The value of virtual team building

Office workers around the world were pushed out of their offices and into remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Some for a short period and some for a very long time, like the employees of Slack, Google and Facebook. A huge portion will never return to the office and every company, really every, should have a contingency plan how to work remotely over a certain period, in the case of infections or a shut down.

With that trend comes a shortage of a very important thing: team building. We all know the off-site team builing activities like trust falls, rafting, high rope courses, hiking and building wooden rafts. Nearly all of them are cancelled due to possible contacts and forbidden travelling. And some of them are awkward anyway! Also all the informal communication at coffee maschines, watercoolers and lunch is gone suddenly, too.

Having a really good connection to your coworkers and feeling a team spirit is essential to good and efficient work. This is perfectly and funny shown in Apples commercial: The whole working-from-home thing.

To put it in a more empirical context: Atlassian surveyed over 1000 team members and found out, that ‘94% of participants feel mutual respect is important to a team’s success. 19% point to it as the number one factor in their team’s emotional well-being.’ (Source).

There is a growing number of remote-only companies out there. Gitlab is considered the biggest with over 1300 employees spread over all continents. They did a full-company retreat all the years – which cannot be done this year for the first time. But even if you can meet everyone in your team once a year – without virtual team building, team work feels like exchanging results between unknown contractors.

If we know each other and like to work with our colleagues, we are much happier, which highly increases our productivity. And remember that loniness is the number one obstacle in remote work settings. More on that in my post Remote Work Happiness.

If you want to plan team building activities, you have to know the different kinds: synchronous vs. asynchronous, one-time vs. regular and fun vs. improving collaboration technics. Synchronous activities are common, but in the virtual environment are even asynchronous activities possible. Think about posting pet pictures in a special Slack channel, showing your WFH (working from home) setting to the others and post ‘messy desk’ pictures.

Do some of the activities regularly, so they can become a habit and do other things from time to time as impulse. Fun and improving collaboration is not an either or. It is, for example, perfectly combined in the specially for remote teams designed online escape room by ‘Skyrocket Your Team‘. That is a fully-remote startup (5 founders, 4 nationalities, working from 4 countries) with the only purpose to let remote teams thrive.

For more specific activities I suggest the blog post about 12 very different team building activities by Sarah Goff-Dupont: The best virtual team building activities, according to full-time remote workers.

And don’t forget the small hacks about informal communication which will help you every day: regular 1-on-1s, virtual lunch, coffee breaks and after work beer, and please: always video on! More on that in my post: Informal communication in remote teams.

Please share some of your experiences or additional suggestions in the comment section!

Remote Work Happiness

We are all still in the worst pandemic, the earth has ever seen. Besides all the tragic, we have one positive outcome which will enhance the life of so many people: the rise of remote work.

The vast majority of office workers are able to work wherever and whenever they what, or to be presice: how it fits best to their personal circumstances. It is real freedom, if you can pick up your kids from school, walk your dog whenever you want and first and foremost live in a city or rural area you like instead of the city where the work was.

But there are a few things that can cause problems however. Many middle managers still have to learn that team members should be measured by outcome and not by working hours or presence. Another thing is mental health which is directly connected to happiness.

It is way to easy in the home office to forget:

  • to make breaks
  • to exercise
  • to maintain a healthy diet
  • to stop work after doing enough
  • to cheer coworkers
  • to miss social contacts

The risk of loniness and burnout is real. To read more see ‘How To Avoid Burnout In The Age Of Remote Work‘ by Shelcy V. Joseph via Forbes.

Even if we don’t look at this extreme, happiness is the key for your mental health and your productivity. So please mind the points above if you are remote working. And at top of that try to make something that fits perfectly to your skills and will have an impact to drive society in the direction you want it to be. There is nothing more encouraging than to make the world a better place.

