The Playbook for Engaging Remote Teams

The 2021 Playbook for Engaging Remote Teams

Originally published on American Marketing Association (AMA) of Minnesota

The shift to remote work created a new need for organizations to engage team members differently. In July of 2020, Gallup reported the largest drop in employee engagement since they began tracking 20 years earlier.

Employee engagement drives team member performance and organizational buy-in. More engaged employees equate to more productivity. In addition to the business reasons for employee engagement, there is an essential link between employee engagement and employee well-being.

Over the past year, Celarity had the unique perspective of hearing from an extensive range of company leaders and talent – most either thriving or struggling with engaging remote teams in their organizations. Celarity has also tracked how our internal team and contract employees feel about team engagement, polling them and asking for feedback regularly.

Gaining an engagement baseline for your team may be a good start to start toward employee engagement, especially as the remote work trend continues – perhaps indefinitely. The good news is that you can begin engaging your team today with new ideas for the remote-first environment.

Understanding employee engagement is critical. A recent internal poll shows that 87% of our team members feel their current engagement level is the same or better than pre-pandemic levels. Employee reviews of the organization have never been more enthusiastic, earning us the Glassdoor Employee Choice Award.

We can attribute this achievement to tactics we learned from clients, candidates, and team members. We are all in this together and want to share a few engagement tactics with other organizations.

The Playbook for Engaging Remote Teams

In addition to an activity list, this playbook includes best practices for executing events and keeping things fresh and exciting!

Trivia or Games

The Idea:

There are many ways to engage teams using virtual trivia or games. Trivia or games can be executed as weekly activities or as part of a larger, special team event.

Simple Steps:

Regardless of how you incorporate trivia into team engagement, the following are tips for running a trivia game without a hitch:

  • Pick a trivia point person – they’ll be in charge of picking the type of game/category, running the game, tracking scores, and act as the referee for overall fairness.
  • Ensure you’ve got the right software with the correct settings ready to go (i.e., Zoom hosting capabilities, breakout rooms with predetermined team assignments, and a breakout room timer in place).
  • End the game (or string of games) by naming and awarding the winners

Additional Resources:

If you don’t have a trivia point person volunteer, there are online services you can use! Here’s one example: Trivia Hub Live. If you’re looking for ideas about the best games to play over Zoom, you’ve got to see this list.

Cooking Events

The Idea:

Remember the fun, in-person team parties revolving around all that delicious food? Many teams love to do chili cookoffs, potlucks, or cooking events. Since switching to remote work, some employees have missed out on the long-held tradition of food bringing teams together. But food engagement doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. You can plan an unforgettable soiree with your team or your clients using a cooking event platform such as HUNGRY Virtual Xperience.

Simple Steps:

If you’re considering a virtual cooking event for your team, here are some tips:

  • Book your chef early in advance.
  • Choose simple recipes.
  • Choose a time that works well for families.
  • Do provide as many of the needed items as possible  (i.e., non-traditional cooking equipment and non-perishable ingredients).
  • For perishable items, send out an ingredients list via email with reminders in place – especially two days before the event.
  • Ensure the perishable ingredient list specifies the exact amounts and types of ingredients needed.
  • Use downtime (when food is cooking or baking) for communication and engagement – consider prepping group questions or topics in advance for conversation starters.

Additional Resources:

If you’re looking for other food-based activities for virtual team building? Here are some more ideas.

Happy Hours

The Idea:

Happy hours are popular employee engagement events, and they can encompass more than sitting down at the computer with a beer with colleagues. Leaders can use this team-building time to facilitate conversations that are both fun and meaningful. For example, teams can use virtual happy hours to get to know new employees.

Simple Steps:

  • Ask for a volunteer to lead the happy hour.
  • Pick a theme (e.g., get to know a new employee, UFOs, Super Bowl ads, etc.).
  • Prepare non-invasive questions for participants to share about themselves, their ideas, and their thoughts on a topic.
  • Take a “Brady Bunch” photo that your team can use for social media sharing.
  • Pro-tip – Use trivia as an ice-breaker: divide into two teams and use a themed, 3-minute trivia game to get the laughter rolling.

