It's tough to properly reward your team members on a shoestring budget and hard to maintain a cohesive sense of team with remote work on the rise, but these are realities that an increasing number of us face these days.
Our team has people spread across five different facilities--and that's when they're not working from home. To help keep our folks engaged and to combat feelings of isolation, one of the tools we've used is the creation of a Teambuilding and Morale Committee.
Unlike an old school "party planning committee," like the one from the TV show THE OFFICE, we don't try to figure out what the tastiest cake is or what level of entertainment we can afford for the boss's birthday party. In fact, we skip things like birthday parties entirely and focus on activities to keep our people engaged with the organization, and, more importantly, with one another.
In 2014, we had success with a potluck at the office and an off-site, after-hours picnic. Another picnic is already being planned for summer, and we held our first potluck lunch of 2015 last month. These large events are great for teambuilding, but they're limited in impact as they serve a very specific function that's only part of the equation. Since they're site-based, they are primarily for the folks who work at our head office, or who are willing to make the trek. We've discussed having events at some of our satellite offices, but because they're secondary locations, they're home base to far fewer team members, many of whom see one another on a regular basis anyway.
To help promote a sense of teamwork and cohesion across sites, we've implemented a "Team Bucks" system that allows any team member to reward any other team member with "Team Bucks" (that can be collected and traded in for actual real-world gift certificates of varying denominations). "Team Bucks" have proven to be a great "quick hit," allowing team members to reward or thank their associates for almost anything. Since implementing the program in late 2014, we've had more than a hundred "Team Bucks" rewards, and it looks like we're averaging about one a day right now. Although it would be great to reward people directly with gift cards, this would increase oversight and force a series of guidelines, reducing the spontaneity and speed of the program.
For larger and more serious kudos, we have a parallel monthly awards program. Once again, anyone can nominate anyone, but unlike "Team Bucks," there are only a limited number of these monthly awards (thanks to the 3-figure gift card that comes with earning one), and they are vetted by a committee to confirm that submissions are appropriate.
An important element of the monthly awards is a team-wide e-mail providing not only the winning names, but also their accomplishments. This serves as a regular reminder that people can nominate someone, but the level of detail is geared to give everyone insight into a variety of projects and team-wide successes, helping capture some of the lightning that's lost when casual, face-to-face conversations become few and far between due to remote work.
One of the initiatives we're working on in 2015 is turning one of our team Web sites into a work and social hub, sort of a "virtual water cooler." Although the site already exists, we're planning to use a combination of items like fun surveys (paired with a forum to discuss the results) and articles like "artist of the month" to help drive more traffic there and to give folks reasons to stick around for a while.
We have a broad range of other initiatives planned for the coming year, including some designed to promote engagement through friendly competition, such as a Wii virtual bowling competition (which will pit teams or locations against one another) and a "Biggest Loser" inspired weight loss challenge.
Although each of these tactics is designed to address a different need in support of morale and teamwork, they have a few elements in common: they're all relatively cheap and "low-maintenance." Even the larger events are done on a tight budget and with minimal administrative headache.
They are also approaches that are constantly evolving. Gone are the days where "team building" consists of waiting patiently and hoping that you'll get a piece of cake with a lot of icing. Instead, we're trying to build an environment where you want to reward your teammates and where you can congratulate them via e-mail or the next time you cross paths face to face.