Team Building in a Virtual Work Environment? Here’s How

The pandemic has driven workers out of the office and back to their kitchen tables and make-shift home offices. Except for a slew of soulless emails, isolation rules and the death of team spirit is a real threat to bottom lines.

As HR professionals, the ball is in our courts to find ways to create synergy and make teams more united and productive. Telecommuting certainly complicates matters, but it’s the new normal. So, how do you recreate moments of closeness, promote team spirit, and strengthen ties like old times?

The psychological effects of working virtually when that’s not what you’re used to

The impact of the virtual work environment on employees is affected by several factors, including the degree of support provided by management, social connectedness, colleague support, and conflict in the workplace with the family. Generally, working from home where morbid statistics are repeated ad nauseum on the news has triggered some of the severest psychological impacts in the history of the working class:

1. Greater difficulty in taking time off from work or turning off the switch, which risks destabilizing the family and the personal sphere:

  • Increased interruptions and distractions
  • Increase in expectations and demands from those around you
  • Greater need for organization

2. Lack of detachment from work with negative emotional implications for the couple:

  • Decreased marital satisfaction
  • Fatigue and despair
  • A feeling of emptiness or loss of meaning
  • Decrease in the emotional quality of the couple in the evening

3. Negative influence on the bonds between the employees, which leads to:

  • Increased isolation and loneliness
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Loss of interest in the activities you enjoy
  • Irritability

4. Decreased sense of belonging to the organization and to a group, which reinforces isolation.

The need to belong is fundamental to all humans. Virtual team-building strategies are needed to minimize the lack of belonging and build engagement, inclusion, and team spirit. But how do you rewrite employee culture for a digital zero contact world?

How to Maintain a Good Company Culture in a Virtual Environment

Company culture is all the knowledge, values, and behaviors shared by the members of the same organization. This culture facilitates and influences the operation of the company and the decisions made by its members. The company culture is unique to each organization and is, in a way, its personality. It unites and brings together employees.

Values such as trust, work tools, management methods, reference documents, know-how, and relationships between employees or even ways of communicating are the constitutive elements of the corporate culture. The below approaches may help strengthen the culture in the virtual world.

Team chat apps

For effective team management remotely, effective communication is crucial. This must be frequent and be done through the right platforms. Whether it’s Slack, Fuze, Skype, WhatsApp, or more, the important thing is to stay in touch and continue collaborating.

Small talk and spontaneous conversations

By working remotely, there are no more discussions around the coffee machine or during the lunch break. There are no more spontaneous and impromptu conversations in the open space. In a normal office, these moments are essential to promote team cohesion. Therefore, it is essential to take advantage of phone or video conversations to chat with colleagues-instant messaging apps like WhatsApp or Slack are also great tools for keeping up with colleagues outside work topics.

Reference documents

Sharing knowledge can also be easy when working remotely. One solution is to establish a reference document bringing together as much important information as possible to which the company’s members can refer to carry out their activity. This reference document then makes it possible to obtain information without overloading the mailboxes quickly.

Autonomy and trust

The transition from office work to teleworking is sometimes a source of complications, both for teams and for managers who must change traditional management methods and implement new strategies to manage their teams remotely. Presenteeism policies and permanent supervision are replaced by other management methods based on trust and autonomy.

Thus, instead of counting the hours of connection, the manager should set up a results-based management system and measure the objectives achieved and the results produced by each person. By giving the autonomy and confidence they need to carry out their missions, teams learn to take responsibility.

A New Approach to Team Building

Companies should support anything that creates a safe work environment for employees and provides team members with a social outlet. Here, we’ve put together a list of strategies that you can start using today.

Make systems talk to each other: Make communication a part of your culture. It is essential to prepare your team for a virtual workplace so they can succeed. Your virtual team needs to have access to the proper communication and working tools in a central place.

Personalize communication: Leading well means learning about each of your employees and understanding the importance of feeling like you belong on the team at work. Adapting management styles to the personalities of specific employees has proven effective in promoting productivity. Take the time to learn how each team member communicates, and your virtual workplace will thrive with esprit de corps.

