Things have been tough for newly remote teams this year.
By now, most companies have embraced the idea that remote work is here to stay. You’ve picked a conference call software and finally have your communication processes in place.
But what about company culture and sense of belonging? That’s where virtual team building comes in.
With some effort, it’s possible to keep your team connected and motivated.
Sure, Zoom burnout is a real thing. But, with a little creativity and intention, there’s a lot of opportunity for online team bonding.
Today, we’ll break down 6 super-creative virtual team building activities for your remote team.
Why virtual team building matters
Back in 2012, Google had a mission to figure out the elements that made a perfect team.
Google knows that its success depends on something more vital than its algorithm and technology: its people. They decided the best investment they could make would be in understanding their people and what keeps them motivated.
This unprecedented investment in employee research provided actionable takeaways for teams worldwide. One of the findings was that teams work better when people are friends.
A sense of connection is what separated the “good” teams from “bad” ones. That’s even if the “bad” ones were smarter or better trained.
But real-life teams have coffee breaks and water coolers. Even without team-building exercises, there’s opportunity for chit-chat.
Then came COVID-19, and the pandemic forced us all into our homes. Video conference was the new standard team meeting.
The 2020-era remote employee is restricted to communication via Zoom video calls and Slack channels. It’s not exactly prime real estate for bonding. Remote work can cause anxiety, and hinder trust and connection.
Without team building, company culture suffers immensely. High trust, leadership and belonging provided through the compass of a culture make all the difference, especially in turbulent times. Company culture brings higher employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. It’s the route to a team of happy employees. Without an office space to connect, virtual teams need intentional activities to connect.
1. Virtual team building games
You and I have both been on those after-work online meetings. One or two people are talking non-work stuff on the chequerboard of your screen. Meanwhile, you’ve got your phone strategically side-placed while you scroll your social accounts.
That’s not team building.
Team building is something that promotes cooperation and trust. It goes beyond virtual happy hour.
Playing games is fun, but it also sets ground rules. It creates structure and encourages cooperation. Plus, it’s a fun way to get to know your online team on a deeper level.
Let’s take a look at some activities that are actually fun and bring all the benefits of real-life team building.
Pro-tip: Always have a team leader for each game. A disorganised game, especially online, is frustrating and not fun. These games will only deliver their real benefits if well moderated.
2. Team building games for remote workers: The icebreaker game
This game, borrowed from improv theatre, drives creativity and camaraderie. It’s more than your typical icebreaker questions about favourite hobbies and ice cream flavours.
You can do this with the entire team or break into small groups.
It’s called “Remember When” and it gets people laughing 100% of the time. The premise is everyone tells the story of a fake shared memory together.
It goes like this:
- Add numbers to everyone’s name in Zoom or whatever video conferencing tool you’re using, so that you have an assigned order.
- The first person starts the first sentence of the fake shared memory, beginning with the words “Remember when…” (e.g. “Remember when we all went to the clown conference together?”)
- The next person continues the story with “Yeah! And then…” (e.g. “Yeah! And then all 15 of us learned how to fit in a 4-seater saloon…”)
- Have each person add one sentence to the story until you get through the whole group.
3. The ultimate virtual game: Scavenger hunt
Another way to keep the team connected is with a virtual scavenger hunt. You can do this through your team’s Facebook Group, Slack channel or another group chat. Here’s how you can easily throw together a scavenger hunt that helps build a strong team.
You build a list of items they need to find. As they find the items, they share photographic evidence of their treasure. The first person to find them all wins. Prizes aren’t mandatory, but it’s been shown time and time again that added gamified principles is a strong non-financial way to engage employees
1. Pick your theme and length
Decide what the theme will be (e.g. unique food items, funny sign names, yellow things, etc.) and how long the hunt will last. It could be a real-time, one-hour game or a week-long challenge.
2. Choose the platform to hold the scavenger hunt on
Again, this could be as simple as your Facebook Group, Slack channel or another engagement tool at your company. Just bear in mind that team building events work best on a single channel.
3. Write out your clues
Write the list of items people will need to find to complete the scavenger hunt. We recommend not making it too easy (e.g. a picture of your computer), but also not making it way too difficult.
A good middle ground is a souvenir from a past holiday or the ugliest thing in your household.
4. Slack app online games
If you’re already on Slack, then you should check out the game apps they have available.
Trivia, for instance, has a whole suite of games designed specifically to engage remote teams with fun facts. They’re short, 5-minute games you can seamlessly drop into the workday.
Trivia offers 1000s of different quizzes and games. One, for instance, is called “Gotcha!”, a multiple-choice quiz format where you win for the right answer, but tricking others with the wrong answer can also win you points.
Or, if you want to stir up some controversy, you can play “(Un)popular opinion”, where employees vote on important issues like whether pineapple belongs on pizza.
5. Online skills-based volunteering to boost morale
The modern employee cares more about company values than salary. Creating a sense of security and trust is vital during times like these.
Employees can come together virtually to volunteer their skills for causes they care about. Teaming up on worthy-cause projects creates interpersonal bonds that are hard to break. Johnson & Johnson, for instance, partnered with Alaya to expand their Talent for Good program, which gives employees the opportunity to give back to the community.
With a digital volunteering platform, like Alaya, employees can easily choose from and participate in a range of remote projects, from translations to developing social media plans for nonprofit organisations. BNP Paribas also launched remote brainstorming sessions to help charities while maintaining social distancing.
6. Remote team building activities: Book club
If you want a longer-term team building activity, a book club is perfect for creating a shared sense of connection. It’s a great way to build trust and community spirit. Books demonstrate your company’s values of learning and growth while involving the whole team.
You can choose one book per month and then open a separate Slack channel to discuss it.
Alternatively, you can organise a virtual meeting at the end of the month to discuss it “face-to-face”. The first option works better for distributed teams that are in different time zones.
What kind of activities work best for your team?
Ultimately, successful team building activities require structure and intention. A “go-with-the-flow” approach will not work well for your virtual team. A bit of planning can go a long way.
Have you started doing virtual team-building activities with your remote teams? Which ones did you like the most?