Illustration by Erica Fasoli

After more than a year since the pandemic started, going remote has changed how many of us experience work and make meaningful connections with our coworkers. Even as some people start returning to in-person work, finding new ways to connect, learn, and grow is now more important than ever if we want to create and sustain a positive environment for our teams.

I work on Team Operations for Adobe’s design organization, a global team that designs the tools and services that Adobe customers use to create and communicate. Our job as Team Operations is to foster the community and growth of the design group. Prior to the pandemic, a lot of our efforts focused on bringing people together in-person for org-wide events, social activities, trainings, or pro-bono events. As part of this team, I’ve had to figure out how to take these once in-person experiences and optimize them for the virtual world. The challenge was not only getting people to want to engage virtually but to also deliver the same connection and delight as in-person events. Figuring this out was something that took lots of iteration, and I’m still learning as I go. 

Some of these remote-inspired iterations offer new solutions for virtual or in-person events, like taking traditional one-day trainings and breaking the curriculum into shorter sessions over the course of a few weeks or leveraging the virtual-first environment to connect people in different locations for an escape room. Whether you favor a fully remote work model or prefer one that is hybrid or fully in-person, there are valuable insights to take away from this past year that can help any team plan for the future of these kinds of events. Here are my top four lessons on keeping distributed teams engaged.

Four lessons on keeping remote teams engaged with internal event design

Make things easy for participants

At a time when people are feeling overwhelmed by their professional and personal obligations (and really, by the state of the world), lowering the barrier to entry is key to helping people engage. 

Start early: Offer event sign-ups as early as possible — start publicizing at least three weeks in advance of your date. This not only gives you time to ship necessary supplies, if that’s part of your plan, it also gives people the chance to opt-in while there’s more availability on their calendars and increases potential attendance. 

Ask people to opt-in: If they are intrinsically motivated, or doing something because it’s interesting without obvious external rewards or pressures, they are more likely to fully participate and get something out of the experience. There will be times where you must mandate attendance, but whenever possible, let people opt-in.

Find good partners: I prioritize looking for vendors who offer engaging experiences and are on top of logistics. It can also make a huge difference to send participants everything they need so they don’t have to get it themselves. Here are some vendors I’ve enjoyed partnering with on events: 

  • Creative events: I’ve hosted a few workshops with Jenny Lemons ranging from watercolor painting to carving your own stamp. There are new offerings coming out all the time, and you can ship supplies directly to participants. I also set-up a flower arranging workshop with Alice’s Table where the flowers and vase were sent to everyone. The flower arrangements change every month so there’s always variety. 
A watercolor painted by senior experience designer Cheryl Chang in a Jenny Lemons remote employee workshop.
A watercolor painted by senior experience designer Cheryl Chang in a Jenny Lemons workshop.
  • Social events: I ran multiple, small group tea tastings with Open Door Tea as a part of a series. They customize the teas that are sent and walk you through a virtual tasting with helpful background information about each tea. Palace Games has taken escape rooms virtual. I had several small teams compete against each other in this fast-paced and fun team bonding experience.
Three teas were sent to remote employees as part of the standard Open Door Tea tasting event.
Three teas were sent to participants as part of the standard Open Door Tea tasting.

Try out a variety of activities

For me, success is energizing new members of the team to engage by offering a range of options throughout the year. This is especially useful knowing that not everyone on the team will be interested in the same type of activity. 

Provide a mix of passive and active options: If one activity is an escape room where everyone actively joins in, the next event could be listening to an inspiring speaker. Not only is it helpful to let people pick what works best for them, it’s also great to mix up your style of offerings.

Find ways to infuse community: Not everyone on your team may want to participate in activities. However, there are ways to include the community without putting anyone on the spot, like hosting a contest where the larger group can vote on submissions to determine a winner. This is also great for asynchronous engagement, where folks can participate when it’s convenient.

Listen to the people

This probably seems obvious, but it’s important. Anytime you’re putting together programming, it’s good to not only ask people what they want and need, but to also ask how things went. 

Validate the direction: Debating between what type of workshop to host? Throw a simple poll into your team’s communication channel and give people options to react to. I like to line up 2-4 selections and put together a quick post with visuals and contextual information while also keeping the content minimal to make it more scannable.

A chat poll for remote employees at Adobe's design organization to vote on an upcoming virtual team event.
A poll used to gauge interest between three workshop options.

Learn from everything: A majority of the time I learn something helpful by asking for post-event feedback. Did the event meet your initial objectives? Was it a positive experience? What could be improved for next time? Asking these questions is a great way to hear from attendees and enable continuous improvement.

Keep it engaging

It can be challenging to keep participants’ attention focused even when we’re all in-person. Offering opportunities for people to engage and try out activities enhances our ability to soak up and learn material. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to bake engagement into events.

Incorporate interactive exercises: I’ve realized that it’s important to break up time between listening to a lecture and hands-on practice or discussion. Providing attendees with guides or activities, giving them heads-down time to work during a class, and leveraging breakout rooms with prepared prompts are all dynamic ways to engage attendees.

Leverage collaborative tools: If we can’t all be in person tossing sticky notes on the wall or writing on a whiteboard, we must look for alternative solutions. We use collaborative digital boards that provide a way for participants to easily share their thoughts. 

A collaborative board used during an All Hands to engage employees. Prompts designed by members of Team Operations included asking about employees’ favorite books, tv shows, and more.
A collaborative board used during an All Hands to engage employees. Prompts designed by members of Team Operations included asking about employees’ favorite books, tv shows, and more.

These learnings are not perfect, but they are hopefully a good start to help you with keeping your distributed teams engaged. I would love to continue collaborating on solutions with anyone who is interested! You can find me at: