An Employers’ Guide to Remote Team Building During COVID-19

Team building with video conference during COVID-19

Although remote work is becoming more popular, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust virtual teams into the spotlight. If you’ve never managed a work-from-home team, the task can seem downright daunting. But with remote team building exercises and some experimentation to see what works, you can turn your team of telecommuting rookies into a powerhouse.

We don’t have to get along. We just have to work together.” – Stanley Hudson, “The Office”

So maybe your team doesn’t have to get along to stay productive, but it certainly helps. With a bit of camaraderie produced by team building, your employees will gel into a cohesive core that’s a pure working machine. Here’s how to get the most out of your team during this COVID-19-induced work arrangement.

Use Collaboration Software for Team Building

Work collaboration platforms enable remote teams to connect from across the globe. With chat capabilities, file-sharing, and other handy features, these types of software bridge the gap between the traditional workplace and the home office. More importantly, these programs allow you to conduct team-building exercises without the need for conference calls or multi-person video chats.

As an employer, the choice of collaboration software is a balance between budget, user interface/user-friendliness, and features. The good news is that nearly every collaboration platform comes with a free version. You can then scale your operations with a paid subscription if it helps you become more organized or improve your team building. Some of the most popular platforms include:

  • Slack
  • Asana
  • Trello
  • Office 365

With free versions, you can test the capabilities of each platform to see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t hesitate to try other options that streamline both your workflow and team building if you’re not satisfied with a particular program.

The Virtual (Team Building) Happy Hour

If you’ve implemented a company happy hour after work on certain days, you may find that it increases team building and expands the company culture. It provides your team with the opportunity to unwind and talk about anything other than work. Despite its lack of work-related conversation, happy hours can actually help boost engagement at work. As others get to know each other better and work together, they can look forward to happy hour as a reward for completing a goal.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas, all but eliminating a work happy hour. However, the pandemic shouldn’t prevent you from launching a “virtual” happy hour. Using video-conferencing software such as Zoom or Skype, you can get the team together for conversation and games.

If the conversation stagnates or you want to engage the team-building aspect, try a few games. These games should have a casual approach, giving your remote workers the opportunity to learn a bit more about each other. Some popular virtual happy hour games include:

  • Show and Tell
  • Never Have I Ever: Safe for Work Edition
  • The Bucket List (share your bucket list items)

You could also try classic board games that translate well to the virtual realm, such as:

  • Pictionary
  • Scattergories
  • Yahtzee
  • Codenames
  • Pandemic (the topical selection of the bunch)

Whatever you decide to do during your virtual happy hour, just make sure that your team interacts and gets to know each other. That’s one of the most effective team-building exercises you’ll find.

Pro Tip: If you aren’t a drinker or don’t have time to have an after-hours happy hour, switch to a morning social event with coffee.

Friendly Competitions

Casual competition is a constructive way to bring team building to a newly minted remote team. These are similar to games that you’d play at the virtual happy hour, but with an added layer of competitiveness.

Since the COVID-19 situation has caused many workers to quarantine or stay at home as much as possible, your options may be limited. However, these suggestions should give you a start.

Photo Competition

Not everyone has an inner Ansel Adams, but the advent of smartphones provides a solid medium to take outstanding photos. Invite your team to take pictures of things around the house or just outside and have a vote to see who’s the best. The upside to this competition is its simplicity and the little time it takes to complete. Plus, you never know if the quiet girl from accounting has an exquisite eye for photography.

Cooking Competitions

You won’t have a chance to taste the culinary concoctions that your team makes, but in some instances (especially those with a lack of cooking prowess), a picture will do more than suffice. If you need some inspiration on how to run this competition, just check out Netflix’s “Nailed It!” for some inspiration.

Themed Decor Competition

Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic ends before Halloween, but between now and then, you can challenge your team to home office decor competitions. You could choose a Star Wars theme (May the Fourth Be With You), a Fourth of July theme, or any other theme that your employees agree upon. Throw in a small prize like an Amazon gift card to add some extra motivation.

