10 Rituals for Remote Teams

April 29, 2015

10:00 am

Remote teams have freedom and flexibility, but they’re also at risk for disconnection and discontent. But because you don’t see your team in person, these problems can linger unnoticed and impact productivity and morale.

Our team at Tech.Co is mostly remote, and we have a few rituals to help us bond and keep our culture strong. On Slack, the latest group chat application du jour, we have a channel called The Break Room where people share funny photos, recipes, weekend plans, and animated gifs. We’re also trying out something called Flexi-Fun Fridays, where team members change up their work location on Friday afternoons and share a photo (of the library, cafe, coworking space, or wherever) with the team.

We asked entrepreneurs to share their rituals for remote teams – here are some of the most creative ideas you might think about implementing:

Team players

“The most common bonding ritual we have is a daily board game. We usually play Dominion or Seasons online and have a video chat open while we play. We enjoy the games, but also enjoy the company. As everyone works from home, it allows us to have some actual facetime doing something we enjoy with each other.”

– Jon Keating, CEO of Mathrawk

Meet our dog

“We have TVs on the wall in each office that are hooked into Chromebox for Meetings devices, and they are persistently joined to the ‘Office-Portal’ hangout. It helps to create natural interactions across the offices – for example, if I’m walking by the Portal TV in NYC, and someone’s walking by the Portal TV in Atlanta, we’ll wave to each other. We’ve also used it for fun events like a live Halloween costume contest we did across both offices, or to show off our dogs.”

– David Politis, founder and CEO of BetterCloud

BetterCloud portal dog 1

Pumpkin carving and lip synching

Our remote team often attends parties via video chat. For our Halloween pumpkin-carving contest, our Indianapolis office carved pumpkins while the remote staff were judges. It was a fun way for everyone to participate in the festivities. Pin the tail on the donkey would be tricky with remote employees, so we have to get creative with games. We’ve hosted trivia, and remote employees call in on telephones to help their teams answer questions. (No Googling allowed!) One of our most popular events was a lip-synching contest where all staff recorded videos. Dropbox allowed the Indy team and remote staff to watch entries together.”

– Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack

Group gifting

“Each year, we’ve had a company Christmas party via Skype. We’ll buy each employee a bottle of booze and we’ll do silly stuff like shop for each other online. We each take a turn being the gift recipient, which means muting your mic. Then the rest of the team will search the web for gift ideas. The recipient sits silently as the team will discuss their possible tastes in gifts. Finally, together a gift is chosen by the team and purchased by the company.”

Remote teams Christmas party

– Allan Branch, LessAccounting.com

Food swap

“Even though we can’t break bread together, everyone is a foodie or wannabe foodie, so we share our best restaurants and recipes. Then we try them and send feedback, and we give awards to the best and the worst.”

– Michael Katz, CEO and cofounder of Skiptee.com

YouTube stars

Over the holidays, we rounded up some footage from our different teams singing and dancing to ‘Everything is Awesome’ from The Lego Movie and sent it around to our alumni and community. It was fun for us to collaborate and create something together that wasn’t about the work at all.”

– Christine Zimmermann, content marketing manager at Startup Institute

Digital drinks

“We all use Skype messenger during the day and have two fun groups: Coffee Talk (which is used to talk about anything coworkers would talk about while making morning coffee in the office kitchen: kids, hobbies, last night shenanigans). The other group chat is: Happy Hour (we all cheers when it’s happy hour time with emojis, and cheers to the weekend).”

– Lani Gregory, digital analyst and PR coordinator at hotelmarketingWorks 

Meet my cat

It’s so important to create ‘face time,’ and in our case we rely heavily on Google to make this happen. We make sure to have at least one video call per week, during which we will often take a moment to show ‘where we are.’ What’s out the window, how hard is it snowing, which pets are around, what new art did a team member put up in his or her apartment? We also do a round of ‘team travel updates’ each week, in which we report on all travel over the next two weeks.”

– Danielle Robin, director of content strategy at CatalystCreativ

Meet you in paradise

“Our main bonding ritual is our Mailbird Hackathon, that takes place every 3-4 months. During that month, the entire team gets together in Bali to work from the same place and in the same room, enabling us to get a lot of things done as we are able to talk to each other. We also use that time to do some social activities together on the weekends to get to know each other and just spend time together outside of work. Those Hackathons have so far always been very, very good in terms of team building, motivation, and effective working strategies.”

– Christin Baumgarten, PR and media relations manager at Mailbird

Clever Talks

“Our most unique ritual is our twice-a-month leadership group. We all get together in a video hangout using bluejeans that can support up to 100 simultaneous audio/video connections and we participate in a Clever Talk. The 20-minute talk topics range from Building Trust, Making Requests, Develop Habits, to Create Satisfaction. Think of it as a TED talk, but designed for our culture. As part of the talk, there are requests for commitments from the group that continue beyond the talk in one-on-one buddy sessions. These buddy pairs make public goals and present back to the group on their progress from time to time. The buddies self-organize based on their personal goals and ambitions. And the goals people are aiming for are not all business. Some are quite personal, ranging from fitness to travel.”

– Kuty Shalev, founder and managing partner of Clevertech

Image credit: Flickr / Lisa Omarali / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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