Is Team Building Still Relevant in a Virtual World?

With today’s remote and hybrid workplaces, team building is more important than ever. Here are 6 proven ways to build stronger, more cohesive teams.

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Is Team Building Still Relevant in a Virtual World?

Is team building still relevant in today’s virtual working world? In a word, yes.

In a few more words: team building is more important than ever.

Gartner surveyed HR leaders in 2021, and 71% said they were more concerned about employee collaboration than in past years in light of remote and hybrid teams. When employees aren’t located in the same place, interactions are often more scheduled than spontaneous. When everyone’s in the same office at the same time, there’s a lot of team bonding that takes place organically. With today’s remote and hybrid work environments, team members have less face time than ever before.

At the same time, team building also gets a bad rap. While some employees enjoy team-building exercises, others see it as “forced fun” that takes time away from their work. Cue the eye rolls! Effective team building, however, isn’t just about bonding and having fun. That may be a byproduct, but the underlying goal is to enable trust, encourage collaboration, and improve communication.

Let’s look at why team building is more critical than ever — and how you can do it well.

Gartner surveyed HR leaders in 2021, and 71% said they were more concerned about employee collaboration than in past years in light of remote and hybrid teams.

Why is team building so important?

Being familiar with others and understanding how your team members work is key to high-performing teams. In a famous study by Harvard researchers, they found that heart surgeons performed better when they worked with teams they were familiar with rather than new ones. Even within the same hospital, the best outcomes occurred when the team worked in concert and had worked together before.

Team building benefits include improvements in:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Morale and mental health
  • Engagement and motivation
  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Trust

Close-knit teams are also more likely to stay on the job. With today’s shortage of skilled labor, team building can play an invaluable role in fostering employee retention.

Ensuring everyone feels part of the team is especially crucial for remote workers. Even employees that love working off site can feel isolated and left out of workplace conversations. Gallup reports that workplace isolation can make workers up to 21% less productive as employees feel cut off from the business.

Just the act of socializing with team members plays an important role in how efficient employees are. Shared references create closer relationships and make on-the-spot information sharing and learning easier. This cross-pollination doesn’t happen as often in the remote environment. That means managers must create opportunities for team building. MIT researchers note that conversations outside of formal meetings are often one of the most important factors in team success. Such conversations don’t occur unless team members talk and feel comfortable sharing information.

6 ways to do team building in an era of remote and hybrid work

Remote and hybrid work environments make team building more challenging. It’s still possible to do it well, though. Here are 6 ways you can accelerate team building in today’s workplace environment.

1. Level the playing field

Your remote and hybrid teams may rarely see each other in person. It’s important to put everyone on an even playing field. Ensure that, regardless of where they are, they can take part in team activities.

Centralize communications in one platform to keep everyone connected. Relying on email, phones, and instant messaging across multiple platforms can create disconnects and reduce shared knowledge.

2. Foster virtual socialization

There are plenty of strategies for how you foster virtual socialization. The most important thing is that you do it.

There are plenty of strategies for how you foster virtual socialization. The most important thing is that you do it. Companies use various virtual team activities for remote team building, such as:

  • Morning meetings to share coffee time and talk about the day ahead
  • Virtual water coolers to talk about non-work items
  • Friday end-of-the-day social hours
  • Online group lunches or lunch-and-learn sessions
  • Contests and mini-games

Activities for virtual team building can run from fun and friendly to serious and important.

3. Schedule team meetings

It’s also important to occasionally get everyone together in the same physical space to meet in person. There are many types of team building exercises that help bring teams closer together, including:

  • Group challenges
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Team outings
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Community service projects

4. Try icebreakers

Icebreakers can run from fun and entertaining to cringe worthy, so be careful which ones you pick. One effective strategy is to sprinkle them into various meetings. You may want to start a serious business meeting with an icebreaker to lighten the mood, for example. Often, getting people to talk and contribute can lead to more creativity when it’s time to focus on business.

Icebreakers can be just for fun or focus on business challenges. Working through things together is what creates team building.

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5. Acknowledge milestones

When someone has a birthday in the office, there are often well wishes and — if we’re lucky — cake! What happens when virtual workers have birthdays? It’s important to make sure everyone is included in the celebrations. This means taking extra time to acknowledge milestones and events for your entire team, whether they’re working on-site or remotely. You can have treats delivered to remote workers or even host a virtual celebration.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to celebrate team and company milestones, too. When your team reaches goals — especially stretch goals — it’s important to take a moment and recognize their contributions. Not only does the help with motivation, but it helps build team pride and a sense of shared purpose. If you’re hosting a celebration in your workplace, make sure your remote workers can partake through video conferencing.

6. Consider enlisting team building experts

Organizations may want to consider using team building companies that specialize in creating engaging activities. You can hire them to run entire team-building exercises or take advantage of some of their pre-built activities.

We’ve put together a list of virtual team building games you might want to play and team building companies you might want to hire. Or you can look to them for ideas about how to run your own team building activities.

Building cohesive teams pays off

Whether you have an in-person, remote, or hybrid workforce, building cohesive teams means creating a welcoming environment based on trust and collaboration. The more team members know about each other and feel comfortable working together, the more these attributes naturally occur. When teams get to know how others think and feel, they are more likely to be inclusive in their approach. And when team members share common goals, they are also more likely to help each other succeed.

High-performing teams understand individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. They work together to optimize strengths and minimize weaknesses. It’s all part of building a great company culture that supports employees and allows them to flourish. While it takes an investment in time and energy to build teams, the payoff is worth the effort.

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