Madness Bracket or Fantasy Football League, or even team project competition.

Why it works

Not only does friendly competition build comradery among team members, but it also gives them an outlet to open up about their lives (what’s their favorite outdoor activity, what teams do they favor, etc.). This helps build rapport and trust among team members, since everyone knows each other a little more.

How to implement for your team

Our favorite is getting fitness trackers for each person on the team. They can all join a team on the tracker’s app and share accomplishments and stats each week, while motivating each other to get active and be at the top of the leader-board. Some apps, like Health Hero will even let you make special challenges. You can also have team competitions for online games, language learning apps, or virtual scavenger hunts (“take a photo of your craziest coffee mug”). Make sure your virtual competitions have an area for a chat room, where your team members can chat and grow relationships. Make sure employees get involved by offering incentives to the top performers.

Top Team Exercise #5: Employee Recognition

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Multiple studies show that recognizing your employees and team members on their achievements and successes improves morale and team spirit. Leaders should give constant feed back to their employees, especially those working remotely.

Why it works

It can often feel hard for virtual team members to feel like they are a part of the team and contributing, or those in the office might feel like the employees working remotely get off easy. Recognizing the accomplishments of all team members, office bound and remote, helps everyone know that they are appreciated and that they make an impact in the company. Giving genuine recognition makes employees, especially virtual/remote team members feel valued.

How to implement for your team

Create a central area to recognize team members. Send out group emails to share what a team member accomplished, and then have everyone “reply all” to share their congratulations. Use a program like Bonusly, where team members can receive points to build up rewards – and then spend those points on anything (think movie tickets, training courses, and more). Reward outstanding team members with gift cards. Whatever you do, simple recognition for a job well done does wonders.

Conclusion

Virtual employees are a growing trend among businesses that can be vital to success.  And this evolving work environment is not going away anytime soon. It is important to continue with team building exercises, no matter the employee’s location or mode of communication (video, chat, email, etc.). A happy, engaged team leads to success.

Have any experiences with virtual or remote employees or team members? Or do you have some team building exercises that you love and want to share? Comment below and let us know!

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