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61 Ideas to Keep Engagement Up With Your Remote Team

As we’re all settling into the life of remote work and the challenges of working from home, it’s easy to find that you are not as engaged with your team as you used to be. In pre-COVID times, WillowTree fostered, encouraged, and funded routine, cadenced ways to ensure our teams were staying engaged. Every team had their own team rooms, went out for weekly team lunches, had a budget for special team outings, designed their own team shirts and stickers, attended weekly happy hours, and a myriad of other seasonal and special events that brought everyone together for good times and authentic bonding.

So how do we recapture some of that connectedness in a remote world?

That was the question we recently brought to a virtual brainstorming session via Mural, and I would like to share the results in this blog post. This is by no means a complete list, but we were very happy with the outcomes and I hope this helps you and your teams think about new ways to connect and engage with each other in these uncertain times.

The Mural Board

mural board

We divided the brainstorming matrix in a couple of different ways.

Physical vs. Virtual: These columns indicate the ways we could interact with each other, understanding that anything Physical we do would be with masks on and socially distanced.

Team Building vs. Project: these rows were ways to think about things that we could possibly do outside of work (Team Building) vs things we do while we are actively working (Project).

Games & Entertainment got it’s own category so we could all share our favorite games and other media-sharing platforms.

Individual Connections was a way to brainstorm around the fact that when you are in the office together, making personal connections and sharing personal or casual stories comes a LOT easier. These small interactions can act as building blocks to long meaningful relationships, and they are harder to come by in a virtual world without some additional effort.

Rituals and Team Ceremonies was a way to gather ideas around the ways that teams build their own culture over time.

So, here we’re our results.

Team Building

Physical
  • Plan something outdoors: Hikes, Apple Picking, Picnic, River Tubing, Kayaking, Go Karting, Croquet
  • Scavenger hunts and Geocaching
  • Cheese and/or wine and/or beer tasting (most vineyards and breweries have outdoor options)
  • Outdoor Team Lunch
Virtual
  • Build a team Slack Culture (add your own emojis, channels, apps, etc)
  • 1x1’s w/ no agenda
  • Establish Themes on certain Days/Weeks (hat day, superhero day, harry potter week, etc)
  • (Re) Norming
  • Virtual Fika (Swedish coffee breaks)
  • Setup a weekly virtual team lunch (with no agenda)
  • Weekly questions and/or daily fun facts (option to rotate who’s turn it is)
  • Virtual escape rooms
  • Small-group breakouts (for bigger teams)
  • Rotate responsibilities for standup (so someone takes on the role of PM or ScrumMaster)
  • Intentionally long chatty standups
Other
  • Gift exchange
  • Delivered lunch to eat together on Zoom

Project

Physical
  • Pick an in-office day: this would completely depend if this is an option for your team, and safeguards would need to be in place (desk separation, masks, etc) and everyone agreed it was a good idea.
  • Peer work outside
  • Go for a walk for 1x1 meetings (if you live in the same town)
Virtual
  • Breakout groups and mobbing on tough problems
  • Collaboration tools like Use Together or Remotion
  • Brainstorming tools like Mural, Stormboard, or Miro
  • An all-day open virtual room
  • Dedicated innovation days/times
  • Friday debrief chat at the end of the day
Other
  • Committee for planning team events
  • Traveling trophy / Team Icon
  • Project-related guessing games (e.g. how many users will we get after the release, exact time of the release, etc)

Games & Entertainment

Physical
  • Drive-in movie (if your town has one)
  • See Team Building above for more physical options
Virtual
Other
  • Game tournaments: Set up rounds and eliminations with your team’s favorite games

Individual Connections

  • Walking 1x1s: This can either be in person if you live close enough or just doing a phone call with headphones remotely (this can also help break up Zoom fatigue)
  • Start off your 1x1’s with a question from an icebreaker card deck
  • Rotating 1x1s - new person every week
  • Add donut to team slack
  • Ice breakers during regular ceremonies (like standup & retros)
  • Pet of the week
  • Fun facts at standup
  • Rotating facilitators
  • Random ‘How Are You’ slack messages
  • Team Communities of Practice, both work-related and non-work related (Anime, Music, Spicy food, etc)

Rituals & Team Ceremonies

  • Create a signal that standup is over (e.g. clap, cheer, song)
  • Adding a Kudos column to your retros, calling our good work and deeds by teammates
  • Hats (silly or serious)
  • Silly release rituals (e.g Rocky theme song at the beginning, everyone wears purple, etc)
  • Zoom Filters & Backgrounds (project or non-project related)
  • Intro/outro songs for meetings
  • Shout-out Friday
  • Formal Friday: Everyone dresses up

One Last Note

  • Embrace the organic: Every team culture is different and we need to be open to letting ideas come from unusual places and being open to the interests of the team.
  • “Camera’s On” might not work for everyone: I was quick to encourage a “Camera’s on” culture when this pandemic first started, but now I realize that there are a lot of factors in people’s remote lives that might not make this a good policy. Respect people’s headspace and reasoning if they decide that “camera’s on” does not work for them.
  • Lower expectations: Connecting remotely is a lot harder than in-person, and your team may never hit the kind of connectedness and engagement they had when they were in person, so re-set the bar and begin iterating and continuously improving on ways to engage.
  • Respect people’s viewpoints about meeting in person, even if it’s masks-on and socially distant: Everyone has a right to be and feel physically safe during a pandemic, and if an office or outdoor activity feels physically unsafe to them, we should all support each other and find a different activity that works for everyone.

This was an hour-long brainstorm and obviously, with team culture in mind, your mileage may vary, but we hope this has offered some new ideas on things to try, or you can just run a session like this with your own team and see what they come up with! We’re all in this together and learning as we go on how to make our work lives and relationships better and more engaging.

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