If you have remote employees, make their hapiness your highest priority. You may know Sir Richard Bransons famous quote ‘Happy employees equals happy customers”. That is true since a long time. But now, as your team members are working remote, this has to be achieved in a different way.

As a remote leader please take serious care of your coworkers:

  • Schedule regular 1-on-1 session with audio and video
  • Organize retreats if possible
  • Fascilitate a written frist work culture to avoid misunderstandings
  • Over-communicate, especially work targets and common goals
  • Spread information as much and as often as possible
  • Embrace off work talk, like in my post ‘Informal communication in remote teams
  • Make clear that long hours are undesired

You agree on the importance of remote work happiness? Do I have missed a significant point? Please write it as comment!

Picture by Radu Florin via Pexels

Informal communication in remote teams

Lots of companies have changed their way of work radically 5 weeks ago because of the virus. Hundreds of thousands of teams switched instantly from co-located work to remote work. That is exactly what many employees fought for for years. But because it came so suddenly, most are not prepared.

The biggest change by far is communication. Good teamwork is based on good relationships between people, which depends on good communication. We are building relationships with all we know as smalltalk, water cooler talk and something we call in Germany ‘Feierabendbier’ – after-work beer.

Can this work remotely? Yes it can. Informal communication can have the following forms in remote teams:

  • stay in touch with your teammates with regular talks via Slack, Teams or whatever conferecing platform you use – but please with video
  • randomly organised one-on-one talk inside your team or organisation, wherein you discuss 15 – 30 min about free topics, gladly personal topics
  • teams or departements do breakfast or lunch breaks together, maybe at special days per week (video on!)
  • make appointments for an after work beer – use your video conferencing platform, take a seat which is not your working place, take a drink of your choice and try to avoid work related discussions (that is my favorite)

Please take care, that no one in your team will be left behind. Include everyone and wait not for rules or management guidelines, you can improve the communication with your own initiative, instantly.

What’s your experience with informal communication? How often do you do it? Have you developed other forms? Please let us know in the comment section!

Renewable energy

I’m starting a second thread after my frist one about remote work. Topics of “Next big thing” are the most rewarding trends and future technologies, so the best business opportunities.

The first story is not really a ‘next’. It’s an ‘already here’. The de-carbonisation of the energy sector. Climate change is real and we have to start dealing with the outcomes. The CO2 levels are far too high and we raised the pollution level in 2018 instead of lowering it.

The efforts are very different around the world. Germany started scaling photovoltaics 20 years ago and is in the middle of the ‘Energiewende’, the complete shift to clean energy. The US is falling behind after some good approaches by the Obama administration. China and India are investing in PV but cannot generate the power for there economic growth without an increasing number of coal plants. And Australia, geographically one of the best spots for PV and power generation by wind is deep in there ‘cheap’ coal.

The actual calculations are that PV and wind are cheaper than coal and gas, around the world! This came with the fast decline of the cost of PV modules produced in China. It is now everywhere more cost-efficient to install PV and use the free energy from the sun than to build and maintain a coal plant and extract the fossil from the ground – so no excuses left.

This is a good example that everything is easier if it pays for itself. Very few people pay more ‘for the climate’, most are buying the cheapest offer. And here comes what governments should do to avoid the worst outcomes from climate change: install carbon taxes. Only if all operations with fossils are much higher taxed, there will be a be a fair competition. The catastrophe relief which is needed because of severe weather have to be paid by the governments, so the responsibles have to be taxed, even if this means more expensive gas and air travel for us.

This will also fasten the electrification of the transport sector. There are still some people who think hybrids or hydrogen cars are the future. For me it is crystal clear that cheap renewable power generation and battery electric vehicles (BEV) are the future. This is applicable for cars, trunks, semis, trains, ships and even planes. The last one will be the hardest to scale to big planes, but small electric planes are already flying. If you live in Asia you also witness how electric scooters are replacing the gas ancestors.

