Bonding Remotely: How to Hold Remote Team Building Events

Catherine Tansey
June 7, 2022
remote work, remote office events, remote team bonding, hybrid office

When you’re managing People Operations, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day.

Managing recruiting and hiring processes, establishing engagement strategies, overseeing performance management, and handling employee relations makes for a full plate. Company events can sometimes get overlooked as an ancillary "nice to have"—but in truth, creating connection outside of “work” has a big impact. 

A study by the Kenexa Research Institute found that 50 percent of the positive changes in workplace communication patterns can be attributed to social interaction outside of the workplace. And Harvard Business Review reports a key differentiator of high performing teams is that they spend time bonding over non-work topics.

Connection and trust—key elements of bonding—are essential on high-performing teams, but the opportunities for organic bonding are slimmer when working remotely.

“It’s difficult for people to feel that same connection in a remote environment,” says Jenna Kramsky, People Operations Manager for Eden Workplace. “It can feel forced at first, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather an adjustment.” 

In the hybrid workplace, leaders have to be more intentional and strategic in creating opportunities to spark connection and create engagement across teams, in order to reap the high-performance benefits of bonding.

Related content: Best Practices for Holding Team Meetings in the Hybrid Workplace

Support bonding with team events

1. Appeal to employees

Zoom fatigue is real, so virtual events need to be well thought out and planned in order to generate sincere interest from employees. 

“You really have to convince people that it’s going to be a fun virtual event,” says Kramsky. 

At Eden Workplace, Kramsky works alongside the Employee Action Group (EAG) to plan events. When creating the events calendar, the EAG keeps in mind the various personalities and interests of team members in order to organize events that appeal to everyone at least some of the time.

The EAG also seeks out suggestions and processes feedback from employees to hear what went well, where they could improve, and what kind of events employees are interested in. 

People Ops teams can use a surveying tool to get a sense for what employees are most interested in and to collect feedback post events. It’s wise to drill down on the size and style of the event  before getting into the specifics of the theme or activity.

Survey employees to find out if they would prefer: 

  • An all-day, company-wide event.
  • Shorter, less time-intensive options on their team.
  • Cross-functional events to build camaraderie across departments.

Provide multiple choice questions as well a blank slot to fill-in answers, so employees can select their preferred option as well as provide an alternative. 

2. Schedule wisely

While team bonding is all well and good, most employees aren’t eager to give up their free time for work-related activities, no matter how fun they’re meant to be.

Be respectful of employees’ lives outside of work and keep most bonding activities to normal office hours, when possible. 

A good tip here is to end the work day an hour or two early and schedule the team bonding event during that slot. That way employees can easily attend the event without breaking into their “home” time. You may even generate some additional excitement with the early end to the day.

Another way to incorporate opportunities for bonding into the workday is to carve out time at the beginning of a meeting once per month for small activities, like team trivia. 

When scheduling events:

  • Hold events during work hours, when possible.
  • End the work day early or start an hour or two later for a morning event.
  • Make time for intentional connection during meetings every now and then. 
Related content: 3 Tips to Support Mentorship on Hybrid Teams

3. Structure, structure, structure

It might seem like the only thing worse than forced fun is structured fun—but it’s actually really important when it comes to team bonding events. 

“It’s an interesting balance because you don’t want to impede organic conversation or bonding with too much structure,” says Kramsky. “But a lot of the feedback we get post events is ‘more structure.’”

For employees who spend much of their day connecting remotely with colleagues via Zoom, the prospect of having to drum up involvement during a company event is a disincentive.

People Ops teams can add structure in a number of ways:

  1. Ensure the event is well planned and thought through—do a virtual “walk-through” of the event, like you would with an in-person one.
  2. Appoint a host who will be engaged. "An engaged host goes a long way to carry the event and encourage engagement and interaction,” says Kramsky.
  3. Use polling and questions to invite participation from employees.

4. Let the calendar guide you

Look to the calendar for inspiration if you’re struggling with event ideas. Beyond expected events like holiday parties, there are lots of ways to glean inspiration from the calendar. 

For example, May was Mental Health Awareness month, so Eden Workplace played month-long mental health bingo, which included incentives for playing, and fun, creative ways to show participation (such as taking a break in the workday to take a walk, and posting a photo on Slack).

And, last fall, Eden Workplace employees had the chance to participate in a cider tasting. The EAG got in touch with a Vermont-based cider company, aptly named Eden. Employees were sent cider samples and participated in a virtual event together.

“Aside from sharing our names, we learned that Eden is invested in social impact and gives back to their community,” says Kramsky. “They really align with our values, so not only were they great to work with but we felt happy to put our money toward them.” 

As a tip, Kramsky recommends requiring that any interested employees sign up for events like this, which involve more significant investment from the company for the product and shipping. 

Timely event ideas don’t need to get stale

  • Holidays don't need to be the only drivers of themed events—get creative in how you look to the calendar for themed event inspiration.
  • Consider more elaborate events, but require employee sign-up.
Related content: Should You Offer Flexible Work Schedules for Your Team?

Working remotely can be lonely and isolating, and comes with less opportunity for organic connection.

It's up to People Ops teams to intentionally plan events to encourage team bonding and bolster camaraderie among colleagues. By doing so, you can help lay the foundation for heightened performance across teams, as well as creating a more enjoyable place to work.

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