5 Minute Guide to Remote Team Building

Cubicles are yesterday’s news. If you’re a manager, you’ve probably heard of ROWE. It stands for Results Oriented Work Environment, and it’s supposed to be about paying for output rather than hours. But in practice, ROWE often becomes shorthand for allowing your employees to work whenever, from wherever, as long as they get their work done. And there’s evidence to back ROWE up. A recent Gallup study found that employees are most engaged when they spend 60–80% of their week working remotely.

At BankTEL, 20% of our workers are remote and have been since 2013. We have employees in Mississippi, Alabama, California, Texas and Massachusetts. And 80% of our workforce has been with the company for at least a decade. BankTEL employees know there are numerous benefits to a remote work environment, and as C.E.O., so do I — that’s why we do it! But there is one huge challenge of telecommuting: how do you ensure that your team feels like, well, a team?

Here are some tips we’ve utilized over the years:

1) Keep things light.

Yes, there is serious work to be done. But coworkers need a place to collectively relax and talk about things other than work. This means remote teams need a virtual “coffee-station” — whether it’s hosted on a platform like Slack, HipChat, or HiBox, or it’s simply a private Facebook group. It’s a place workers can wish each other a happy birthday and post GIFs, memes, links to articles, funny pet photos, etc. and participate in non-work related group challenges. (“Anyone want to join me for a month of daily gym commitment?”)

2) Keep things light…and work-related.

But brainstorming is also important, so you probably need a Slack channel, dedicated Google doc, or something similar where people can share work-related ideas and images — stuff that maybe isn’t project-specific. This way, employees can represent their vision of a process or project and have a sounding-board for that vision. And sometimes, that will move a singular vision into the realm of a shared vision.

3) Be present.

A few times a year, your team needs to be physically in the same space, whether that’s at an annual conference, a retreat or a holiday party. Face-to-face work and leisure are key components of team-building, and there is no virtual substitute. (Sometimes it’s helpful if the leisure happens first, particularly if it’s employees first IRL meeting.)

4) Be present and give back.

Gather remote employees in one place for a shared volunteer effort. Perhaps you pay your team as normal, but rather than working that week, you bring them to a central location and have them build a Habitat for Humanity house. Or maybe you organize your employees to respond to a disaster — particularly if an employee was affected by the disaster. Doing meaningful work outside of work will help your team see their relationship as meaningful, and they may learn things new things about each other’s skillsets that will be useful on the job.

5) Meet virtually, regularly.

Have a weekly virtual meeting, even if it’s just for team members to go over goals and recount last week’s accomplishments. It’s important to create an atmosphere of collaboration and rewarding achievements.

6) Encourage communication without managers.

Sometimes coworkers need to discuss a challenge or just vent. Team members should have a comfortable and quick way to privately communicate via some form of chat. Encourage your employees to check in with other team members throughout the day, even if it’s about something casual or non work-related. Partner specific employees on projects and rotate these partnerships, so employees have the chance to get to know all the team members.

7) Encourage communication with managers.

Managers still have to manage, even if it’s remotely. So schedule one-on-one chats with team members to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job. One of the benefits of a remote work force is relieving both employees and managers of micro-management, but it’s easy to feel disconnected with no guidance or direct contact with supervisors.

Okay, that’s it for now. Happy managing, happy telecommuting and happy team-building!

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