Talk more, text less: The good thing about collaboration tools is that they help increase team harmony, but if you’re not cautious, they may also isolate your team. If you can, call your coworkers and get to know them better. In many cases, spontaneous phone conversations can be more effective and faster than email chains. Having regular verbal interactions with your employees allows you to monitor their work and well-being.

Face to face is an antidote for isolation: A video conferencing system paired with screen sharing and recording capabilities is invaluable when working in a virtual environment. The most obvious use is to simulate a conference room. Screen-sharing can also be employed as a virtual whiteboard.

Recognition events: And why not a gala recognition? Employees love recognition. Create an official, chic and glamorous event online. Please take the opportunity to order meals online and have them delivered for the team and eat together. A great way to celebrate!

Virtual Team-Building Ideas

Times are challenging even for experienced companies that jumped into the remote world many years ago. Virtual team-building experiences being contactless make it hard to replicate what we are used to in the material world. At First Point Background Screening, we’ve had our struggles, but we’ve learned that the greatest ideas are the simplest.

Our Human Resources Manager Terri Scannell sheds light on our journey and the ways HR professionals can navigate team building and management in this new world.

How have you adjusted to integrating new team members remotely?

It was a challenge in the early months of the pandemic. We learned quickly to utilize Microsoft Teams, and the software has proved effective for us. We began video interviews immediately and continue to use this format. We have video meetings for our new hire orientation and use Teams for training. It’s not the same as meeting in person, but it has allowed us to connect.

Have you done any team-building exercises during the pandemic?

We’ve focused on communication to keep our teams engaged. We’ve used various tools, including:

Emails: We communicated through multiple email messages to employees. We shared helpful resources on multiple topics such as the Employee Assistance Program, COVID safety, and tips on reducing stress, increasing wellness, and finding financial assistance.

Video messages: Our executive management team communicated throughout the year by sending video messages updating staff on the company’s status and keeping them informed about its strategy in handling the pandemic. Employees wanted to see and hear from the leadership team, and these messages were helpful and resulted in positive feedback.

How do you maintain a good company culture in a virtual environment?

Virtual face-to-face fun: All our managers conduct regular group meetings using Teams, and all employees have webcams so that they can see each other during the sessions. We had a lot of fun and tried different things like a Face Covering contest and Walking Challenge to encourage exercise. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, and other milestones using Teams.

Daily check-ins: We start the day with a 15-minute wellness check. We host regular webinars on topics focused on mental health issues, ergonomics, and tips for coping with stress with a focus to mitigate the psychological effects of working virtually when that’s not what you’re used to.

Adjusted schedules: Teamwork and flexibility go hand in hand, and managers and employees cooperated to adjust schedules, share workloads and assign tasks to help each other out. We accomplished what was needed for the business to be successful as many of our employees juggled family issues like homeschooling, illness, and financial hardships. Everyone learned we could accomplish a lot together.

Was it a big difference from doing it in person?

We all agree that meeting in person is preferred, but we have learned that we can adapt and stay in touch remotely and be effective in our jobs.

Do you feel your employees (new and old) have become more connected, less connected, or have had no difference in connection as a result of the pandemic?

Our employees have learned to adapt and connect with the tools they have been provided with, i.e., email, teams chat, phone calls. Most have developed a new comfort level when participating in meetings on camera, using Team chat, and staying in touch with phone calls.

As a company, we have encouraged our employees to schedule “coffee breaks” together on camera using Teams to enjoy the same conversation they would have had in the break room. Many employees have reported how much they want this time.

We also made videos that have highlighted employees who voluntarily shared something about themselves. It was fun to see pictures of their families and pets, and we learned more about each other.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who has no idea how to plan a virtual team-building exercise? 

We did not conduct formal team-building exercises and chose frequent communication to keep our employees connected. There are multiple resources available online. My advice is to stay positive and don’t be afraid to try new things. When something you try doesn’t meet your satisfaction, be okay with that and try something different next time.

Whatever formula you choose, the idea is to keep in touch in an environment other than work. This is a great way to maintain morale and build team cohesion.

You can learn more about FirstPoint

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