In this time of a global pandemic, many teams that physically worked together in the past are now separated and doing their jobs remotely. The regular water coolerchit-chat has unfortunately been sidelined, replaced by quick “hi, how are you?”s on a Slack channel or email. But even amid the challenges of physical separation, remote employees can virtually build trust and connections, foster camaraderie, experience team bonding, and enhance productivity— all it takes is video conferencing and a bit of dedicated time.
Why virtual team-building activities are important
When employees work together face-to-face, sharing and collaboration happen organically, and even then, teams often make time for activities like a team lunch or an after-work get-together. For distributed teams, you have to work harder to create these opportunities by setting up virtual team-building games or other activities. Including a video chat element to virtual gatherings allows a deeper connection since everyone can see each other’s facial expressions, body language, and maybe even a cute pet in the background.
These types of team meetings for remote workers also allow geographically distributed groups to get to know each other a little better than they would if they were barricaded within their cubicles all day. A team that is comfortable with one another on a more personal level will work more collaboratively.
Ultimately, team-building exercises are an easy way to build a strong team, encourage a positive company culture, and rekindle everyone’s passion for the business.
How to put together a virtual team-building activity
1. Find a time
The first step in coordinating remote team-building activities is to find a time that is convenient for most of your team members, if not your entire team. Take into consideration their personal and work schedules and their current workloads when seeking a desirable time. If your remote workers are spread across different time zones, keep that in mind as you select a time. Consider starting a group chat to brainstorm times that work best for everyone to get together.
2. Pick a platform
If your company doesn’t already use video call technology, you’ll need to pick one and ask everyone to set it up on their computer or device. Zoom, Microsoft, and Google all have free video conferencing platforms. Check into any restrictions on audience size and meeting length.
3. Think about what energizes your team
When selecting the team-building activity, think about what excites your employees. What common interests are shared by the group? Is there a common experience or project that everyone can relate to? As the team leader, you can also amp up the energy by gamifying the experience—give away prizes or create an opportunity to earn some extra money.
4. Drum up excitement
Don’t just send out a calendar invitation and forget about it until it’s time to meet. Reminding everyone about the upcoming video conference a few times sends a signal that you think this is an important activity and helps increase attendance and engagement. Transparency about what to expect with the virtual team-building activity you selected can also increase participation and get them excited about what’s to come.
5. Make it fun
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the goal is to have fun. Whether you start with an icebreaker, play a game, or go on a virtual tour, the activity is about connection, togetherness, and generally having a good time with your team members.
Types of virtual team-building activities
Most people probably still cringe at the word icebreaker thanks to awkward memories from our middle school days, but these kinds of activities can take on a whole new dimension for adults who want to connect with their colleagues. Most people overestimate how much they know about the people they work with and may be surprised at all the fun facts that can be uncovered during an icebreaker.
Two truths and a lie is an easy icebreaker to try and is as simple as it sounds. Each person presents three statements about themselves to the group—two of which are true and one of which is a lie. Everyone in the group can guess which one is the lie before the person reveals the truth. It can be enjoyable—if time allows—to have everyone expand on one or two of their statements and share a bit about those experiences.
Sharing your space allows for a remote team to get personal even while they’re apart. Have each team member bring a picture of their workspace to the meeting and describe their favorite parts of their home office or even give their office a critique. You can also have everyone submit their workspace images in advance and guess which space belongs to who while you’re all on the call. Or, give everyone a live video tour of your space.
Online games or assessments
Jackbox.TV was popular even before most teams were forced into remote work groups, and it has become even more popular in recent months. There are a variety of games available to play, and while it does require one person to purchase a party pack or single game, it’s easy for everyone else to join by simply visiting jackbox.tv and entering a four-digit code. These real-time, interactive games range from an adult and virtual version of Pictionary called Drawful to a guessing game where you try to detect other players’ lies called Fibbage.
The Houseparty app also gives teams a way to connect face-to-face and enjoy team bonding. Houseparty is a social network where you video chat with small groups and play games like Heads Up, Quick Draw (like Pictionary), and the word-association game, Chips and Guac. Each room allows up to eight people—great for more intimate teams—and there’s no limit to the number of rooms a user can have.
Personality tests and online assessments are another fun way to find commonalities and strike up conversations about personal preferences and team cohesiveness. Having everyone take a Myers-Briggs test before a team call can get them thinking about their own personality as well as the traits of their colleagues. Sharing those results on a call can create connection, empathy, and openness between team members that will often also result in better collaboration. There are a number of other personality tests employees can take that relate to the workplace, such as The Four Tendencies, The 5 Love Languages, and 16 Personalities.
Virtual meal or happy hour
Setting a time to connect with your team over a beverage or meal can be a low-stress way to bond over something besides work topics. If your virtual coffee break or team lunch doesn’t include an icebreaker or is unstructured, make sure that people don’t spend the whole time talking about work projects or concerns. This time should be for connection and enjoyment that strengthens relationships and is not just another work meeting.
While not strictly necessary, having a theme, featured cocktail, or suggested cuisine can help create a sense of togetherness. Businesses are selling virtual happy hour kits or ingredient boxes that you can order and have delivered to each of your remote team members. Lastly, don’t forget about the in-person happy hour favorite: karaoke. Yes, there’s a virtual version that has gained popularity during these times.
Many companies that specialize in physical team-building activities like escape rooms, scavenger hunts, or guided tours have transitioned their businesses online.
Chicago Detours started offering virtual tours back in March when Illinois began sheltering in place. You can choose from many of their city favorites—historical to current day—and log in to enjoy the tour with your team from anywhere around the world.
BreakoutIQ is a mobile team-building, trivia, and escape room company that previously traveled to client locations to create memorable team-building experiences. With a large number of businesses transitioning to remote work, they’ve started offering virtual team-building activities and problem-solving experiences to fit any group.