Additional Resources:

Are your happy hours running stale? Check out these 59 Ridiculously Fun Virtual Happy Hour Ideas, Games, & Themes In 2021.

Professional Development

The Idea:

Professional development can be as simple as your team reading a book and coming together for a discussion. Or, you can hire an expert on a relevant topic for your team.

Workshops are also great ways to engage employees: successful workshops focus on relevant content and use an engaging format that includes a presentation, Q&A, small group breakout sessions, and creative examples.

Simple steps:

Here are some tips for successful virtual professional development events:

  • Hire an expert or ask internal leaders and volunteers with expertise on a topic to lead an event.
  • Create goals, objectives, and outcomes for your professional development sessions.
  • Ask everyone to show their face during the event.
  • Create an atmosphere of continuous engagement by using chat features, polls, Q&A, and small group breakout sessions.
  • If you’re using a presentation, keep it clean, simple, and engaging (not wordy).
  • Make sure you record the session and send it out to your team after the event.

Additional Resources:

Ready to get a professional development session scheduled? Here are some topics to get your creative brain going to create a timely and engaging event for your team.

Wellness + Fitness

The Idea:

Health & wellness has been on the minds of many. Many leaders wonder how they can help facilitate healthy living in an era fraught with wellness challenges.

One way is to create a wellness challenge. From yoga and meditation to wellness workshops and nutrition, there are many wellness challenge options available for virtual teams.

Simple Steps:

If you’re going to put together a wellness challenge, here are suggestions for success:

  • Host an event at the beginning of the challenge: highlight why you are creating the challenge, outline desired outcomes, and give detailed instructions and plans.
  • Ask participants to track their progress during the entire challenge – this could be in the form of a journal, fitness tracking app, or a combination of tracking tools.
  • Consider having a check-in meeting or a series of check-in meetings during the challenge.
  • Host an event at the end of the challenge: this may be a great time to do something extra special to celebrate, such as hiring an expert to lead a meditation or fitness class. Then, discuss how the challenge went for individuals willing to share their personal experiences with the group as a whole or in smaller breakout sessions.

Additional Resources:

Like the idea of a workplace fitness challenge? Here are some ideas for remote teams.

More Team Engagement Ideas

Below is a list of more engagement ideas from clients, contract employees, and internal team members. Their thoughts are excellent and provide additional creative ideas for consideration.

During the Workday Engagement

  • 15-minute stand-up/check-in sessions.
  • Keep videos on during meetings to support engagement and accountability.
  • Professional development opportunities like LinkedIn’s Diversity Certification.
  • Share weekend ideas to inspire team members to get out of their homes and recharge.
  • Company or departmental celebrations for anniversaries/birthdays.
  • Include a small amount of time at the end of meetings for social conversation.
  • Encourage meeting attendees to share something exciting or non-work related.
  • Lunchtime non-video chat (people sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of video-on meetings).

Virtual Special-Event Activities

Virtual Family-Friendly

  • Health-related activities like guided group meditation or yoga
  • Talent show
  • Kid-friendly cooking class
  • Scavenger hunt

In-Person, Socially-Distanced Events

  • For winter: snow tubing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing
  • Patio happy hours
  • Movie theatre rental
  • Geocaching/treasure hunt
  • Picnics
  • Sidewalk chalk art challenge
  • Planting class

The Key Takeaway

The pandemic has had an enormous impact on the way we’ve traditionally engaged teams, and there’s a need to find new, creative ways to activate engagement in a virtual workplace.

If you take just one thing from this article, please take away that the best way to engage your team is to start by asking. Ask them for ideas about how they want to be involved and create buy-in through the process. Enable your team to collaborate to create a successful team engagement strategy.

Celarity’s mission: Creating happy careers with meaningful connections is at the core of what we do. If you are looking for a partner to support your team, a talented professional to join your team, or have other connection needs, Celarity can help. Reach out to us today by emailing or calling 952.941.0022.

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