How to Reach Out and Touch Someone (Virtually, that is!)

Yesterday, I started answering the question,

“How can we be more social given that we are a virtual team, spread across multiple physical locations, states, and countries?”

Today, I want to share the final step to help you on your path to getting social while managing remotely.

Step 4: Have some ideas in your back pocket.

Lionel Trilling said this: “Immature artists imitate. Mature artist steal.” Feel free to “steal” some ideas that I’ve used in creating a social environment with virtual teams I’ve managed, because I’m sure that I stole these ideas from others! (You can find these and other ideas in my just-released book, A Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement).

Baby Picture Guessing Game.

Ask team members to send you a baby picture. Compile all of the pictures and list all of the team members who chose to participate. Ask your team to match the baby picture with the person’s name. You can offer some small reward to whoever guesses the most correctly. To promote good humor across the entire team, you can create a customized screen saver collage of the baby pictures for all participants.

Motivational quote.

Ask team members to submit a favorite quote along with a quick reason he or she finds the quote inspiring. Once a week, send out an email showcasing a different quote. This shrinks the world and helps people find things they share in common. It also helps spread inspiration and positivity, two qualities in demand on every team.


Ask team members to submit their birthdays (don’t ask for birth year), work anniversary date, and any other significant date they may wish to make public. Publish them in a common calendar, and send out email announcements when a milestone is reached.

Be the STAR.

Years ago, my team fashioned a home-grown “newsletter” that spotlighted one team member each week. Have you seen those short celebrity interview sections in newspapers where they answer basic getting-to-know-you question? Once you create the questionnaire and get responses, send out a new edition each month to the entire team. These surveys usually include innocent and silly things like the following:

  • What’s your favorite movie? Song? Musical group? Food? TV show?
  • If someone were to walk into your house, what reading material would he or she find?
  • What’s your favorite hobby?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Brainstorming Sessions.

An excellent way to speed up the getting-to-know-you process is through a brainstorming project. Over email or a tool like Basecamp, ask team members to exchange ideas and thoughts in a non-judgmental way so they can experience each other’s strengths, thinking processes, and styles.

Employee Bingo.

I was charged with creating a getting-to-know-you game for senior leaders to use at the beginning of a merger, but I wasn’t sure if the game would reach its purpose of accelerating a familial environment. It did. People loved it!

You can do this virtually by creating a 5 by 5 table and add any information you want people to learn about their team members. Email the table, and let your team know that they have a week to find as many answers as possible. One rule: you can’t send out a group email to the team asking people to respond to you. Requests have to be handled one-on-one. Once they have completed a 5 by 5 grid by filling in the name of a team member who can answer in the affirmative, they should send you the Bingo sheet. Once you have them all, compile the Bingo sheet with all names that apply. Send it to all participants, and announce who won.

Have a twin

Have four or more siblings

Love to fly

Don’t drive


Read at least a book a week

Have never left the country

Love rock and roll music

Exercise three or more times each week


Have run a marathon

Ride a bicycle

Lived on a farm

Never ridden a train

Speak more than two languages


Love to cook

Hate to fly

Climb mountains

Have visited more than three countries

Have lived in more than one country


Own at least 10 movies

Have visited Chicago

Never attended a professional sporting event


Am an only child

Know how to juggle

Have never shopped online

Don’t have a Facebook account

Skype / Video Chat.

Years ago, companies invested considerable money in video conferencing tools and technologies. Why? There’s no substitute for face-to-face communication, even if it made those faces herkyjerky! Today, most employees have video conferencing capabilities at their fingertips using Skype or other video chatting tools. While you might not be able to get everyone on the same video call, schedule time to chat JUST BECAUSE instead of waiting until there’s a burning issue. Investments you make connecting with others in times of calm often pay off in times of storms. Why not grab a team mate or two and together sing a stirring rendition of HAPPY BIRTHDAY to celebrate with your colleagues from away? For years, I saved a voice mail where an employee sang me a song from the persona of her cat! Made me smile every time!

Join each other on social media outlets.

These days, most people use some sort of social media like Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If you’re already comfortable using those tools, consider sending invitations to join/connect with your coworkers. Many companies are creating Fan Pages on Facebook, and some even use internal social media tools that allow you to recognize and connect with peers. Recently I’ve met with someone from Globoforce, a company that specializes in employees rewards and recognition programs. One of the most important parts of their tool is its social nature, that it allows peers to connect, recognize, and interact with each other in positive ways.

Let me acknowledge that distance does make it challenging for virtual teams to connect socially at work, but that’s not a legitimate excuse for not reaching out and touching someone.


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