Finding ways for remote teams to bond can be a real challenge. So much so that it’s often neglected by leadership.
However, it’s incredibly important to make team bonding a priority. It makes employees feel more engaged and increases morale. This goes for any company, but it’s especially true for remote companies where employees have little to no opportunity to meet in person.
We at Process Street had the chance to meet all together for the first time in 2022. The bonds we made on a three-day retreat were stronger than the ones we made after years of Zoom meetings. And those bonds have changed how we work together.
In this post, I’m walking you through what team building is, how to do it successfully, and how we at Process Street were able to fly our team to Portugal for a team bonding retreat.
- What is team bonding?
- Why is team bonding important?
- Challenges of team bonding
- Bonding activities for remote teams
- Process Street’s Porto retreat
- What the retreat did for our company
- Start team bonding activities today
What is team bonding?
Team bonding is all about strengthening the relationship between your employees. It differs from team building, which focuses on increasing productivity.
Team bonding activities will help your team relax around each other, open up, and feel more comfortable communicating.
On the flip side, the goal of any team-building activity is to have employees achieve a desired outcome or solve a problem together.
Basically, team bonding prioritizes personal connection over professional one.
Why is team bonding important?
Google searches about team bonding turn up a lot of pages about team building. It seems to be the more popular term and the more popular goal for a lot of companies.
And, yeah, team building is really important, but team bonding should not go ignored by any means, especially in a remote company.
Remote teams have very little opportunity to connect offline. Those of us who work remotely have probably felt lonely at one point or another. It comes with the territory.
But can you come up with one benefit that a team of lonely people who don’t communicate with each other and build relationships can bring to a company? I’ll be impressed if you can.
When organizations invest in bonding, team members have the ability to build more trust and rapport with one another, and that only serves to benefit the company.
Traditional organizations might host mixers or send their employees out to dinner to encourage team bonding, but remote companies have to think outside the box.
But by doing that, you open your company up to greater opportunities. A bonded team is a team that works well together, leading to increased:
- Employee retention
- Cross-departmental collaboration
As of right now, only about 20% of organizations offer off-sites for their employees, but we are starting to see an increase in the number of company retreats post-COVID.
Challenges of remote team bonding
The biggest challenge remote companies face when it comes to finding ways to get their teams to bond is figuring out time zones.
Remote companies like Process Street have employees in all corners of the world, and it can be extremely difficult to find a time when everyone is available to hang out. Someone is always going to miss out because the scheduled bonding time is in the middle of the night for them.
Because of this, company-wide bonding activities are all but impossible for us to achieve.
Another challenge is finding variety in the bonding activities that we do. No one wants to do the same thing again and again, and it can be hard finding varied activities that a majority of people will enjoy.
Humans are social animals that crave connection with each other. In offices, you can easily slide over to your colleague’s desk to have a conversation when you have a lull. Or you can take a 10-minute break together in the kitchen.
I can’t exactly invite my work bestie based in England to my kitchen in Spain for some coffee in the middle of the day, can I?
This is where the importance of team bonding comes in. By giving your team an opportunity to take time out of their days to be social, you open up better lines of communication within your company.
Bonding activities for remote teams
Challenges aside, there is a multitude of things you can do to help your team get closer.
At Process Street, we use a service called Donut to connect with one another on a weekly basis.
It’s a Slack integration that groups you with two random people in the company every Monday. It suggests open times you all have in your schedules to organize a 30-minute call where you can hang out and shoot the breeze.
It’s great because it often pairs us with people outside of our departments, so we have the chance to interact with people we don’t normally get to spend time with.
Additionally, we have a Donut Slack channel that posts random questions for us to answer. The prompts have us share things like:
- Funny stories
- Movie/series recommendations
It’s a great way to make sure there’s a consistent connection between all of us.
Apart from Donut, our incredible HR team spends a lot of time finding fun, varied activities that as many people as possible can join. Some of these things include:
- A murder mystery event with Weve.co
- Try Mystery events (our favorite one had us draw caricatures)
- Games with Luna Park
- A company retreat to Porto, Portugal!
But there are plenty of free things you can do as well!
For example, we on the content creation team have an end-of-week social meeting scheduled every week. During that time we hang out, play games, and sometimes our editor makes trivia quizzes for us, and we have the opportunity to win prizes! It’s a great way for us to spend relaxed time together with the people we work with the most.
