How 3 Bay Area Companies Lean Into Remote Team-Building

September 3, 2020

In June, Pride Month celebrations coincided with the reignited uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement.

At health and wellness e-commerce platform him & hers, Shannon J. said that as a Black woman, she felt that addressing the injustice present in the world while simultaneously embracing joy sent an important message to employees. 

“It was important that our team really understand that celebration in the midst of struggle is necessary in order to maintain stamina,” Shannon said. 

Generating passion for team-building events through a computer screen can be difficult, but to ensure such activities are fulfilling, she and fellow Bay Area tech professionals Eli Schneider and Kara Oliver recommend coming from a place of vulnerability first and foremost. With trust established, team leads can then lean into initiatives that incorporate a variety of employee interests. 

 

Him & Hers
him & hers

When it comes to team-building, Employee Experience Manager Shannon J. recommends honestly assessing the kind of connection employees had prior to going remote before trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. After all, nothing’s worse than a “fun committee” making people participate in activities they have little interest in. 

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date?

I’m particularly proud of the events we did for Pride Month. We held a Pride “Recess,” followed by drag queen bingo hosted by the fabulous Ms. Mary Vice.

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective? 

For the Pride Recess, LGBTQ members of our team were able to talk about the history of Pride Month. We used the opportunity to celebrate people we know and love, and learned about what we can do to better support them. The team really embraced the opportunity for learning. 

During drag bingo with Mary Vice, we were able to support an amazing San Francisco-based performer. Pride Month coincided with the beginning of the Black Lives Matter uprising. As a Black person, it was important that our team really understand that celebration in the midst of struggle is necessary in order to maintain stamina.
 

Make an honest assessment of what kind of connection your team had prior to going remote.’’ 


What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in? 

Begin at the beginning. Make an honest assessment of what kind of connection your team had prior to going remote. We were lucky that our team was a pretty tight group to begin with.  

Build on that connection. Are there things you used to do in-person that you can pull off with a tech twist? Ask people what they miss and what they want to do. There’s nothing worse than a “fun committee” that doesn’t listen.

 

Smartly
Smartly

During a recent remote team-building activity, the creative team at Smartly.io was able to unify around a single project: creating a department manifesto. The activity highlighted team members’ unique talents and allowed them to take their minds off of daily stresses. Art Director Eli Schneider said that in the end, the manifesto reflected individual employee personalities while bringing everyone closer together. 

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date?

During quarantine, Team Lead Jose Sánchez had our small team of global creatives embark on the production of a manifesto. For creatives, a manifesto is a way to express who you are as a team through a short video. Together, we brainstormed about what makes us unique. Sanchez then put together a framework with initial ideas and gave each of us the freedom to own a section of the video. We all executed in our own style. 

The result was a 60-second journey to Smartly.io Creative Studio, all produced from the homes of art directors, designers and motion designers in Singapore, Helsinki, New York and San Francisco during the pandemic.

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective?

I believe the manifesto was successful because we were able to unify around a single project. We had production checkups and kept each other accountable. Each of us were able to bring our own personality into the work, which is something creatives don’t typically get to do with defined brands. This activity allowed us to take our minds off the pandemic. The outcome highlighted the different styles and diversity of skills within our team.
 

I believe the manifesto was successful because we were able to unify around a single project.’’ 


What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in?

First, find out what your team is passionate about. Involve them in deciding the team-building activity. If they all love cooking (or eating), organize a virtual cooking class. But be flexible and don’t force anything on your teammates. The last thing anyone wants is to feel like there is more work put on their plate. 

Lastly, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with one another. Times are hard. We are all learning how to be a better team virtually while handling inevitable changes in our personal lives. Now is a great time to learn empathy and grow closer mentally. 

 

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

At endpoint Clinical, Office Manager Kara Oliver said the team has really leaned into their passions, connecting over books as well as physical, mental and financial wellness. Earlier this summer, leadership virtually hosted a Q&A with the company’s retirement representative to give employees the opportunity to expand their knowledge in that area. 

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you've done to date? 

Throughout the month of June, we held meetings on the topics of physical, mental and financial wellness. We held weekly meditation sessions to help folks decompress and regain focus and we posted healthy recipes and workout videos on our team’s page. 

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective? 

Employees felt valued and cared for. We provided them with resources necessary to maintain financial, physical and emotional health. Everyone can relate to having a new norm. We are all trying to figure out how to stay connected and keep laughing during these times.
 

We are all trying to figure out how to stay connected and keep laughing during these times.’’


What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will enjoy and engage in? 

Find common ground between groups. Send out surveys to discover what interests people and base your activities around the results. The most important thing you can do is listen to your team. You’ll be able to pick up new information every time you meet with them.

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