Now more than ever, team leaders need to get creative about how they’re going to operate and build team morale. The coronavirus pandemic has required many teams to go fully remote for the first time, and some notable companies are even considering staying that way.
This creates a few challenges.
On one level, managers must ensure remote workers are as productive as they would be in an office environment. This is largely a matter of space and equipment. For example, many desk-workers are more productive with a dual-monitor setup, and a dedicated work-space encourages an efficiency-first mindset.
However, there are aspects of an office environment — besides productivity — that need to be recreated virtually, like team building activities. Companies are able to gain more from individual employees when they are encouraged and motivated by a sense of teamwork.
Furthermore, multiple inputs are a boon for professional creativity (i.e. two minds are better than one). Listening to new ideas and receiving constructive criticism promotes innovation and improvement. Bringing together coworkers — as both professionals and people — will drive these initiatives.
And nothing quite brings people together like a good-ol’-fashioned team building exercise…
Why is Virtual Team Building Important?
Team building is an important part of professional productivity for a few reasons.
- It teaches different personalities how to communicate with one another. When restricted to mere work-related topics, remote workers may be unable to see the full creative value or personality someone has to offer. Stepping outside of that environment allows communication in a more natural and thought provoking way, and this will translate to work related tasks as well.
- It creates accountability through shared experiences. The more we’re exposed to similar experiences, the more we’re likely to empathize and assist those around us. Cliché as it is to say, no man or woman is an island, and we need the help of those around us to achieve both personal and collective goals. The more you feel personally connected to those around you, the more willing you will be to help them, and them help you. Literally doing things together, and especially fun team building activities, will help forge these bonds.
- It offers a break from the normal routine. The term “team building activity” may cause a few eyes to roll, but if done correctly, it creates a memorable deviation from everyday monotony. If your team looks forward to the moments where they can learn more about each other, let their own personalities shine through, and have a good time in the process, all the intuitive benefits (more productivity, better teamwork) will come naturally.
And while these benefits are incredibly important for onsite teams, the in-house environment creates some of these advantages naturally. You can visit coworkers’ cubicles, or eat lunch together in the kitchen, for example.
Virtual team building is even more important for your remote team because these everyday encounters simply won’t happen, unless you facilitate an environment where they do.
And team spirit isn’t just important for productivity reasons — employee happiness is essential to avoid burnout. We’re social creatures by nature (some of us more than others, admittedly). Interaction is the first step toward creating a sense of community, and this should be promoted even amongst a remote workforce.
A Quick Note on Virtual Collaboration Tools
All of these remote team building activities will require some way to interact across city streets, counties, and time zones. To break it down, you’ll need a way to communicate via text, voice, and video.
Generally speaking, there are many tools that can accommodate these demands. Zoom has become extremely popular as a remote team collaboration tool because of its simple setup and easily shareable nature.
However, many of the virtual team building ideas below use their own form of video or voice transmission. No matter what platforms or competitors you choose, it’s helpful to use a cloud-based communication platform, since these solutions are location-agnostic and usable from anywhere with an internet connection. Landline telephones and older video platforms are still useful for personal or one-on-one discussions, but bringing people together as a group requires an added level of accessibility.
Virtual Team Building Ideas
Now we get to the fun part.
There are literally endless ways to create shared experiences and promote communication outside of day-to-day work, even when your team isn’t physically together. Video calls do involve some inherent limitations, but technology — as you’ll see — has created some truly entertaining workarounds.
The following is an active list of applications and activities meant to bring your team closer together. Some of these team building ideas are ready-to-go immediately, while others are mere ideas. That is to say, you’ll need to do some legwork to customize the activity to your teams specific needs.
Either way, we’ll start with a bang…
We all know Max is a pro at setting up social media ad campaigns, and Kera has a talent for drumming up excitement at a live event, but what do they do after they punch out each day?
Using video conferencing tools, you can encourage your team to share their skills, hobbies, and personalities with one another virtually. Perhaps you have some singer-songwriters on your team, or maybe there’s an amateur juggler?
A special note on organizing a successful team-building talent show: It helps to keep things small. Company-wide talent shows are difficult to organize, and the larger size of the audience will discourage less-serious hobbyists from participating.
Smaller teams stand to benefit the most. Create an environment where successes are applauded, and “failures” are a source of mutual laughter (and also applauded!).
Here’s an idea — Call it an un-talent show, and encourage your team to pursue a new hobby. Give them a week (or 2 hours) to prepare before it’s time to shine.
Virtual Game Night
Fun fact: Many of the eyebrow-raising ideas for virtual team building activities listed in this blog were crowdsourced from Aircall’s US office (currently working remote).
When asked what virtual team building activities they’d find fun and enticing, the virtual game night was top of mind.
Using a shared URL and an internet connected device, there are tons of ways to compete and collaborate with your coworkers.
