The remote working trend is gaining traction and is currently one of the most sought after work benefits an employer can provide. According to Global Workplace Analytics, forty percent more US employers offer flexible workplace options than they did five years ago.
It’s easy to see why telecommuting is proving so popular with both employers and employees alike. GWA’s research also reveals that if people with compatible jobs and wanted to work from home did so half the time, companies could save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year.
Working remotely can help employees and freelancers focus better, save time and money on commuting and achieve a better work life balance, particularly if they have some autonomy over their working hours. However, there can be downsides, including the tendency to feel isolated.
For this reason, it’s really important to make sure, as an employer, you build rapport with your remote sales team. Building rapport can improve communication and help people feel happier in their remote roles. The result? Higher employee retention rates and a better bottom line.
Gallup researchers studied the differences in performance between engaged and actively disengaged teams. Findings show that those in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom quartile of teams by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity.
Here are four remote team building activities and approaches to help you succeed.
1. Organize regular meetings
Meetings are critical to building team rapport, but only if done right. The (not-so) secret is to organize meetings that people actually look forward to. Firstly, make sure your meetings are regular and don’t exceed half an hour. Factor in everyone’s time zone and stick to the same time every week.
In the virtual meeting itself:
- Let everyone have their say so that each person feels involved and has the opportunity to contribute to the company’s goals.
- Have an agenda but allow time for casual chit chat; expect participants to be on time but allow them to skip the meeting if they’re not needed.
- Establish a routine – many remote workers appreciate things that give them a routine so stick to the same time and channel (e.g. Skype or Zoom).
- Encourage videocam usage in online meetings as opposed to just calling in; face-to-face interaction drives up engagement, clarifies meaning and encourages participation.
2. Create a virtual water cooler
Coffee breaks and lunch times are when workers get to know each other in an office situation. Of course, it’s impossible to replace this scenario remotely, but channels like Slack and Facebook Groups can provide “social” spaces for remote teams to chat about non-work things.
Consider setting up a casual Slack channel for sharing cat videos, silly GIFs and motivational messages. Always enable people to opt in and out as they see fit.
It goes without saying, but to build rapport with people as a manager, you should take an interest in people’s personal lives too. A good way to do this is to ask about weekends at the beginning of a 1:1 or group virtual meeting to make up for those casual convos you’d have in the office.
3. Check in periodically
As well as team meetings, leave time to check in with each remote worker individually. It will make people feel like they are part of a company that cares about them and you can catch any problems or concerns early before they blossom into something more serious.
You might also want to consider surveying your remote workforce. Anonymous (or not) surveys are a good way to collect quick feedback about how effective your management style is. A simple survey can bring up issues that individuals might not feel comfortable talking about over email or video chat.
4. Encourage human interaction
It can be tricky to meet everyone in a distributed workplace, especially if they live in different countries. Still, you should aim to meet up with individuals whenever you can. If you’re based in an office that has surplus space, why not invite your remote workers in to hot desk from time to time?
This is a great way to utilise unused space and gives people the chance to meet other employees and maintain rapport with you. Alternatively (and depending on your budget), you could also contribute to or pay for a part-time desk pass for individuals at their local coworking space.
Coworking on an ad hoc basis provides remote workers with networking opportunities as well as a productive space in which to work. Most operate flexible membership schemes that allow you pay for what you need. You can also utilise their meeting rooms for face-to-face catch ups.
So there you have it: four ways of building rapport in a remote team. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to create a workforce that’s enthusiastic about logging in and working together. It’s not always easy and involves a trial and error approach, but keep learning and you’ll get there in the end!