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, cancelling group lunches and other activities. These may seem like small sacrifices during a pandemic. The uncertainty of the weeks ahead, however, makes many employees crave a sense of normalcy and camaraderie with their coworkers.

That’s why some companies are shifting their team building activities online to help employees stay engaged with each other and their work. Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace reports that 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged with their work, which can negatively impact productivity and employee retention.

Here’s a look at 3 approaches to virtual team building.

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 over the past several years. According to CEO Tasia Duske, the company started doing something called “Mr. Rogers Calls” a few years ago. They created this 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 2 team members realize they have the same type of dog — Boxer — or both watch the same obscure TV show: The Durrells.”

The concept of video calls with a random coworker 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 where people show off their home offices and have dance party breaks during particularly long Zoom meetings.

If these ideas don’t fit your company culture, consider sharing photos of your work-from-home “coworkers” (pets or kids) instead. For colleagues used to eating together in a cafeteria or break room, a Zoom lunch could simulate that experience.

Online book club

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

“[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 coworkers take turns leading the discussion about what they did or didn’t like about the book. They also discuss how they could apply the concepts personally or professionally.

“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 also take turns sharing videos of their special skills. Playing a musical instrument or leading a cooking demonstration have been past examples.

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 virtual movie nights and other activities. Each day, employees vote on a movie to watch at the same time that night and have a group discussion in Slack. So far, movie selections have included Sour Grapes, Your Name, and The Prestige.

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.

“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 Head of PR & Communications.

Other companies use online games as a team-building tool similar to how Canva hosts 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.”

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