Rethink Inclusion

In the last five years, there has been an estimated 800% increase in virtual/mobile workers. (The Nemertes Research Group). And if you want and need engaged workers from afar, thinking differently about how to help them feel included and part of the team is critical.

One aspect that is rarely exercised for remote workers is building camaraderie and connection through team-building activities. Yes, team-building! Sadly, 65% of remote employees report that they have never participated in a team-building activity. Team-building not only enhances collaboration, but it also decreases isolation. If you want to encourage synergy, promote trust and enhance cooperation with your remote teams—incorporating collaboration activities is essential! Here are eight helpful strategies to consider trying:

1. Social Networking.

You don’t have to invite coworkers to be your friend on Facebook.  But team members can interact through private LinkedIn groups or Yammer pages.  Yammer is like Facebook, but for the corporate setting. According to company statistics, more than 80% of the Fortune 500 is already using Yammer to build employee connections.

2. Get Personal.

Spend a few minutes at the start of each meeting getting those personal updates. Take it one step further and ask team members to send a recent photo to the event organizer. Assemble those into a slide deck to review at the meeting.

3. Virtual Happy Hour or Coffee Break.

Teams all need time to bond with each other outside of their work roles, so top virtual teams take time for a virtual happy hour or coffee break. This is a designated time where team members can connect via chat, conference call, or media to discuss personal and/or professional topics. Some teams have gone so far as to post a “Personal Conversations Only” note on their virtual bar.  It’s a time to connect on a personal level, have a little fun and unwind. This engagement is usually a non-mandatory and bring-your-own-drinks event.

4. Rotational Leadership.

Most members of high-performance teams are fully capable of leading themselves and the group, but unfortunately, they don’t often get a chance. Rotational leadership allows each team member to lead the team—whether it’s simply heading up the weekly phone call, planning a monthly team building activity, or organizing an educational event.

5. Shared Learning.

Think of it as the book group model of team building. Classes, book discussions, and virtual conferences are a way for team members to connect around professional issues, apart from day-to-day work matters. Look for opportunities for virtual team members to attend the same webinar, read a business-related book, or log in to a company conference. Afterwards, connect via phone, Yammer, or instant message to discuss the takeaways.

6. Acknowledgement Round Robin.

More than any other reason, team members leave when they don’t feel a sense of acknowledgment or recognition. Establish a habit of sharing acknowledgements to boost morale. During your text team meeting, ask members to share two specific, timely acknowledgments—one for themselves and one for someone else.

7. Ice Breakers with a Purpose.

We can learn so much about people through powerful questions. Their answers tell a lot about their personality, work style and values. Try asking a question like this to start your next meeting: “What is something you’ve always want to try, but haven’t yet?”

8. Virtual Polling.

Using the polling function in your virtual meeting software, ask a quick round of questions about personal and professional questions to get a read on attitudes and preferences. For example, you could ask, “What is your favorite form of communication—text, phone, email, in-person meetings?” or “What time of day do you feel most energized?” 

These are just a few ways to build virtual teams.  If you have an in-office team in addition to remote team members, look for ways to include the virtual group whenever possible.

For example, it might not make sense to conference someone in to cut a birthday cake, but you can send them a card signed by their office teammates.  They can’t join the office fun run, but they can take part in wellness activities if you provide a way to track activity points online. It’s really just a matter of rethinking inclusion.