Although COVID-19 is (hopefully) behind us, the pandemic will have long-term impacts on the working world. Having grown accustomed to, and comfortable with, working remotely, many employees are resisting a return to the office.
Though managers would generally prefer to have everyone physically back in the workplace, given the tight labor market and projections for lower workforce growth over the coming decade, they can’t push too hard.
Of course, remote work isn’t an option for everyone. But for knowledge workers who are able to work from home (or pretty much anywhere), some combination of remote and hybrid (part-time in the office) work is likely to permanently replace full-time in-the-office employment.
Developing team cohesion and camaraderie is more important than ever for improving employee retention. Yet it’s also incredibly challenging to do when employees spend little time interacting in person. What are managers to do?
A regular schedule of team building and professional development programs can check all the boxes: it builds strong relationships, enhances collaboration, increases employee loyalty, and improves interpersonal skills. The end result is an engaged, high-performing workforce. Here’s how to get there.
How to Use Team Building with Remote and Hybrid Work Teams
Effectively managing and optimizing the cohesion of physically disconnected work teams requires thinking about the challenge across multiple dimensions, including people, processes, and programs.
Building collaborative teams goes way beyond the technology. Tools like Slack, Zoom, and Monday can certainly be helpful, and remote work applications have in general gotten a lot better over the past couple of years. But the tools themselves are only infrastructure; it’s how the tools are used that leads to high performance (or not).
One challenge of managing remote/hybrid teams is that it’s harder to really get to know your team, and for team members to really get to know each other, without the benefit of in-person verbal and non-verbal cues day in and day out.
As noted in a previous post here, maximizing team cohesion with different personalities and work styles starts with utilizing some type of personality assessment tool, such as the DiSC model, MBTI assessment, or Predictive Index. The insights they provide are valuable in any environment but are even more crucial when managing physically disconnected work teams.
Some employees are comfortable working independently, with periodic check-ins and updates from team members. Others are more collaborative and prefer to talk issues through with teammates. Still others need time to process information and are uncomfortable making snap decisions.
It’s vital for managers to understand these differences regardless of the work structure, but even more critical—and challenging—in remote or hybrid situations. For example, an employee who craves socialization may need opportunities for direct conversations with the team leader and coworkers in order to remain comfortable and engaged.
“Managing is less about tactics and goals and more about team cohesion, building culture, and creating one-on-one relationships. Then when conflict or a crisis does happen, you’re better equipped to handle it,” says leadership coach Wendy Bryan.
“You have to arm your managers of hybrid or remote work teams with assessment tools and skills. It’s about really understanding the workplace drivers and what makes people tick, because most employees can’t just tell you how best to manage them.”
Leadership training is essential for enabling managers to understand and properly use the results of personality assessments. Team building programs help employees better understand and accommodate the different work styles and preferences of their colleagues.
One basic component of managing geographically dispersed groups and making everyone feel like part of the team is not only a regular cadence of online meetings, but also an established structure, so that everyone gets the most out of virtual meetings.
That’s vital from a tactical standpoint, but it’s also crucial for managers to understand the softer side of online communications. Who needs to be “called on” during team meetings because they aren’t as eager as others to speak up? How do employees prefer to be contacted for urgent or quick questions: phone call? Text? Are they highly responsive on Slack or email? That’s important to know on both tactical and interpersonal levels.
The output of personality assessments can also be incorporated in creative ways into remote team communications.
For example, notes Wendy, “We could take the placards from the Predictive Index and black out the names. Then interject those into weekly or monthly meetings, asking ‘Who do you think is who? Which one is yours?’ It’s a five-minute icebreaker that’s fun, gets everyone relaxed, and is much more meaningful than small talk about sports or the weather.”
It’s also helpful for remote team cohesion to occasionally interrupt business with fun. For example, once a month, hold a mandatory 30-minute Zoom meeting where people have to be away from their desks and doing something physical, to encourage health and wellness.
People might be walking, at the gym, vacuuming, any physical activity. It may seem awkward at first, but after a few sessions, team members start to get creative and have fun with it. It’s great for physical and mental health, as well as employees showing a different side of themselves.
Team building and professional development programs also play a crucial role. “Think about what happens at sales meetings, marketing kickoffs, or other all-employee gatherings,” says Wendy. “People get to see each other, give high-fives, and hang out together. That’s so important. When it’s not possible or practical, virtual team building helps to meet that need in building team cohesiveness.
“You can have a manager attend leadership development training or your people do a team building program. Both are important, but have two different psychological effects. One is addressing the manager and how to manage. The other is for the team and how to see other sides of coworkers beyond email, Slack, and Zoom meetings. Start with team building for everybody, then springboard off into getting managers trained to be better leaders.”
Helpful programs for leadership and professional development in hybrid / remote work environments include:
- Building Your Hybrid Team: This custom virtual workshop will give you and your hybrid team a roadmap for moving forward, while helping to organize for increased efficiency. It focuses on methodologies that your group can use in future meetings, and explore behavioral and work styles and situational leadership approaches. It will help you to create an Objective Statement along with corresponding team goals to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Virtual Coaching and Feedback: This online program will increase your ability and skill to provide virtual coaching and feedback that is engaging and effective. It helps develop trust and respect and promotes self-awareness that will allow for increased development and focused career planning.
- Conducting Better Virtual Meetings: Learn the skills and tools to make your virtual meetings effective and productive. Plan remote meetings that will deliver tangible results with clear takeaways and follow-up action plans that will ensure your attendees see value in attending and participating.
- Developing Emerging Leaders: For a more in-depth approach to developing and enhancing leaders in your organization, this comprehensive workshop series helps current and future leaders realize their full potential.
Among the most popular and effective virtual team building programs for strengthening remote team cohesion are:
- Virtual Morning Jumpstart: This event can be delivered on any day of the week as a fun way to launch into a productive workday with smiles and camaraderie. Virtual Morning Jumpstart promotes team cohesion and enhances relationships through a lively series of game-type challenges and morning wake-up-themed activities.
- Virtual escape rooms: Programs such as Escape the Office, Save the Boss, and Search for the Cure bring together an immersive storyline, clues of varying difficulty, detailed graphics, and an advanced escape room platform to intrigue and challenge your group.
- Virtual Speed Networking: This engaging get-to-know-you event incorporates a series of fun and challenging icebreaker activities and discussion topics, conducted remotely. After every break-out session, teams will return to the virtual “General Session” space to reconnect with the large group and the host.
How to Schedule Workshops and Programs to Enhance Team Cohesion
Keeping remote work teams engaged and productive requires establishing protocols and processes, but also building team cohesiveness in a hybrid work environment. It’s very helpful to do some type of activity on a quarterly basis that brings the team together outside of the work you actually have to do. To maintain team cohesiveness among remote workers, you need to be even more deliberate about this than when you have the whole team on site every day.
In addition to training or professional development workshops that are just for managers, an ideal cadence is one team building event per quarter—live if possible, virtual if not. And the entire team should do at least one or two live, in-person team building events each year.
Building and maintaining highly collaborative and productive work teams is challenging in any environment, but even more so in remote or hybrid work situations. Leadership development and team building programs are essential for optimizing team cohesion and performance.
Managing successful remote teams requires the right mix of people management, processes, and programs. It starts with using a personality assessment tool to help managers really understand the unique characteristics of team members, and training managers on how to use the output of these tools.
Remote work processes help keep the team in sync. These need to take into consideration both tactical requirements and people management “soft skills.”
Team building and professional development programs play a vital role in keeping remote team members engaged, and your teams performing at a high level. The ideal cadence for team building activities is quarterly, with at least one in-person event each year.