But back to the power generation: there are all the highly competitive renewable solutions available:

  • Photovoltaics, everywhere, less efficient in the north and south third of the earth
  • Thermal Solar Power Generation, best in deserts, advantage: heat storage
  • Wind Power, on-shore and off-shore, best at all shorelines
  • Hydropower, where mountains and enough water is
  • Biomass, best with waste, bad if corn or grain will only be grown for this

The only disadvantage with most of the above is that the generation is linked to the time of the day or season and the weather. To meet the demand you can install impressive power lines, which is a big discussion in Germany right now with resistance of their new neighbors. Or we have to install much more power storages at home and/or the scaled variant in the grid. The easiest way to store electricity is still pumping water onto mountains, but the learning curve with batteries based on metals and chemicals is still starting.

There are a lot technical solutions proposed to fight the already too high CO2 in the athmosphere. An easy but mostly overlooked idea is to use nature as CO2 sinks, like proposed by the campain natural climate solutions.

And we have a lot of promising stories. Take Mike Cannon-Brooks, CEO of Australian software company Atlassian, who has enough time (or a dedication) to start the campain ‘Fair Dinkum Power’ to transfer Australian power generation to Renewables after getting mad about the fossil-loving actual Australian politicans. He challenged Elon Musk back in 2017 via Twitter, if Tesla can build a 100 MW battery as grid stabilizer in 100 days, after South Australia suffered major blackouts. Tesla not only achieved this, the battery avoided power outages and paid itself already with earnings out of the grid stabilizing.

So all I can say is look for jobs or begin a startup in photovoltaics, wind power, intelligent power distribution, electric cars and everything else adjacent to the topic. Clear, you cannot start producing PV modules or electric cars – but for sure you can install or maintain PV or start an e-car rental business. You will have a bright future with knowledge in this areas and will help fighting climate change.

Please tell us your experience in the field and your thoughts in the comments.

Tackle remote works biggest obstacle

What is remote works biggest obstacle? Viable internet connection? Video conferencing hardware? Collaboration software? Recruiting? No, it is trust in employees and team members!

Normally we blame managers that they are not allowing remote work because their lack of trust. But please try to turn your perspective around. I did, as I became a project manager some years ago and as becoming head of project management with a small team of project managers later on.

You can read more in my older post at: Trust is the key for successful remote work

It is really not easy letting your team members go out of sight if your are used to work in the same office. Even if you know their competencies and all the advantages of the home office and all the disadvantages of the office work. Read about the Pros and Cons here: The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons

People are used to collaborate in the personal way. We are just not trained to work and trust over the distance. And this is not a miracle, because we all grew up in a world without real time video conferencing around the world for free. But even in the future kids will be raised by personal interaction – for good reasons. So we all have to learn trusting our remote collegues and team members first.

How to build trust with remote workers

This is a collection of methods and ideas to gain that trust and overcome this major obstacle of remote working:

  • do a lot of communication, i.e. short daily video conferencing
  • do video conferencing instead of phone or written communication as often as possible
  • set up regular work demonstrations, a great possibility to show your appreciation
  • even interesting is, that this enhances trust in the team, because most of the technical people rank their peers on their work results
  • if communication and demonstrations are frequently, it feels less like monitoring
  • try to avoid changes of the team members in a project and even over similar projects, because the team members are getting used to each other
  • plan enough time at the projects start for newly mixed teams that they have the possibility to get to know each other
  • do regular team retreats if you are fully remote, because having fun together is building easily good connections
  • do off work activities even if you are co-located, to connect better to each other
  • provide pictures of your home office or home stories in your employees magazin or collaboration tool
  • talk about family and hobbies – it is always surprising what off work talents you have in your team


All our business ventures, companies and other undertakings could be so much more successful if we can strengthen the partnerships to our remote collegues which is possible with the above mentioned methods.

What is your experience? Missing trust is not the biggest obstacle? What else helps you in your daily work? Please let us know in the comment section!