We’ve all heard the legends about the water cooler discussion that led to the next big idea for an organization. Aside from all the green benefits of having a water cooler in the office, locations like this have long provided an informal opportunity for teammates to share passing ideas, build camaraderie, and increase team cohesion.
In an increasingly virtual workplace, these physical locations are tougher to come by, and remote workers can feel more disconnected from their peers. While a recent study pointed to the benefits of remote work, we’ve found that long-term virtual work can sometimes to lead to a sense of isolation for workers of small teams that yearn for higher engagement opportunities.
Until teleportation becomes a reality, here’s four strategies that we’ve found increase employee satisfaction and productivity.
Create a virtual water cooler using Skype
It can be difficult to create a team culture when teammates are rarely in touch with each other. Sharing personal stories, quick jokes, and weekend plans can help remote workers feel more connected to their teammates. We’ve found that Skype IM chatrooms provide a great opportunity to have a virtual water cooler, that people can use to share quick links and ideas with their teams. Since some folks don’t want to be bothered by keeping up with a chat room, we don’t make it mandatory to follow every IM, but the persistence of Skype IM means that when you log on, you have a chance to see what everyone has been talking about while you were offline.
Host regular team meetings on GoToMeeting with video
It’s nice to know that behind every email address is a fellow human being. We use GoToMeeting in our weekly team meetings to share video streams between our offices and remote workers to provide an affordable and easy video connection with all our folks. Seeing a smile and expressions makes it easier to understand the nuance within team meetings.
Bring the team physically together once a quarter
Nothing beats having people in the same room together to whiteboard important projects and brainstorm new ideas. Once a quarter, we fly all of our team into our DC headquarters for our PICnet Quarterly Connect, allowing face-to-face connections with folks that don’t get to spend much time together in person. Aside from the various break-out meetings we have in this one-day event, the happy hours and dinners around the Quarterly Connects provide some of the most valuable connection between teammates.
Combine relaxation and brainstorming with an annual retreat
Getting together in person to work for a fast one-day event is a significant morale boost for our remote workers, but sometimes one day just isn’t enough. We’ve got a tight knit team, and folks naturally tend to want to spend more time together (a benefit of our “hire slow” approach). So, once a year, we host our annual PICnet Retreat, a five-day event far away from the office. The first 2-3 days are all about relaxing and having fun, and with most of our retreats in Lake Tahoe, California, that’s easy to come by. The next 2-3 days are all about working together on big picture projects amongst the trees of Tahoe National Forest in an environment far from the confines of the standard day.
While virtual teams provide a large number of benefits for organizations and employees alike, they also present team building challenges. These four strategies will help increase team morale without overwhelming team members with more work.
Photo credit: Jason Pratt on Flickr
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