MTV Cribs for the Virtual Office

For the past 20 years, MTV has satisfied the curiosity of the masses with “Cribs.” On this reality show, celebrities bring camera crews into their home to showcase what it’s like to live in luxury. Well, your remote team may not have crystal chandeliers, grand pianos, and Ferraris, but they might find it fun to show off their place (or home office) “Cribs” style.

Ask for volunteers to do this live or on a recording, and let everyone enjoy the insight into the real-life of a remote worker.

Five Questions

Five Questions is another awesome team-building game that opens the floor for agreement, discussion, and debate. Each workday, list five questions on your collaborative work platform. Give everybody a few hours to answer, and then open the table for discussion. For example, your five questions could include:

  1. What’s the best sci-fi movie?
  2. What’s the greatest music video of all time?
  3. What’s your favorite Taco Bell menu item?
  4. Who’s the greatest athlete ever?
  5. If you could meet a politician past or present, who would it be?

Remember to switch up the questions to fit the interests of your team. The idea is to keep them engaged, keep them talking, and keep the team building at full steam ahead.

Staff Fun Facts

Regardless of whether your team is full of introverts, extroverts, or a mixed bag, everyone has an interesting anecdote or fact about themselves. If you want your team to identify more as friends and teammates than simply co-workers, have your staff send you some facts about themselves.

Once a day or once a week, release one of the facts via email or collaboration software. Then, let your employees guess who the phrase or story describes. With a few surprises and twists, your team will learn all about their colleagues in a more exciting manner.

Be Productive

Games and competitions are a lighthearted way to work on team building during COVID-19. But as an employer, you surely won’t forget that productivity is still important. Fortunately, COVID-19 is an ideal time to conduct training seminars and Q&A sessions. The training can help you improve the productivity of your team, while the Q&A session allows your crew to learn from each other. This isn’t as fun as other team-building activities, but it’s a necessary part of moving forward during the pandemic. With your other team-building exercises, it’s doubtful your team will even notice they’re in training.

Recapture the Water Cooler

Water cooler talk is a way to chat about the latest movies and sports while taking a break from work. But COVID-19 took the water cooler, sports, and new cinema conversations out of the work equation. Still, you can recapture the essence of water cooler chat each day or once a week.

To do so, start a “water cooler” channel on your collaboration platform. This will allow people to periodically post their thoughts on the latest current events or what they’re up to during stay-at-home orders. Not only does this equate to team building, but it also brings people together during one of modern mankind’s strangest times.

Spread Some Good News

No one loves to wake up each morning to hear how many people died or became infected over the last 24 hours. That’s why a great way to boost morale is to post some uplifting news. The Good News Network is an ideal place to start, but you can also scour your local news. Even national news outlets have feelgood stories buried at the bottom of the page. The idea is to bring forth a glimmer of hope and find stories that can reduce feelings of distress, gloom, or isolation as a result of COVID-19.

Mindfulness Sessions

Sometimes, team building is taking a step back and just breathing. You can forget about the project your team is diligently working on and forget that it might be months until life returns to normal.

To do this, set up a regular mindfulness session. Ask your team for a volunteer(s) to lead a meditation or a yoga session each morning. Don’t make these mandatory. Instead, welcome anyone who wants to join. This will help alleviate some of the stress that goes along with COVID-19 and transitioning to a newly remote team.

“Teamwork makes the dream work.” – An awesome modern saying

Though this may sound like a corny expression from a teen sports movie, it’s applicable to the world in the midst of COVID-19. Using these tips and your own sense of creativity should allow you to regain a small sense of workplace normalcy, even if it isn’t in the traditional sense. When things return to normal, you may find that your remote team-building exercises made your team closer and stronger than ever.


Which one of these team-building activities will you try with your newly remote team? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you!

iStock image: Kiwis


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