Small Business: Team-building shouldn’t be forgotten as workers return

For months, many employees worked in virtual silos as businesses were forced to operate remotely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

While they were connected through technology, it’s hard to replicate the feeling of being together in-person.

As companies migrate back to their offices with some staff still working remotely, it’s imperative employers don’t abandon their team-building efforts, experts say.

“Companies always need to be focused on team-building and even now more than ever,” says Joe Hart, president/CEO of Dale Carnegie Training in Melville, a global leadership and training organization.

Many employees aren’t having the daily in-person contact with co-workers that builds rapport and trust and they are under incredible stress financially and emotionally, he says.

With remote work, “some people feel disconnected,” and “it’s up to leaders to look for and be intentional on how to help their teams survive and thrive,” Hart says.

With that in mind, Melville-based Genser Cona Elder Law, which traditionally does team building each summer, felt this year it was especially important to continue that tradition.

The firm recently held its annual team building day to benefit the Long Island Alzheimer’s & Dementia Center (LIAD) in Westbury.

Staff gathered socially distanced at the firm’s offices and decorated face masks for donation to LIAD for use within their community for people that visit the center, says managing partner Jennifer Cona, who also set a personal goal of raising $10,000 for LIAD’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.

With COVID-19 and people feeling isolated, “we realized what a social outlet work could be,” she said.

And with room to socially distance, this seemed like an event staff would appreciate.

Pamela Wolf, a supervising paralegal at the firm, said besides doing something for a good cause, “what feels really good about this is the consistency,” adding, “in these crazy times anything you can do that is consistent makes you feel good.”

But even if you can’t get together in person, there are plenty of virtual team-building activities, Hart says.

At Dale Carnegie, they may use an ice breaker opener on a Zoom meeting like ‘what’s one thing you’ve seen in the business in the last two weeks that you’re excited about,’ and ‘who is one person you’d like to recognize or thank.’ The person would type that person’s name into chat and then say why they want to thank them.

Beyond that, you could also do virtual events as a way to team build, says Jennine Leale, chief executive at HRPRO Consulting Services in Rockville Centre, a human resources outsourcing firm.

She had an investment firm client that used an outside company to set up a virtual wine tasting via a Zoom meeting and even sent employees small tasting bottles of wine to enjoy together virtually.

Another virtual team-building exercise might be having everyone type in one thing that no one really knows about them that they are willing to share, Leale says.

These type of exercises “humanizes” people, “which is what team-building’s really about,” she says.

While many team-building activities will be virtual given current times, with safe social distancing in-person gatherings might create normalcy as well.

Raj Mehta, chief executive of Raj Technologies Inc., an information technology company in Plainview, says he and staff have continued attending end of week “happy hours” the firm participated in before the pandemic. The “happy hours” are hosted by LISTNet in the tech advocacy group’s Digital Ballpark, a coworking space inside Mehta’s corporate headquarters.

“It’s a huge area and anyone can come,” says Mehta, adding “we are social beings and this creates normalcy.” To boost morale, he has also given employees money they can donate to any COVID-related charity and a copy of the inspirational book, “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.”

Consider you need to pay attention to both employees’ mental and physical well-being, says Alina Maryles Haitz, an East Northport-based team engagement and productivity specialist.

“Encourage wellness in the workplace,” she says.

You might engage employees through a wellness challenge they can do by focusing on the three M’s (Meditation, Me Time and Movement). Each employee would commit to a set number of minutes daily to each of those areas and log in minutes they devoted to it weekly and then earn points for the person/team earning the most points. There could be rewards for the winners.

“It creates a sense of community, purpose at work and team fun during uncertain times,” Maryles Haitz says.

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Ice breaker questions for meetings or breakout sessions:

• If you could live (or work from) anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

• Where do you work most frequently from at home? Your office? Your kitchen table? The backyard? Your sofa?

• If you could meet any historical figure, who would that be?

• If you could learn one new personal or professional skill, what would it be?

Source: Dale Carnegie

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