How to stay connected with remote colleagues

August 28, 2019

In photo above: The spring 2018 Excellence in Government Fellows team and their coaches. Back row, from left to right: James Graham (co-coach), Tiffany Smith, Leah Kedar (coach), Joni Youngberg and Douglas Mossman. Front row, from left to right: Elizabeth Philpott, Amanda Nguyen and Francie Sutherland.

As more federal agencies offer teleworking programs to improve work-life balance, teams that once sat together in the same office are now spread across the city, country or even the globe.

Although working remotely has its advantages, one downside is that traditional team- and trust-building activities are designed for face-to-face interaction and don’t work well for virtual teams. 

A group of participants in the spring 2018 Excellence in Government Fellows program who have experience managing virtual teams decided to tackle this problem for their group project.

Inspired by the icebreakers that allowed them to get to know each other during the EIG program, the fellows created a toolkit of engaging exercises to help virtual teams feel more connected and cohesive.

After conducting research to see where these teams struggle most, team members altered traditional team-building exercises that contribute to healthy team relationships when done together. These exercises fall into six categories:

  • Driving results
  • Communication
  • Innovation
  • Decision-making
  • Guiding change
  • Vision

The final toolkit includes more than 70 team-building activities specifically tailored for the virtual environment, such as icebreakers, question-and-answer exercises, game-like challenges and sample scenarios.

To measure the product’s effectiveness, the fellows surveyed three teams that work remotely for the Defense Contract Audit Agency—both before using the toolkit and after. Team members and managers said that with the help of the toolkit, their teams were more cohesive, gained insight into one another’s thought processes and learned to solve problems using online communication methods.

The EIG fellows said they were proud to create a tool to improve the performance of employees on remote teams. They want to share their project more widely in the hope that other virtual teams will find the toolkit useful.