How to Play with a Remote Team

Published On: August 9, 2023Categories: Blog

In the past few years, remote work went from the domain of contractors and a special perk from generous companies to something that almost every office worker has experience with, and many are still doing–whether part-time or for their entire job schedule. And while remote work has a multitude of potential advantages for workers and companies–from less commuting time to less overhead spent on office space–it also comes with new challenges for everyone involved.

For managers, they have less direct oversight over their team, and for workers, they have less opportunity to spontaneously collaborate and engage with their teammates. When working remotely, many teams only call meetings “when necessary” so people can return straight to their independent work–and while this can make for efficient time management, it can also result in the loss of space for people to connect and share ideas.

This is the second in an ongoing series about applying the core principles of the FISH! Philosophy while working remotely. In the last entry we talked about how to Make Their Day; creating those little surprise moments of joy and support that keep your team motivated and feeling appreciated, even when you’re only engaging behind a computer screen. This week, we’ll look at the next pillar of the FISH! Philosophy: Play.

Remote Play is more than just video games

Of course, before we can discuss how to Play remotely, it’s helpful to first give a brief reintroduction to the concept of Play in the FISH! Philosophy–because it often proves to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp intuitively, yet remains deeply important to the success of any organization, in-person or remote.

Play is not just tossing a ball around (or hopping into an online video game, if you’re already thinking remotely). There’s no doubt that Play can incorporate the fun and games we traditionally associate with the word, but for our purposes, Play is less associated with any particular activity and more a way of engaging and thinking about the world and your work.

Rather than thinking rigidly, Play focuses on thinking flexibly. It encourages us to brainstorm, to think outside the box, and to share any idea that pops into our head, regardless of how unorthodox. A workplace that encourages Play is a workplace that’s open to changing how things are done–if it makes sense to do so. It’s open to hearing new and potentially risky ideas, without shaming or shutting down the person sharing them. And importantly, it’s not just open to these things, but actively creates space for these ideas and concepts to flourish.

Creating opportunities for Play, remotely

As mentioned above, one of the unfortunate potential casualties of remote work is the death of spontaneous collaboration and brainstorming. But just because this is likely to happen naturally when working remotely doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all–you just need to be proactive about creating spaces for this engagement to occur.

An easy way to do this is to simply call a brainstorming meeting next time you need help solving a problem. If you’re stumped, there’s nothing wrong with shooting a message to your team and saying “hey, I need some help–anybody who has some ideas is welcome to jump on a Zoom call with me in 5 minutes so we can figure this out!” This not only creates the physical (well, digital) environment for creative thought, but it also sets the proper tone: that you’re open to their ideas and want to hear them so that a solution can arise collaboratively.

While Play is by definition pretty unrestrictive, if your organization (or your problem that needs solving) requires a bit more structure, you can even encourage Playful thinking asynchronously. Creating surveys for your team may not seem like traditional Play, but if you write them in a way that leans heavily on open-ended responses, you can really get people to think creatively. And if your team maybe isn’t used to being offered this freedom, these surveys can also be a great way to start building that culture where outside-the-box thinking is encouraged.

Learn tools to brainstorm behind a screen

Once you’re in a brainstorming meeting, though, how do you get those juices flowing? We all know that some of the best ideas come from being in the same room as others, just being able to bounce ideas back and forth, pull things up on a screen, doodle on a whiteboard, etc–so how can you replicate that energy online? Fortunately, most professional digital meeting spaces (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc) have built-in tools to help encourage that same type of collaboration, many of which you may not be used to using.

Obvious things like screen sharing can help you present to others, but tools like digital whiteboards can help team members illustrate ideas to each other as well. Breakout rooms can get people to brainstorm with those they don’t normally work with, and encourage quieter workers to express their ideas openly with a smaller group. And whether you’re in a meeting or just at your computer, collaborative cloud tools like Google Docs can help instigate lively back-and-forths where people share new ideas and refine them into something that really works.

This may all sound simple–and, duh, we know we aren’t providing rocket-science level information here. But it’s all about your mindset: we know that when your team is working remotely, it’s all too easy to accept that collaborative idea-sharing and Play just might not happen as often. So take this as your reminder that these tools are available, and they are easy to use, and they will help your team Play, think creatively, and come up with novel and groundbreaking ideas even when working remotely!

