Distance is no match for these remote team-building activities

Okta’s Adrienne Jones and Remy Champion share tips on how to help remote workers feel like part of the team

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When you’re separated by thousands of miles, bonding and collaborating with colleagues can be a unique challenge. No one knows that better than Okta’s Adrienne Jones and Remy Champion.

As director of global prospect campaigns for Okta, Jones—alongside campaign manager Champion—works with organizations all over the world, connecting them with identity access management solutions to keep their apps and devices secure. But while Jones is at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, Champion is working from her home in Haiku, Hawaii, over 2,000 miles away.

“Being remote, I definitely miss out on some bonding opportunities,” Champion says.

We recently asked Champion and Jones for their advice on the kinds of remote team-building activities leaders can use to build effective engagement and collaboration in the workplace, no matter where teammates are based.

How do you engage a remote team?

Human connections help remote team members feel like they are part of the team; otherwise they may experience a sense of isolation at work. So it’s important to have a workforce that’s excited to come together and collaborate, no matter what time zone they’re in. Here are a few ways to make that experience painless.

Put a voice (and face) to a name. When onboarding remote hires, encourage team members to schedule brief phone or video calls to introduce themselves.

Create a digital space for celebration. Give employees an informal place to congratulate and celebrate each other, whether it’s sharing birthday GIFs or using a formal HR tool for giving kudos.

Start each virtual meeting with a personal check-in. Take a few minutes at the outset to catch up with team members. Ask them to recap their weekends, or to share a recent project success.

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remote team-building activities Adrienne Jones Okta

“Really knowing your team will make you close and naturally create trust and confidence.”

Adrienne Jones
Director of global prospect campaigns at Okta

Remote team-building activities that boost collaboration and trust

Here are a few tried-and-true best practices for getting your remote team engaged.

1. Gather around the virtual watercooler

Remote employees can’t chat informally in the office kitchen, but they can gather in a virtual space. Foster a culture in which your employees are encouraged to reach out to each other and socialize online on their own terms.

“Really knowing your team will make you close and naturally create trust and confidence,” Jones says. And, says Champion, personal relationships and trust breed better team collaboration and results.

Try these remote team-building activities

When team members find common interests organically, design events around those interests that can be participated in remotely. For example, a book club, weekly screenings of a popular TV show, or a thematically curated film series via simulcast party-line apps like Kast.

Even online gaming nights work, if your crew is into that—just remember not to exclude team members who might not own the same consoles or equipment.

2. Promote face-to-face communication with video conferencing

Video conferencing—for individual meetings in addition to team stand-ups—can bridge the gap between in-office and remote team members. Jones and Champion use Zoom to keep in touch.

While having online communication channels for regular conversation is important, occasional touchpoints by video or phone can be especially valuable for remote teams. “In our digital world, it’s so easy to be misunderstood over email or text,” says Jones, “so pick up the phone. Just speak to one another.”

Try these remote team-building activities

Have leaders commit to routine “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs) that can be conducted via videoconference for remote team members. Hold them quarterly or even monthly, so people get used to saving the feedback they might otherwise forget about or let fall by the wayside.

Just remember to vary the timing to accommodate people in different time zones.

remote team-building activities Remy Champion Okta

“Being remote, communication cannot be taken for granted. This is something I focus on constantly, and I believe it has made me more transparent in all my work and projects.”

Remy Champion
Campaign manager at Okta

3. Offer volunteer opportunities outside the office

Okta’s philanthropic program, Okta for Good, affords Champion three days of paid volunteer time off (VTO) every year. According to a 2018 report from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. companies and nonprofits offer employees VTO.

“We’re also encouraged to set up our own volunteer events,” Champion says. “This helps to keep me connected to the Okta for Good group and other remote employees who are taking part.”

Try these remote team-building activities

Give employees a chance to participate in company initiatives like charity fundraisers or volunteering at local organizations. Add a little competition to the mix by creating volunteer teams and offering prizes recognizing the most innovative or committed events.

4. Offer peer-to-peer learning opportunities

Since she’s not working in Okta’s headquarters, Champion holds weekly meetings with each of her team members online—structured one-on-ones one week, team meetings the next—and encourages everyone to share the projects they’re working on. She also makes it known that everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued in her efforts to cultivate psychological safety, by providing a safe space to debate and disagree.

“Being remote, communication cannot be taken for granted,” Champion says. “This is something I focus on constantly, and I believe it has made me more transparent in all my work and projects.”

Try these remote team-building activities

Have team members take turns hosting monthly remote lunch-and-learns. This is an opportunity for them to showcase their expertise, provide feedback on challenges they’ve tackled, and learn from their colleagues directly.

Solicit a session idea from each team member and plan out a calendar accordingly.

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5. Budget for in-person meet-ups

Because remote team-building activities can only go so far, try to get the whole crew together once in a while if possible. Some solutions for Jones include inviting remote employees to big company events and activities.

“I ensure my remote employees visit HQ at least quarterly and attend all key events, so they can engage with extended teams in addition to our own,” Jones says. “Make it fun. Plan activities that are just for laughs and build relationships that no other method could. We’ve done photo shoots, karaoke and boxing, to name a few.”

As a remote employee, Champion appreciates this quality time with coworkers. Simple in-person interactions become powerful team-bonding opportunities for remote workers.

“My manager often makes a point to schedule activities together when we are all in the office or when we’re at company kickoff events and conferences,” Champion says. “My team is very connected with each other and seeks each other out to catch up.”

Try these remote team-building activities

When remote team members are in town, prioritize activities that can take place outside the office, be it team dinners or outings. With your remote cohort in the office, also try an in-person team-building activity. Focus on activities that will maximize your time together in the same place.

Remote employees: the canary in the cultural coal mine

A good rule of thumb when designing remote team-building activities: If it serves your remote team members—the employees most at risk of becoming disengaged—it will serve your company culture more broadly. Effective team bonding gives people the healthy, vibrant rapport they need to do their best and most fulfilling work together.

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