How Companies Are Doing Virtual Team Building

Although you and your staff may normally do team building activities in person, you can still create engaging, educational, and fun ways to stay connected while working virtually.

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3 approaches to virtual team building

The rapid spread of coronavirus has caused many businesses to shift their workforces online while cancelling group lunches and other activities to try to prevent illnesses. These may seem like small sacrifices during a pandemic. The continuing uncertainty, however, makes many employees crave a sense of normalcy and camaraderie with their coworkers.

That’s why some companies shifted their team building activities online to help employees stay engaged with each other and their work. This is critically important considering that 45% of people report that their lives have been affected significantly by the global pandemic, according to Gallup. That same report said the trend in employee engagement is concerning. In 2019, 22% of employees were actively engaged. The next year,  20 percent of employees were actively engaged. The good news is that remote team building activities help employees feel engaged, needed and important while improving productivity.

Let’s take a look at 3 virtual team building ideas to help your employees re-engage while working from home.

Team building with video chats 

Since launching in 2013, Museum Hack has operated as a fully remote company, so they’ve honed their approach to virtual team building. According to CEO Tasia Duske, the company started doing “Mr. Rogers Calls” a few years ago. They created this virtual activity after realizing “that certain people in the company were never crossing paths, the way they might in a traditional office when grabbing a cup of coffee or walking by someone’s desk,” Duske says.

“WHEN EVERYONE BUYS IN, THERE IS A CONFIDENCE THAT EMERGES AND PARTICIPANTS REALIZE THIS EXERCISE WILL BRING THEM CLOSER TO ONE ANOTHER AND IMPROVE THEIR WORK RELATIONSHIPS.”

They’re called Mr. Rogers Calls because it’s a way for employees to get to know their virtual neighbors during 30-minute video calls. Slack automatically pairs colleagues at the beginning of each week. “These calls are paid work time and the only rule is that you aren’t allowed to discuss work or projects,” Duske adds. “Our most successful outcomes have happened when two team members realized they have the same type of dog — Boxer — or both watch the same obscure TV show.”

The concept of video conferencing with a random team member may seem silly or awkward at first, but Duske says that “when everyone buys in, there is a confidence that emerges and participants realize this exercise will bring them closer to one another and improve their work relationships.”

They’ve also tested out an MTV Cribs-style video series. In this virtual team building exercise,  people show off their home offices and have dance party breaks during particularly long Zoom meetings.

If these remote team building activities don’t fit your company culture, consider sharing photos of your work-from-home “coworkers” (also known as pets or kids) instead. For colleagues used to eating together in a cafeteria or break room, a Zoom lunch could simulate that experience. The only limitation to this virtual team building idea is your imagination.

Create a virtual teams online book club

Reading and discussing the same books can help remote employees find common ground, so the team (which already worked remotely) at Prime Plus Mortgages started a monthly book club.

“[Founder Loren Howard] came up with the idea,” says Marketing Manager Catherine Way. “He’s really about building a team. He calls it Prime Plus University.”

Employees express what they’re interested in reading about, which leads to the book choice. Each employee then gets to choose the book format — whether it’s an audiobook, ebook, or printed book. So far, they’ve read books about negotiation, personal finance, and other topics.

The book club primarily meets via Skype or Zoom, and remote workers take turns leading the discussion about each They also discuss how they could apply the concepts personally or professionally in this virtual team building activity.

“Working remotely, you get in your own island,” Way says. “It’s been nice to connect with members of the team, so we’re all working towards one big goal together. … We find it a fun way to build on our skills, learn new things, and get to know each other better.”

Instead of having coworkers take turns leading book club, they could take turns sharing videos of their special skills. Playing a musical instrument or leading a cooking demonstration have been past examples. You can also use virtual team building games or contests, like who has the best holiday office or who can design the weirdest cup of coffee. These virtual games can help get other team members involved in the fun.

Remote team building with virtual movie nights

Online graphic design tool Canva recently shifted its employees to work from home. While coworkers no longer see each other in the office, they’ve stayed connected through remote movie nights and other virtual team building events. Employees vote on a movie to watch at the same time at night and have a group discussion in Slack.

Canva employees also use Slack channels to show off work-from-home outfits and meals while they’re apart. They also do group yoga and fitness classes on Zoom to stay active. This can help get other team members involved who prefer exercise over other activities. Of course, it’s important to structure these events to be inclusive of any employees with disabilities.

“We have a health and wellbeing coordinator who would normally run classes in person, and has now switched to hosting classes on Zoom,” says Liz McKenzie, Canva’s former head of PR & Communications.

Other companies use online games as a team-building tool in ways that are similar Canva’s virtual movie nights.

As McKenzie adds, “working from home can be difficult, especially as we adapt to a number of other changes as a result of COVID-19. These online team activities help keep everyone aligned and engaged.”

Virtual team building activities are only limited by your imagination. If these 3 ideas don’t work for your particular company or culture, let your employees brainstorm a list of weekly, biweekly or monthly activities. After all, someone may decide virtual happy hours are a good idea or develop a new team building game that’s not only fun but helps your remote teams hone and expand their skills.

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