Remember the fundamentals of Play

At the end of the day, remember that the fundamental keys behind encouraging Play in the workplace hold true no matter where your team is located or how you engage with each other. People want to feel loved, respected, and nurtured, whether they’re working from the desk across the hall or a laptop across the country.

One of the biggest takeaways from any lesson on Play is that shame should be stricken from your toolkit. Most of us like to think we aren’t making anybody feel shamed for speaking out or sharing ideas, but this can happen even when we don’t intend to. How often do you find yourself saying “no, that won’t work,” during a brainstorming session? Have you ever told someone “you’re not thinking logically” when they share a left-field idea? Even simply telling a team member that you’re taking their idea seriously then just filing it away without getting back to them can create the impression that these creative ideas are unwelcome.

So no matter how you engage in Play in the workplace, remember that as a manager you need to approach it with an open mind, even when it’s hard. Most of the world’s great ideas went against the orthodoxy at some point–and while we don’t need to institute every wild idea our team comes up with, we do need to at least take their ideas seriously when we ask them to think seriously. Doing so will create a culture where Play is encouraged and your best ideas bloom into competitive advantages for your organization.

Ideas to Reflect On:

  • Think back on a time when you shut down a new idea for being unrealistic or outside usual logic. What could you have done differently to encourage, rather than discourage Playful thought?
  • When was the last time you called your remote team in for a pure brainstorming session; for a meeting where the only purpose was coming up with creative ideas? When can you do so next?
  • Do you utilize remote tools like digital whiteboards, breakout rooms, and collaborative cloudsharing to encourage Play? What’s one new tool you can bring into your next meeting?

Want to Implement FISH! in your organization?

Are you a leader?  Do you train others?  Do you want others to be leaders?

Charthouse Learning, the creator of the world-famous, award-winning, FISH! film is offering an in-person, 2-day workshop, interactive Train-the-Trainer lead by our Senior Trainer.

During our time together you’ll learn how to:

  • Share the motivation and foundation of FISH!
  • Introduce the FISH! film with the four practices.
  • Present the invitation to apply the practices in everyday interaction with others.
  • Build a sustainability and reinforcement program to transform the culture.
  • Pick up tips from other FISH! Philosophers and develop a strategy to embed the practices into the DNA of your culture.
  • Create an energized organization that is the “first choice” for employees, faculty, staff, leaders, and customers.

Plus, you will learn how to create a workplace where people choose to “be and bring” their best self everywhere, every day.

At the FISH! Train the Trainer you will:

  • Dive Deep: Discover The FISH! Philosophy – full of “A-ha!” takeaways and perspective-shifting realizations.
  • Transform: Make the four FISH! practices – Play, Be There, Make Their Day and Choose Your Attitude – an essential part of your professional and personal skill set.
  • Discover: Learn practical ways to apply the FISH! practices to improve teamwork, service, leadership, retention and performance.
  • Develop: Brainstorm strategies to embed The FISH! Philosophy into the DNA of your culture, strengthening your mission, vision and values.
  • Collaborate: Learn and laugh with like-minded folks from across the globe.

Click Here for More FISH! Train the Trainer Information

FISH! Executive Briefing

You have probably heard about the Culture Shift in the news. Organizations are struggling to find talent, employee morale is low, retention is a common goal and customers are dissatisfied with buying experiences.

These are all symptoms of an underlying challenge leadership is faced with every day, regardless of the industry. You can look for temporary relief or an overall, long-term cure.

Join us for a 60-minute webinar on the world-famous, award-winning FISH! practices.

Click Here for More FISH! Executive Briefing Information


Whether you work in business, education, or healthcare, FISH! offers accessible, intuitive solutions to empower your workers, bring your team together, and introduce Play into your organization. We invite you to contact us today at 800.695.4534 or to speak with our cultural specialists, who will help you find the right FISH! Philosophy solutions that will nurture your organizational culture and motivate your team!

 Join Us on Social Media:

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Subscribe to Our Blog

Dive into the Deep End of Culture Transformation