Retain employees with remote team-building strategies that actually work

Retain employees with remote team building — strategies that actually work

Remote work became a necessity for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many workers have since returned to a traditional office environment, many choose to stay home. As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time workers are remote, with another 28.2% adopting a hybrid work model consisting of remote and on-site work. A whopping 98% of workers indicate they'd like to work remotely for at least some time. By 2025, the number of remote workers is expected to increase to 22% of the workforce.

While remote work offers a wealth of benefits, it can also create a sense of loneliness and erode the camaraderie and collaboration that employees experience on-site. Combat this sense of isolation with remote team-building strategies that restore relationships and provide social support for employees outside the office.

What is remote team building?

Team building is the process of engaging individuals in collaborative activities that strengthen connections and facilitate greater cooperation. Team-building activities have a long history in the traditional work environment. Remote team building takes that concept virtual, implementing creative strategies to facilitate collaboration and community long-distance.

The importance of remote team building

Team-building activities can benefit any employee, but these organized interactions are especially important for remote workers. In a traditional work environment, many team-building activities happen organically. Employees naturally gather around the coffee pot or water cooler. They stop to chat as they pass one another's cubicles and can easily step out together for a friendly work lunch or evening happy hour at the end of the day. 

Remote workers are more likely to suffer from a sense of isolation. One survey found that 53% of remote workers find it harder to feel connected to their coworkers. Organizing remote team-building activities presents a compelling solution. Employees engaged in virtual team building may enjoy benefits like:

  • Improved communication skills
  • Higher morale
  • Better collaboration with coworkers
  • More satisfying workplace relationships
  • Greater productivity

"One survey found that 53% of remote workers find it harder to feel connected to their coworkers."

Top ideas for remote team-building activities

Remote team building requires a concentrated effort from at least one organizer who can spearhead the project. Once established, many remote team-building activities can take on a life of their own, sustained by the engagement of the employees. There are many engaging activities that you can try.

Get-to-know you guessing games

Employees who share a work environment get to know each other's quirks. Kevin makes popcorn after lunch, Cathy is always the first to make coffee, and Jane loves to display her cats on the walls of her cubicle. In a remote environment, you miss out on some of this camaraderie. Recreate those in-office experiences by hosting a weekly or monthly guessing game for employees.

Have each member of the team submit a particular photo to the moderator. Feature a different theme for each game, such as the inside of your refrigerator, the desk in your home office, or your favorite pair of work shoes (which, for many remote workers, may actually be slippers). Post all the photos anonymously and have team members place votes on who they think each picture belongs to. You can have a lot of fun revealing the results and seeing how easily the employees can identify each other.

Video call lunches

When asked how well their colleagues know them, just 15% of respondents said their coworkers know their hobbies and interests, and less than a third get a regular happy birthday from them. These statistics were gathered from a diverse group of both remote and on-site workers. If this is true of the workforce, the statistics are likely even bleaker when focused exclusively on remote employees.

Video call lunches are an excellent way for employees to get to know one another in a more informal setting. You can facilitate conversation by providing a few prompts at the beginning of the meal, such as "What's your favorite food," "How would you spend the perfect weekend," or "What's your most unusual skill"? Conversational games such as Two Truths and a Lie offer another fun way to spark interesting chatter. 

Make a point of noting all your employees' birthdays on the calendar and schedule video lunches for those days when possible. Better yet, send a fruit bouquet or other special treat by delivery so they can enjoy it during your virtual lunch party.

The online water cooler

Platforms such as Slack make it possible to create several collaborative channels for chatting with one another. Consider creating a virtual water cooler that's exclusive to non-work-related topics. Assign a facilitator to periodically post conversation starters, but maintain a loose environment where participants are encouraged to start their own discussions in a casual environment.

GIF battles

Use an application such as Trello to host playful GIF battles where employees post their best GIFs for the given topics. You can use a combination of topics that are both work-related and just plain fun. Examples include "work vibe," "cutest internet cat," and "how you feel about ugly Christmas sweater parties." This is another remote team-building activity that you can repeat weekly or monthly to keep the conversation flowing.

Team playlists

Create a shared playlist and encourage employees to add their favorite songs. If you're in an industry where your team members might listen to music while working, a background tunes playlist is perfect. Employees can listen together and share their thoughts about certain songs around your virtual water cooler.

If your employees get into these jams, consider creating multiple playlists with different themes. You might have a "celebrating a sale" playlist that your employees switch on when they need to do a happy dance over landing a new client. Your "perk it up" playlist may include inspirational songs for those tough days when workers need a boost to get through the day. Sharing songs is a great way for employees to get to know one another and work together toward a playful goal.

Virtual escape rooms

Provide your team with a wildly entertaining experience by signing them up for a virtual escape room. Typically conducted via Zoom, these digital escape rooms present a series of puzzles that participants must collaboratively solve over a 90-minute session. These escape rooms are fun, highlight employees' strengths and weaknesses, and allow everyone to brainstorm on how to work best as a team.

Online personality assessments

Personality assessments can tell you a lot about an individual. Assign a particular online test to your employees and have them share their results in your next virtual meeting. Discuss as a group how this information can help you maximize each individual's strengths to get the best possible work from everyone on the team.

Facilitating remote team-building strategies is a great way to improve the work-from-home experience and keep your employees engaged whether they're in the office or not. Aim to maintain at least a few ongoing activities to keep your team regularly engaged, no matter where they're located.

Learn more about improving the remote work experience:

Take time to onboard remote employees properly so they immediately feel like they're part of the team.

Build a company culture that supports employees' mental health through good communication, engaging group activities, and rewarding recognition.

Identify the rewards your remote workers value most and work these into your team building tactics.

Learn to identify employee burnout early and easily so you can keep workers engaged.

Take the team huddle virtual so remote employees enjoy the benefits of this communication strategy as well.

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