Although virtual teams have become a workplace necessity for many small businesses, it's easy for remote employees to feel left out or out of place. From catered breakfasts and costume contests to birthday celebrations and happy hours, it's easy for a virtual employee to envy the work lives of friends who work in traditional workspaces. While virtual office technology can help your business reach goals and objectives, it can also hinder human interaction – a necessity for business success. If you'd like to help your virtual office employees establish a human connection with each other, here's some tips.
Don't Cut the Chit-Chat
Unfortunately, virtual office employees can't meet at the water cooler or gather in the break room to talk about weekend plans or current events. While this seems like it'd provide a boost in productivity, it's this type of personal chit chat that helps employees relate to each other. One way to help virtual office employees establish a connection is through a company-wide instant messaging system. Not only will employees be able to chat about their personal lives, but it can make completing tasks more efficient. If you use instant messaging, you'll find your employees can update you (and each other) on the completion of tasks in real time without the social niceties or delays of phone calls and e-mails.
Focus on Fun
Building relationships within your virtual team doesn't have to be hard work – it can be as easy as sending out online games and quizzes for your team to take. Playing together will create a rapport that will be useful later on down the line when work needs to be done. From speed typing tests and BuzzFeed quizzes to fun games specific to your industry, sharing fun snippets of information with your team is a great way to build camaraderie. Encourage virtual team members to send interesting articles, games, interview, or videos that are specific to your industry to the entire team – slowly, the unique personalities of each team member will shine through.
Take Virtual Tours
Chances are, many of your virtual employees have never visited the main office before. If this is the case, set up a meeting specifically for giving employees virtual tours. After giving a virtual office tour to all the virtual employees, encourage everyone else to do the same with their remote offices. If you're interested in turning this concept into a game, encourage employees to send you photos of their offices. Share these photos with all employees, and ask them to match the office with the name of a virtual office employee. It's a fun way of getting an intimate look at each other's personality and lifestyle.
Virtual Coffee Breaks
Once or twice a month, send employees Starbucks gift cards in the mail with a “save the date” placard indicating a date and time they should reserve for a virtual coffee break. During this time, virtual employees will “meet” at their local Starbucks and video chat with each other. There's only one rule: they can't talk about anything business-related for the first half of the meeting. During this time, employees will get to know each other on a personal level without feeling pressured to change the topic of conversation to presentations, spreadsheets, and deadlines.
Create a Team Calendar
One of the biggest perks of working in a virtual office is working on your own schedule, which is also one of the biggest hurdles. Help team members avoid scheduling conflicts by creating a team calendar and encouraging them to log their personal obligations. Not only does this allow employees to keep all their scheduling in one place, but it'll prevent other employees from bothering you in certain situations: if your co-workers know you're in surgery, they won't bother you about anything work-related. And who knows? You might wake up to a beautiful “get well” bouquet from your virtual co-workers.