I was sitting in our conference room working on a project with a few on-site co-workers the other day - 5 professionals meeting to discuss a specific work-related project with the occassional sidebars about family, golf, airplanes, dating, and politics - when I started to think of the other 8 remote individuals that are part of our workteam. I started to think of the value that interpersonal relationships contribute to the overall success of a workteam and the greater company which employs and tasks it, and asked myself the following questions: Why should the remote workteam members be excluded? Don't they have the same needs as the rest of my local co-workers? Don't these remote professionals deserve the same interpersonal relationship opportunities? How can we use team-building activities to create equally-connected local-remote distance workteams?
When the meeting ended, I took a few minutes to sit down and come up with the following local-remote workteam activities:
1 ) Introduce everyone - Make sure that your remote workteam is well-connected with each other and with every in-house staff member in the organization that they need to be. Its easy for an on-site workteam member to raise their hand and ask others for help, but it's much more challenging for an off-site workteam member to get answers. If you are the primary point of contact for a remote workteam member, be sure they have multiple in-house resources that they can turn to for help, and have some fun with the introductions - ask each local workteam member to send an intro email to their remote counterpart that includes hobbies and/or a funny story.
2 ) Run a full group workteam chat 24×7 - Almost all instant messenger platforms have group chat capability. Start a group chat and let it run all day even if you aren't available to moderate it. Your workteam can easily communicate with the rest of the group and make the occasional joke and/or comment. If members arent available for the live chat, they can always read it once they get back to their computers. Make sure every remote and local co-worker has personal photos in their instant messenger client (and oDesk profiles if you're using our free tools to manage your workteam).
3 ) Distribute joke emails - Why not? You do it with local workteam members and old college buddies. Spend a little time thinking about your remote staff and send them a few articles, jokes, comics, funny videos, etc. that you think they might find amusing. If youre using a tool such as oDesk Team for automated time-tracking, youre not paying for any non-work related time. Encourage a small amount of fun time as part of the weekly workteam schedule.
4 ) Hold a weekly local-remote workteam meeting - Even if you have your staff working on completely different projects, its nice to hear one another's voice on the same call. Hold a workteam meeting at the same time every week and use webcams and headsets through a Skype or Yahoo group conference call.
5 ) Distribute a weekly newsletter - Recognize both local and remote workteam members for any strong contributions that week. Recognize co-workers' birthdays. Keep all workteam members on the same page by including an update from your end of the remote arrangement.
6 ) Conduct a remote photo share - Ask each workteam member to upload a few photos from a weekend activity to Flickr or some other photo-sharing site, then pend 20 minutes during a workteam meeting allowing everyone to describe their weekend activity.
7 ) Create a Facebook group - If you have enough people on your local-remote workteam, create a Facebook group and consider it your virtual water cooler.
8 ) Host an online game for your workteam - Play Scrabulous with your workteam. Play online chess, backgammon, etc. Challenge your workteam members to a game of Desktop Defender or share Line Rider creations.
9 ) Send around birthday cards - Everyone has access to virtual card sites. Any time a remote workteam member has a birthday, make sure everyone in their group sends them a virtual card. The personal recognition is sure to brighten their special day.
10 ) Hold a fantasy sports league - It brings local offices together, and there's no reason the same can't be found true in remote virtual offices. If you dont want to do a full fantasy sports league, find a short-term contest and get everyone on the local-remote workteam involved.