Keeping Your Remote Team Engaged
Josue Castillo wrote this article
Many companies are just now starting to work remotely, a transition brought on by a great need to keep workers safe.
At Chop Dawg, working remotely has been a part of our DNA from day one.
Being remote doesn’t mean team bonding doesn’t exist — it just means that it takes on a new form, and is a bit different than what most ‘brick-and-mortar’ companies expect.
In a team full of superstars, strong communication is essential.
Done right, a company working remotely can nurture, in my experience, a spectacular team experience while having a tight-knit working relationship.
Working remotely and team building shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Instead, it should be thought of as one entity.
There Is No “I” In Team
When working with talented designers and developers, it is important to have great communication, without ego, while simultaneously working hard to create a close-knit community.
It is important to get rid of all ego when working as a team, or feedback can be stifled across the board.
Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is the Enemy, says, “What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.”
Ego can make it difficult to work together as a team, with or without remote work.
So, the biggest, and first obstacle to tackle is personal ego. Feedback from fellow teammates, partnered clients, even leadership — needs to be openly encouraged, with the focus on constructive takeaways the team can put into action.
It also needs to be accepted on the other end, too.Working remotely together, it's more important than ever to ensure the only time your team hears from you is not when you have negative or even critical feedback. Click To Tweet
While a healthy team culture breeds openness and a willingness to improve when presented with critical feedback, failing to establish a baseline of positive communication will result in disengagement, and high turnover.
Working remotely, you almost have to go out of your way to do this, creating opportunities for team engagement and conducting regular touch points on an individual and team basis.
This way, your relationship with team members is being nurtured, and they have an open floor to speak their mind in an environment that feels comfortable and inclusive.
Your team will feel heard, and more importantly, they’ll feel like they’re truly a part of something wonderful.
Software To Keep The Communication Going
Communication is paramount for business success.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
– Michael Jordan
Every industry has some form of winners circle, but to get there, you need to communicate effectively as a company to position yourself for success.
Communication on all levels allows you to get into a strategic position to later execute and score.
It may sound obvious (we are app developers, after all), but we use software to aid us with our remote work.
We’ll explore what works for us, and other opportunities in the marketplace to help keep your business connected and running smoothly.
To start things off, we recommend Slack to any team working remotely and looking for a new communication vehicle.
Slack: “Where Work Happens”
Slack is our team’s official comlink. For us, this is where the magic happens.
Slack is where developers, designers, project managers, QA and even our partnered clients interact and share input.
Each of our Partners has a dedicated Slack channel setup to reach any one of their dedicated team members, keeping the lines of communication open 24-7 during the work week. With a careful eye on permissions (they are invited as guests), we’re able to utilize the same communication tool we use internally as a team with our partners!
This a major convenience on both sides.
Utilized correctly, Slack becomes much more than a powerful messaging tool, and more like a functional workspace full of useful resources at a quick glance (just don’t be shy about using the ‘pin’ feature to bookmark items for later reference).
Without Slack, our team would have to resort to text messaging or email, but with it, we have a powerful tool at the touch of our fingertips that allows us to create groups for projects, pin important items for easy access, send meeting recaps, share insights, and help each other out. Alternatives to Slack include Microsoft Teams, Discord, even Google Hangouts. We’ve been using Slack at Chop Dawg, however, for as long as it’s been around.
Just as important as having great communication is having a great work culture, full of unique personalities and shared ideas.
Slack is great for this because it has built-in emoji and giphy reactions, and it allows team members to share statuses with a bit of personality.
One of our rituals is sending meeting recaps and daily team updates through Slack. We also have channels set up specifically with fun in mind. A great example is our pets Slack channel, where team members can post cute pictures of their pets during the workday.
We also have a ‘funnies’ channel designed for (mostly) work-appropriate memes and jokes.
Finally, we recently set up a special channel for Team Barkouts! Using a Slack Plugin, team members can post anonymous praise for the team and highlight the great work they see. At the end of each month, we’ll share the highlights with the team.
Next on our list for achieving strong remote team engagement is Zoom.
Zoom: Video Conferencing, Web Conferencing, and Webinars
Video conferencing is without a doubt the next big thing after face-to-face contact.
Without video conferencing tools, it is more difficult to get to know one another. So, to help create a tight-knit community we use Zoom. Now, don’t get me wrong, Zoom is still not as good as in-person in allowing for genuine human connection.
But it’s pretty damn close.
Not only is Zoom effective for building interpersonal relationships, but it allows for quick touch points with your team throughout the work week.
