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I’m currently on a team with people who work in different countries. This question makes the assumption that it is better to have some level of interpersonal connection among team members; we are seeking an increase in camaraderie. There’s nothing any of us can do about the organizational structure (which we can all agree is not ideal) and travel is not on the table.

There are 10 of us. Here’s a breakdown of who works where, in case it’s relevant:
    •  2 in the US – including me
    •  1 in the UK – the person I work with most
    •  1 in Germany – works closely with one of the people in France
    •  6 in France – including two interns and the manager of the team

The people in France go out together sometimes and see each other every day, so they are all fairly close with one another. Similarly, the two of us in the US are nicely well acquainted even though we don’t collaborate on many projects. The people in France feel disconnected from the rest of us, and the people in the UK and Germany feel pretty isolated (understandably).

Our company has offices in all of these locations—so nobody’s completely alone—we’re just looking to foster a more unified dynamic so that we can understand each other as 3‑dimensional people and feel more directly connected to the benefit we each provide to the team. The idea is that if we’re a little more connected, we can better share in our collective successes and better support one another when things don’t go well for one or some of us.

I’m envisioning a technological solution (though I’m open to other types of suggestion). We currently use Outlook, Lync, and Sharepoint, but I don’t find any of these to be conducive to the outcomes we want and the fact that we already use them heavily for business purposes seems like a minus, not a plus. I think it makes sense to think of this as a non-work thing.

For the purposes of focusing the discussion, I’ll add that I’m most interested in hearing from people who share my team’s view of feeling more connected in ones work environment. I understand that efforts in this vein will seem distracting or prohibitively awkward to some, but I’d like to reserve debate on the merits of maintaining a baseline level of casual interpersonal connection for another question, another day.

  • Is group video chat available? – A E Oct 23 '14 at 21:46
  • @AE We have quarterly meetings on Lync where we all try to use video. Individuals use webcams and groups use a 360° camera. Historically we’ve had a lot of issues with this working at all (I suspect bandwidth is an factor), but more than that our workdays don’t overlap very much and people are generally resistant to being on camera. We also don’t have the big chunks of time available during our overlap that I anticipate would be required to schedule casual videoconferencing. – Tyler James Young Oct 23 '14 at 21:57
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    I recommend: scottberkun.com/yearwithoutpants Wordpress seems to be able to do it, but they pay for team members to travel to far away get togethers and meetings. – user8365 Oct 24 '14 at 17:03
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There are a few things I think you should do.

  1. For persistent chat (which I agree is good) we use https://slack.com/ (although you can use IRC, HipChat, etc). As well as a main project channel, make sure you have some fun ones. Music Videos, funny pictures, etc. A place where people can blow off a bit of steam.
  2. Look at some team bonding exercises. Yes, it will be hard to organise across different time zones. Can you all contribute to, say, a MineCraft project? Or play some old-school Doom over the network?
  3. Video chat is great - if you have the bandwidth. Google Hangouts are really good for multiple people sharing the screen.
  4. And perhaps this should be #1 - ask them. Maybe what people want is to enjoy a beer with their team on a Friday - even if it is still midday in the US.
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    Related to #3: for each location that has more than one person, set up a conference room that is set up to use video-conferencing easily -- room computer, camera, mic, and software all ready to go. That way you get the benefit of the locals being physically together for meetings even if the whole team can't be. (This isn't worth its own answer, so please feel free to incorporate this if you agree and flag the comment as obsolete.) – Monica Cellio Oct 24 '14 at 21:35
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The solution I’m currently planning to propose to my team is for us to use Campfire.

It’s a very basic chat program that would give us a persistent digital space in which to commune with one another semi-asynchronously.

I like that it’s simple, secure, and separate. We won’t clutter anyone’s inbox when they’re not participating, but we still have the option to throw a document or image into the conversation.

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    Skype allows you to create persistant chats on specific topics. Or at least it did a few years ago when that was how the teams I was on used it. – Amy Blankenship Oct 23 '14 at 23:49
  • Communication and tools to do your job will help, but I don't see them building camaraderie. Are you going to encourage usage of this service for informal and not related to work? – user8365 Oct 24 '14 at 19:24
  • @JeffO That is precisely the plan. – Tyler James Young Oct 24 '14 at 19:25
  • You should elaborate on ways you plan to encourage this since that is the key to the question. – user8365 Oct 25 '14 at 10:49
  • @JeffO I'll say to my team, "I encourage you to use this informally and not for work." – Tyler James Young Oct 27 '14 at 5:01
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In addition to answers above, I'd say it's important (not to say necessary) to meet together in person regularly. If you don't have enough budget then, we'll, you should.

Speaking about voice chat, use video. It really helps a lot.

Also, I noticed that most people, when having a conference call, sit on their chairs and try to concentrate. If you've ever been to a real conference room then you may have seen that it's a little more productive when some body movement is present. So do the same on video or audio chat! Set up a wireless microphone and attach it to your shirt, let the sound go through (moderately) loud speakers. Take a walk! This really helps break psychological boundaries between remote coworkers. People see you are alive and can move, they stop blocking their weird thoughts and become as creative as if you all were in the same room.

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