Remote Teambuilding: Lessons from a Year Apart

Here are some ways we kept our company culture going.

Remote Teambuilding: Lessons from a year apart

This post was contributed by Hubert Carignan, Project Leader and member of the social committee at Symetris.

Symetris’ company culture is one of our key differentiators. We’ve built our culture strategically, and it’s something we get feedback on organically. In a service business like ours, healthy team dynamics and fluid collaboration are assets for our employees and clients alike.

So one year ago, when due to the pandemic our team began to work from home almost exclusively, we thought it essential for us to find ways of nurturing the camaraderie we had at the office. We planned to continue our team-building activities, even if it was through a screen.

Here are some of the ideas we had over the past year that helped us keep our culture bubbling.

Encourage non-work discussion during office hours

As there was no central coffee machine anymore for mid-day banter, we wanted Slack (our internal communication tool) to stand in as a place to hang out and not be just about work.
Discussing shared interests allows people to blow off steam and mingle with people who may not be in their project. This also means a Slack notification wouldn’t always equal “work.” It might be someone teasing you about your performance in the office hockey pool.
Another objective was that proper team-building activities would be a natural continuation of the regular exchanges we were already having, rather than being an outlier.
Here’s how we proceeded in summer 2020. The results quickly became embedded in our daily life.

  • We sent a form asking what fields of interest are popular and who is interested in discussing them
  • We created public Slack channels dedicated to the most popular subjects and invited people to join those that interest them
  • We created an internal magazine dedicated to those channels. Each month, during the company-wide meeting, the HR team unveiled a new issue showcasing the three channels with the most interactions, as well as hand-picked highlights. This gives other employees a look at what’s being discussed in other channels in case they want to join the conversation.

Our guidelines for remote team buildings

Before the pandemic, we already held quarterly team-building events. This practice proved to be even more valuable in the past 12 months, however, as it allowed us to get everybody together for remote team building with some frequency.
After four quarterly activities and one full day of team building from home, here are some guidelines for what worked best to engage people with virtual events and make them as memorable as possible even when everyone is in front of a computer:

  • Create groups of 4 to 5 people. This number has a good balance of energy and leaves room for everyone to get a chance to talk, especially those that might otherwise take a more passive role.
  • Schedule shorter activities (1 hour or less). During our two-hour sessions, we often have two or three different elements. This keeps up a good rhythm and makes sure people’s attention doesn’t drift.
  • Prepare games that don’t involve computers. In one instance, we reunited members of the #cooking slack channel, and they had to reproduce cupcakes based on a picture. This was one of the most enjoyable activities and made us interact with something other than a mouse and keyboard.
  • Show highlights of each group to everyone. In the cooking example above, we recorded the whole session and showed our favourite clips to the entire company. Other groups did the same.
  • Leave room for open discussion. We like to end our team-building sessions with open-ended questions designed to kick off conversations between breakout groups. These questions don’t have any other objective than just starting a conversation. For instance, our last team building ended with a prompt to “Show us your crib” (inspired by the MTV series). This gave groups a view of one another’s environments beyond what they see on a Google Meet / Zoom screen.
  • Ensure participants get support. Having a designated person for questions or having an organizer in each breakout group ensures groups aren’t running into obstacles that prevent them from participating and having an enjoyable experience.
  • Collect feedback. What did people like or not like about the team building? Send out a simple survey so you can incorporate suggestions into future events. This is especially helpful for insight on how things go when you break off into small groups.

Despite the pandemic and the restrictions it has led to, we felt it was important to maintain employee engagement and camaraderie as we all work through this challenging time together. From the feedback we’ve received from our employees, it seems we did just that.

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