Scheduling regular meetings more often but for shorter durations is the name of the game in the remote world. Twenty minutes is the perfect meeting length for a regularly scheduled team standup designed to be a general touchpoint that doesn’t feel end up feeling like a chore.
In a high-pressure situation, sending a quick invite to join a Zoom room can get everybody up to speed much quicker than an email thread ever could.
A great way to create opportunities for team engagement and fun is playing icebreakers and other games together via video conference!
ThinkLinks was designed to help develop thinking skills, and at the same time, it can be used as an excellent icebreaker exercise to help a group of people who may be meeting each other for the first time, to work together through conversation and creative thinking.
Another great icebreaker is Zoom Bingo! Just ask everyone a simple question that can be answered with one word or a short phrase. Everyone writes their response on a piece of paper and holds it up to the camera. Anyone whose screen has a row, column, or diagonal withl the same responses in a row wins. Just take a screenshot, and send it via Zoom chat!
Virtual Treasure Hunt is a fun, more active way to engage with the team and even get to know their surroundings and interests a little better. Zoom participants have sixty seconds (or however long you decide) to find each object for the treasure hunt based on the criteria (i.e. color, functionality, complete randomness). Then, everyone takes turns presenting objects on camera.
We also like Zoom Pictionary. It’s pretty easily translated to an online Zoom format using Sketchpad and a random Pictionary word generator, so that you can have great words to draw without having to try to think them up on your own. Set a timer somewhere as everyone takes turns trying to guess what’s being drawn via share screen.
Play a game of Among Us while in a shared Zoom session. If needed, create separate breakout rooms so everyone can get involved.
JIRA and Confluence: Your All-In-One Task Management Tool Meets Knowledge and Collaboration
JIRA allows us to stay focused, on task, and work more efficiently by knowing what we need to work on, and when.
“From the small stuff to the big picture, JIRA organizes work so teams know what to do, why it matters, and how to get it done.”
With JIRA, our team runs like a well-oiled machine.
The missing piece of the puzzle, Confluence, allows you to stay organized and engaged with your projects.
We use confluence to store project logins, company resources, and it works as our go-to knowledge base.
Team Engagement Building
It’s important to encourage a culture where your team feels comfortable meeting up and talking amongst themselves to problem solve and generally connect, especially without your company guidance or say-so.
They need some sort of stand-in for the ‘water cooler gossip’ that happens at any other workplace where there’s natural congregation.
It may take time to establish a team culture where this feels natural or even becomes habit as a remote company, but it can go a long way to establishing team bonds of mutual trust and understanding, and helping team members to feel more fulfilled, and better connected to what they’re doing and with the greater mission they serve.
Our project managers and designers have a virtual Happy Hour to help the team unwind once a month.
There’s also online tools you can explore, specifically designed to help remote teams build better engagement and company camraderie.
Water Cooler Trivia is an online trivia game designed for companies and teams set for once a week. With built-in Slack integration, teams and individuals can compete against each other on the company leaderboard.
Another great way to keep the team engaged is shouting out whenever someone thinks a team member is doing a great job, even sharing positive feedback from customers.
With the help of Slack, you can check in on an individual and team basis daily to see how everyone is doing.
During holidays, we make sure to throw virtual parties and get everyone involved.
By coming together virtually and doing team building occasionally for the heck of it, you can strengthen your team’s bond and in return, strengthen your working relationships.
With stronger work relationships comes high-quality work, and with high-quality work, you get closer to winning your version of the championship.
While working remotely can be challenging, it can be just as fulfilling for your team in terms of work life. For one thing, work-life balance is reported as much improved for remote workers, who often have greater flexibility to set their own hours when working from home.
This is a benefit the typical office worker doesn’t get! Many also report feeling less stressed working remotely, and actually have fewer distractions (though, as many of us can attest to during a Pandemic, this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone working at home right now).
That doesn’t mean the remote lifestyle can’t still have its own set of drawbacks, and as a company, you’ll need to work at establishing a vibrant remote team culture your team can thrive together in.
Companies like Spotify, Adobe, Facebook, Microsoft have decided to allow their employees the option to work from home even beyond the pandemic, recognizing its many benefits for workers and a company’s bottom line.
We’ve always been remote-first at Chop Dawg, so it’s been exciting to see this movement take off and spread to other companies and teams over the years.
With the right tools, clear procedures and open lines of communication, remote work for your company is completely within your grasp.
About ChopDawg.com: Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.
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