Laura Shiff - April 15, 2020 -
5 Min Read

How to Strengthen Remote Team Bonds

With a majority of workforces thrust into the world of working from home (WFH) on short notice and with no definitive end in sight, now more than ever it is crucial that employees feel supported, heard, and connected.

As a leader, it can feel overwhelming to try to figure out the best ways to achieve this when you are not physically together each day. 

That's why we created this resource. 

In this guide, you'll find actionable steps to take and strategies you can deploy now with your remote staff to cultivate connections and strengthen your company culture

We’ll cover these key areas:

  • Building camaraderie and a stronger connection with colleagues across the globe
  • Celebrating wins together despite geographical distance
  • Keeping positive work traditions alive, even while working remotely
  • Having fun while making meaningful progress toward objectives

Building camaraderie and a stronger connection with colleagues across the globe

One of the first places to begin is through new workers. Whenever an employee joins the remote team, make it a priority to give them an experience that connects them to their team members right away.

Whether this be a virtual happy hour or even just a video call that is not work related, it is important to have a specific time right away where the new hire gets to meet those they will be directly working with. Building in these introductions ensures that new workers feel a sense of belonging before they dive right in to day-to-day work. 

Continuing to prioritize onboarding processes for new workers only further establishes company culture, proving to everyone from the get-go that you are all in this together even when you are apart.

Set clear boundaries and expectations among workers right away to prevent them from becoming siloed. Make sure everyone has a go-to partner and that they know who to contact if they have questions. Consider strategically pairing up different employees for projects to foster meaningful experiences while building a bonding environment. 

Depending on the size of your team, building stronger connections through subgroups can prove to be a highly beneficial practice. These subgroups prevent isolation and help members grow faster relationships with certain teammates. 

Find out remote employees’ interests or goals, and create virtual meetups for them based on these objectives (people pursuing similar certifications, members who are attending certain conferences, employees interested in coding, etc). 

Ensure that employees don’t become too isolated within their subgroups by offering different groups every so often and mixing it up. Offer a virtual coffee break session for those interested in talking more about AI or add new Slack channels when various industry reports release. 

Celebrating wins across geographical distance

One of the easiest and most effective ways to boost morale is to celebrate victories large and small when they happen. Recognizing and rewarding great work in the moment will not only help staff members feel valued, it will also continue to provide incentives for them to work with and help each other. 

Research by Harvard Business School has shown that companies with strong recognition programs and practices immediately notice increased productivity, lower job turnover, and greater returns on investment than other companies in the same industries. 

“Cash matters in people’s lives, but it’s not all that matters,” says Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans, who researches what makes people happy. “What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated.”

If a specific subgroup landed a big deal, mention it at the top of the next team video conference. If someone obtained a lot of new leads or fixed a troublesome bug, call them out in the #celebrations Slack channel or weekly roundup newsletter. However you choose to go about recognizing outstanding efforts, make sure it’s frequent, visible, and authentic. 

Keeping positive work traditions alive

Just because your teams are working remotely doesn’t mean that you have to let go of positive work traditions, like mentorship. Assigning mentors who aren’t direct managers to employees is a powerful vehicle for employee growth and continuous development.

These partnerships provide reliable, trusted connections with other members of the team, guiding them with valuable insights and propelling them with shared accountability.

Terri A. Scandura, a management professor and dean of the graduate school at the University of Miami, says most enterprises see mentoring as an important employee development tool, with 71% of Fortune 500 companies having mentoring programs.

“Clearly, employees who have mentors earn more money, are better socialized into the organization and are more productive,” Scandura says. “They experience less stress and get promoted more rapidly. Because of the positive benefits shown to mentors, companies are still very interested in this process.”

In a survey of 170 sales and marketing professionals, employees who were part of a mentoring relationship were found to have significantly higher engagement scores than employees who were not. 

Other positive work traditions that are typically utilized in-office that can be easily replicated in remote environments are weekly one-on-ones as well as weekly all-hands meetings.

Take time in these video sessions to discuss and understand employees’ challenges, especially those concerning work/life balance or working from home.

Lead by example and take time off, whether it be for vacation or just mental health days. Show your employees that the organization lives and breathes its culture and values them following along, as well. 

Make face time a priority. Whether it be through video conference calls or individual video chats, make sure that you are having meetings where people can see one another's faces and reactions, taking in any clues from what they might not be expressing verbally or in written communications.  

Having fun while making meaningful progress

Although progress towards goals is the main objective of work teams, that doesn’t mean you can't have a little fun together while you make that progress.

Work relationships are incredibly important to employee well-being, and even more so in remote teams. In fact, research from happiness expert Annie McKee reveals that “one of the ways we can make ourselves happy and feel more fulfilled in our workplaces is to build friendships with the people that work with us, work for us and even with our boss.”

Employees with friends or social connections at work tend to be more engaged and loyal workers because these quality relationships contribute to overall company respect, trust, and loyalty. Casual communication is crucial when it comes to team building for remote teams.

Remember that in regular office settings, employees have plenty of opportunities that allow casual interactions, such as in the break room, near the vending machines, or even just walking back together from group meetings.

Although remote teams do not share these same opportunities, there are still plenty of creative ways to build these connections and get to know one another outside of work. 

Activities like sharing GIFs, posting pictures of pets, having questions of the week, etc., provide plenty of ways for employees to engage in less work-focused chatting (such as a #random channel in Slack or Microsoft Teams). 

Maintaining positive company culture

Although team building for remote workers has some challenges, these are easy to overcome with a little planning and dedication, and well worth the effort.

By helping people make connections to other workers, asking important questions during team meetings, providing plenty of opportunities for celebrations and fun, organizing partnerships and mentorships, and continuously evaluating and evolving the ethos of the remote environment, you can ensure employees that find themselves working from home do not have to feel like they are working alone. 

Laura Shiff

Written by Laura Shiff

Laura Shiff is a researcher and technical writer based in the Twin Cities. She specializes in software, technology, and medicine.