How to Turn Strangers Into a Strong Remote Team

“Dear Sophaya, My team is all over but sometimes it feels like they just aren’t connecting well. What can I do to help break down barriers and bring them closer?” Signed, Lisa

Hi Lisa,

When everyone is remote and new to working with each other there is one key fundamental you need to remember. Strangers are hardwired to be suspicious of each other and lack empathy for people they don’t know. The TED Radio Hour did a great story on this, you should check it out.

In the story, a research professor at McGill University in Canada found that putting two strangers in a room together made heart rates and respiration go up. The strangers were quite uncomfortable with each other. So the research team tried to think of ways to reduce the anxiety and they discovered that bringing strangers together and having them play Rock Band – a video game that requires you to play fake instruments – for just 15 minutes totally changed things. It not eliminated the stress, but it completely changed the inter-personal dynamic between everyone.

So here’s the lesson we’ve learned from this study, if you want your remote team to gel, you need to devise a “Garage Band” moment for them. Does this mean you have to get everyone playing some crazy video game? No, but it does mean you have to provide them with some experience that helps them see each other as human beings rather than strangers. Get creative. We’ve heard stories of teams coming together in a group video to share a beverage together on a Friday afternoon to ice cream socials – the leader of this team sent everyone a gift card for ice cream and then brought the team together to shared lunches. Some teams have used tools like Slack to run contests or to create virtual watercoolers online. There are SO many options, keep experimenting until you find one that works for your team!

Best of luck, don’t forget to tell us how it goes.



Photo by Mimi Thian