With remote and hybrid work becoming more commonplace, digital team building will become imperative for employees to build rapport with each other and provide a sense of connectedness to the company.
In the remote work era, most employees are connecting with the workplace entirely via application software. This applies to their relationships with their teams and teammates as well.
The key to meaningful team building experiences in the remote work era requires adapting to the environment, allowing collaboration to occur in context and providing a frictionless, unifying experience to users.
Tiffany Mills, vice president of people at MessageGears, explains to be successful while working remotely, you must be intentional in your interactions.
"Since a lot of understanding can be lost without face-to-face interactions, we promote engagement by relying on technology," she says. "We use tools like Slack Video Huddles and Zoom and have a 'camera's on' policy to give employees the feeling of connection."
Slack also offers an avenue for employees to connect in real time through the chat feature and offers opportunities for employees across departments to connect on interests outside of work.
"We encourage employees to create interest channels in Slack and invite all employees to join them," Mills says. "One of our most used Slack channels is our Kudos channel, a channel that allows employees to recognize each other company-wide for their achievements they have made."
She adds MessageGears ensures all managers meet with their employees on a regular basis and use team meetings and stand-ups as a way for employees to get to know their direct teammates.
Vara Kumar, cofounder and CTO of Whatfix, says by taking a "pro-human" approach to technology investments, organizations can leverage the unique capabilities of next-generation technologies to better support employees and enable them to be more productive and satisfied in their employee experience.
"This also offers employees the freedom to connect with their coworkers in more meaningful ways during the workday, while less time and energy is needed to navigate confusing software experiences," he says.
Focus on Intentional, Personal Exercises
Robin Merritt, chief people officer at Gainsight, says in a remote world, building in team-building exercises must be extremely intentional—unlike in physical workspaces where team building can often occur by virtue of being in the same office.
"Sustaining this momentum has required many to reinvent the wheel of best practices," she says. "One best practice is something like our all-hands in person gatherings—taking the time to invest time and energy into those rare moments your team can come together in person."
In between, Merritt says it’s all about putting those regular touchpoints on the calendar: smaller team meetings and larger huddles that the whole company can attend.
"Each one should have intent behind it," she explains. "What is this solving for, how is it connecting back to our mission and values, and how do we stay open to feedback to ensure it remains relevant and effective?"
Mills agrees a company must be intentional about being inclusive in activities they do as a company.
"We host step challenges, virtual game nights, viewing parties for large, televised events, and even company-wide community service events to encourage all employees to volunteer in their community," Mills says.
From her perspective, the key to creating an environment where team building is happening is being thoughtful in your approach to engagement.
"It's important to continue team building exercises because we want our employees to build trust in each other," she says. "Trust cultivates an environment where we work together more effectively, and we communicate our needs to each other more clearly."
The company's best practices include everything from a carefully crafted communication strategy to company-wide wellness programs and interactive activities, which Mills says are both equally important to ensure all employees are feeling connected to each other.
Kumar points out buy-in from senior leadership is essential to develop the technology framework that enables better team building among remote workers.
"It requires an investment, like all other important aspects of digital transformation," he says. "This investment will be the foundation of a strategic, long-term plan that only management can apply."
From his perspective, to work well together, teams must have tools that enable smooth collaboration and remove friction from the software and technology experiences increasingly common in the remote work era.
The Importance of Employee Feedback
Mills says gathering employee feedback is important to keep engagement and retention high.
"In the people function, it's important for us to understand employee sentiment, what employees are looking for more of, and what they want to see improved so we can adjust strategies to meet their needs," she notes. "Without feedback, and the action behind the employee feedback, company culture is impacted."
She says MessageGears plans to adopt technologies allowing the company to team-build remotely and will continue to seek feedback from their employees on what they like and want to see more of.
"We plan to begin offering a larger variety of team-building opportunities in the future and doing them even more frequently," Mills adds.
Merritt explains Gainsight gathers feedback from teammates in a few different ways, including Vault, a confidential system that allows for teammates to address issues they may not be comfortable sharing.
The company also hosts "Ask Me Anythings" or AMAs, which are hosted quarterly when the executive team is poised to answer any question teammates might have.
"They range from questions about summer plans to more serious questions regarding a potential IPO," she says. "We find these opportunities give our teammates transparency into the company."
She adds Gainsight has a general philosophy to embrace new technologies as they come in--including AI.
She points to the software app Donut, which Gainsight uses to help connect teammates across the company that wouldn’t normally interact.
"I can imagine a world where AI enhances our capacity to connect teammates across departments even more by using automated strategies we’ve only scratched the surface of," Merritt says.