Working in an office has the advantage of bringing people together in the literal sense. They genuinely get to know one another, share coffee breaks, brainstorm ideas, and give or receive help. This is, of course, highly beneficial for building team spirit and a sense of belonging.
With teams becoming increasingly global and the health crisis closing down many traditional workspaces, it’s more difficult to get team members to truly know and like one another. They have no shared experiences outside working for the same company. In the case of people from different geographical regions and cultures, even that may be highly dissimilar.
So, what could be done in terms of teambuilding in the era of remote work and mandated social distancing?
The answer is virtual team building
The same tools that are used for running projects, holding meetings, and ensuring a smooth workflow can be used for team-building purposes. There are several advantages to this approach:
- it demonstrates that the much-maligned Zoom can have a friendly and funny use;
- it helps people interact directly and experience each other in a non-work environment;
- it makes for a much-deserved break from serious discussions, graphics, and reports.
However, it’s crucial to genuinely have everyone on board before setting up a teambuilding activity. If done only because the HR department has objectives to tick off the list and the people are reluctant, the whole thing will flop. It might still work as a team-building exercise, but only in the sense that participants are likely to rally against the facilitators.
What’s appropriate for virtual team building?
The first impulse would be to say that pretty much anything, but there are some constraints. Traditionally, team buildings had mostly physical activities that encouraged team members to work together to achieve a goal or win a prize.
In my decade of corporate work, I’ve had to survive the Canadian tundra, build an enormous bridge out of legos, draw multiple “team flags,” row in an imaginary boat and even write a song that had to have at least one verse about each person on the team. I’ve also done countless scavenger hunts.
Some of these can be translated into virtual activities. Still, it’s important to limit the physical part as you can’t have people moving around and working together via a conferencing app simultaneously.
A few nifty ideas
Creativity is key when it comes to getting people together (even remotely) and giving them something engaging and rewarding to do. Here are a few ideas that you can either use as they are or as inspiration for new activities :
- Virtual “show and tell” – ask participants to locate one object that is within their reach and talk about it for three minutes with their colleagues; this also works as an icebreaker and takes the awkwardness out of online communication.
- Online teambuilding bingo – this is one of the funniest activities and it’s very easy to set up, as it’s a very popular game that most people know how to play. You can create your own bingo cards (customized with the company brand), or you can find many funny versions online, like this one from My Free Bingo Cards.
- A channel dedicated to posting cute pictures of pets, interests, funny things that go on in the household – this is an inexpensive and easy way to encourage employees to share things that are personal and close to their hearts. People make great connections around similar interests and likes.
- Book clubs – these take a while longer to organize but are very effective in getting people talking, provided that the chosen book has a wide appeal and makes for an interesting discussion. This format can also work very well with movies, which the audience can watch together or separately.
Now let’s explore a few rules for effective team building:
- Get everyone on board and tailor all activities to audience preference.
Have a designated facilitator;
- Include the introverts – they easily remain in the shadow (in our case, their cameras turned off and on mute), so it’s essential to encourage them to participate in a way that is also comfortable enough for them;
- Give very clear instructions, so everyone knows what they need to be doing and why;
- Gamify the team-building activities as much as possible – this will ensure higher engagement and satisfaction.
Just because team buildings can’t be what they used to be does not mean they need to disappear from the virtual workplace. In these turbulent times, the need to belong and feel good with coworkers is even more important, so activities that strengthen team spirit and boost morale are essential.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.