If you’ve never experienced a virtual game-scenario before, Jackbox Games is a good place to start. These games were originally intended to be played around a single television, with participants joining on their individual mobile devices, but video conferencing apps and screen-share technology makes them accessible from anywhere in the world.
Essentially, the host will be given a unique code to share with participants. This ensures only your remote workers will be able to join the game. It’s secure, and all points are tracked automatically, making scoring simple.
Plus, there’s something for everyone. Whether your forte is drawing, trivia, or witticisms, these games are sure to make your remote team laugh, yell, or both.
Virtual Petting Zoo or Farm Visit
Imagine you’re getting ready for your weekly team sync — a wonderful hour of updates, metrics, and slide decks.
Except this week, your manager has asked you not to prepare anything, and there’s going to be a big announcement. You’re nervous, but you sign in on time only to see…
Some baby goat’s face all up in the webcam.
Nothing brings people together in unpredictable and chaotic times like the presence of cute animals. What’s that? You aren’t an animal person? Lies. You’re lying to yourself, and what’s worse is you’re lying to your entire team.
There’re a few options out there on the internet, ranging from video call tours of working farms to people feeding baby animals in their homes, but check out this farm-sanctuary in Georgia for an interesting virtual activity.
Virtual Escape Room
It’s so fun, you won’t even realize the important interpersonal skills you’re acquiring during this virtual event.
There’s a task that needs to be completed on a tight deadline, and the consequences for failure are… well who really knows what they are? There’s a clock, some clues, and only combined brain power can save you!
Escape rooms are a classic team building activity for in-person office scenarios, but they’re easily replicated using video conferencing technologies, breakout rooms, and other collaboration tools.
A quick google search can help you find local businesses offering virtual escape room experiences, or operations that specialize in organizing your team’s virtual event.
Team building doesn’t need to be a one-off event. In fact, long-term team building activities can inspire longer, more detailed conversations between remote workers.
A monthly book club is a reliable way to create shared experiences amongst your team. We recommend choosing a selection based on team interests, current affairs, or relevant historical events.
While due dates and assigned reading schedules may have created anxiety in grade-school, bi-monthly discussions based around important themes and specific plot points are useful tools to get a discussion started.
Lunch and Learn Lecture Series
Everyone on your team has a unique history. Weekly or bi-weekly lunch and learns present an opportunity to educate your peers and share personal knowledge and insights.
Note to the pros: it helps to plan these things out pretty far in advance, maybe a month or so. This gives your employees time to prepare a presentation, and avoids an irregular schedule.
Furthermore, if the budget is there, you can occasionally bring in outside experts to talk about important topics related to team building or other areas of interest.
Those who move together… work better together?
Moving throughout the day is shown to increase cognitive function and improve work quality.
While you might wish to wait until the end of the workday to get seriously sweaty, a short, 30-40 minute virtual yoga session pre-lunch could help your team de-stress and prepare to attack the second-half of the workday with vigor.
This might take a bit of planning — minimally a trip to the grocery store. However, sharing a meal with people close to you is one of the most natural ways to connect, and a very attainable virtual team building activity. Plus, you might learn some new and impressive culinary skills.
Taking a cue from the “lunch and learn” idea, the group cooking class will have an added air of authenticity if someone on your team is willing (and able) to share a delicious homemade recipe.
But there’s no need to cry onion tears if you don’t have an amateur chef in your ranks. Airbnb is listing tons of international cooking lessons in their “experiences” section. There’s something to satisfy everyone’s palate
We can all use a little decompression, especially at the end of the day or work week. And virtual team building doesn’t need to always be interactive.
Encourage your team’s transition into “personal time” by scheduling a 5:00 guided meditation through Zoom or conference call. There’s no need to have your camera or microphone turned on — while this is a shared virtual experience, it will take on various forms for every individual.
Or if you think a midday mental-break could be beneficial, schedule this team building exercise directly before or after lunchtime. Especially now that so many teams are learning how to work virtually for the first time, it’s important to take stock of mental and physical health. No matter how far technology advances, the mind is still the best productivity tool we have.
The Cultural Results of Virtual Team Building Exercises
Videoconferencing has allowed teams to maintain a personal connection even when physically apart. Whether it’s through team-building games, facilitated discussions, or a virtual scavenger hunt, these activities aim to bring teams closer on a personal level and encourage the best work out of each individual.
The end result is a community where life operates exactly as it would in an onsite scenario, just aided by videoconferencing and other remote collaboration tools. Your team will feel as comfortable sharing a virtual happy hour after a completely-casual weekday as they would grabbing an end-of-day cocktail on their own. They may even plan weekend getaways around meeting up in person at a fun but easily accessible location (Tampa anyone?).
Basically, a distributed team doesn’t need to be a disconnected one. Every good manager wants to see their teams grow as individuals and as a unit, and creating an environment where coworkers want to help each other is primary in that process.