Most departments do something similar so they can all stay connected. The important thing is that it’s regular. Consistency is key to maintaining strong bonds.
Then, we get to enjoy larger company events semi-regularly, like the murder mystery and caricature drawing. Doing those is just as important because it gives us the opportunity to relax and make more memories with colleagues from other departments.
If paying for team bonding activities isn’t in your budget, we recommend taking some time to organize an event yourself. Trivia, like what our blog editor makes, is a great place to start and is something most people enjoy! You can also find tons of free online games for your team to play.
Process Street’s Porto retreat
In October 2022, Process Street flew out our team from across the world so we could all meet in person for the first time in Porto, Portugal!
Since Process Street was founded in 2014, company meetups were small and mostly regional. Our team members occasionally got together with others who lived somewhat close by.
Portugal was the first time ever that the whole Process Street team was able to meet in person. The retreat was originally planned for April 2020, but we all know how that worked out.
Needless to say, after the pandemic we were all buzzing with excitement to get to Porto and meet one other.
While not everyone could make it, the majority of us found our way there, and we spent three amazing days together doing all kinds of different activities.
Our HR team organized a number of excursions for us to choose from, including:
- Food tours
- Segway tours
- Cooking classes
- Tile painting classes
- Port wine tasting
- A riverboat cruise
Not to mention organizing restaurants they found for us to eat at! And what made it even better is that we got to do these activities with team members from different departments so we were able to meet new people!
There’s nothing quite like meeting up in person and grabbing a beer.– Process Street employee
The retreat focused a lot more on fun and connection than on work. There was some work done, but we spent a lot more time hanging out and enjoying each other’s company.
Even during our free time, we chose to spend time together and explore the beautiful city of Porto as opposed to doing it alone or spending time at the hotel.
It was also great to see those in leadership positions, including our CEO, hanging out with all of us as friends and enjoying themselves just as much as we were. It made everyone feel even more comfortable.
The highlight was the focus on activity and fun, and just building relationships vs. purely focusing on work.– Process Street employee
The whole trip went by way too fast, and our team already started talking about the next retreat before it was even over. I would call that a success!
What the retreat did for our company
Meeting in person helped to break the ice in a way, and that made me feel a lot more comfortable around people now virtually than I did previously. – Process Street employee
Work hasn’t quite been the same since the Porto retreat. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Being able to connect offline was truly special. We all became friends on the trip, and you can feel the difference in every Zoom call now. Everyone is just that bit more relaxed with each other. There are more inside jokes, fewer awkward pauses, and wonderful shared memories between all of us.
Since the retreat, we’ve seen greater interdepartmental collaboration. All of us now have friends in other departments that we want to spend more time with, and we accomplish that by coming up with creative ways to work together.
Just as an example, we in the marketing department now collaborate with the product team a lot more than we used to. And it’s the perfect excuse for me to ask one member of the product department about her pet cats and geese!
Zoom and online activities are great, but the level of bonding we experienced in Porto just cannot be replicated on the internet no matter how hard we try. The connections we made with each other are invaluable.
Our work culture was excellent before the Porto, but the retreat made it even better. We can see why Salesforce invested in a retreat center for its employees!
I found out that I work with some pretty cool people. And because of that, I want to work harder! – Process Street employee
We’ve all found that it’s easier to do your job well when you’re surrounded by inspiring, supportive, and talented people. As a remote company, we often forget that, but the Porto retreat showed us all just how wonderful our team really is. We all want to do better for these people who are now our friends as well as our colleagues. They deserve it ❤️
Start team bonding activities today
Retreats like the one we did in Portugal are expensive. It’s the harsh reality. If we had it our way, the Process Street team would meet two or three times a year, but we just don’t have the budget for that.
That’s okay, though! You can begin much smaller. Right now, if you want to!
The best way to get started with team bonding is to schedule social time for your teams. You can make it look like whatever you want it to.
If you can find it in your budget to organize in-person meetups, even if they are small and regional, we highly recommend it. Team bonding is never a waste of time or money.
It’s essential to make team bonding a regular part of your business operations. It will make your team happier, more relaxed and collaborative, and inspire them to work harder. Don’t skip it!
Do you have any special ways your remote team bonds? Tell us about it in the comments and let’s start a conversation!
Isabella Busby-Priest is a content writer with a keen interest in all things environment, nature, travel, and culture. When she's not creating new blog content, you'll often find her reading in odd places or planning a trip to a new country.