Technology has made remote work accessible to a significant part of the workforce and has increased worker satisfaction regarding flexibility and healthy work-life balance. However, it has also brought on some challenges. With telecommuting becoming so common that 43% of all U.S. employees work off site at least part time, building connections among distributed teams can be difficult. With virtual team building activities, it’s possible to develop similar connections, even within teams who work from home.
In an in-office environment, workers can rely on casual “watercooler” chit-chat and bonding over work-related activities, such as brainstorming new ideas during breaks or discussing impending tasks around a conference table. For fully distributed teams, relationships look much different. Since remote workers typically work alone in their homes, away from the physical hustle and bustle of a central work hub, they often lose many of the perks that come with casual conversation. Barriers such as varying time zones or language and cultural barriers also make team bonding more challenging.
However, it is not impossible for a distributed workforce to build the same cohesiveness as an in-office team. Doing so just requires being very intentional about spending time participating in virtual team building activities.
Virtual Team Building Activities Improve Retention
Loneliness ranks second among the top five significant struggles for remote workers. Studies around the globe have found that productivity increases with a remote workforce, as many telecommuters are task-driven, take fewer breaks, and are hyper-focused. Unfortunately, retention can be an issue for the same reasons. This is where virtual team building activities can come in hand.
Recurrent or frequent icebreakers can lead to a successful facilitation of trust, helping the team bond and develop friendships, which ultimately leads to increased work satisfaction. It will take some work by management and commitment from the team members, but the rewards that come with having a collaborative team are priceless.
While in-person retreats and company events help with virtual team building, they may not be cost-effective for smaller businesses or realistic for a fully remote global staff. Hence, it is necessary to put modern communication technology to its best use when planning virtual team building activities. Many of these ideas, if conducted successfully with your remote staff, may also improve the company culture when implemented with any onsite employees.
Here are some virtual team building activities to help break the ice and begin building rapport among your remote or distributed staff. (Please note: If they don’t want to take part, forcing activities on your team can be counterproductive, so most activities should be optional.)
1. 20 Questions To Get To Know You Better
This activity can be one of the most simple and fun. Although starting by asking personal questions may be tempting, it is crucial to keep the topics light and fun. This small questionnaire helps spark a conversation between colleagues. The deeper-level connections come later.
How It Works
You can set up this game in one of two ways:
Option 1: Include questions as a survey for new hires so that they can share some non-personal details about themselves, and the existing team can get to know their new colleague better.
Option 2: Break the questions up during the month, either as a daily question or five at the beginning of the week. Since long answers would not be required, this would be perfect for a virtual bulletin board or team communication hubs such as Slack, Discord, or Microsoft Teams.
2. Take part In Weekly “Chat Roulette”
There’s no better way to get to know someone than with one-on-one conversation. Regrettably, these types of interactions occur much less frequently with remote teams. Enter Donut. For employers using Slack as their preferred remote work communication or collaboration tool, this application makes it easier to establish personal connections between individuals who work from home.
How It Works
Donut regularly and randomly pairs up team members and encourages they meet or chat remotely. Employees complete these virtual meet-ups via video conference or chat. To make things less awkward for participants, management can include some talking points to help get things started.
3. The Video Call “Coffee Chat” or “Company Lunch”
Everyone loves a free meal, and some of the best conversations usually happen during a nice long coffee break or lunch. For companies with a distributed workforce, getting the entire company together in-person for a meal requires extensive coordination and significant funding. Fortunately, video conferencing and food delivery software can make things a lot easier for remote managers wishing to take everyone “out for coffee.”
How It Works
Employers should set a date and time for their chosen event well in advance to ensure most remote staff can take part. Since not everyone drinks coffee and many people have dietary restrictions, it is best to ask participants for their preferred meal or snack and have that meal delivered a few minutes before the informal video conference call.
Using reloadable gift cards so everyone can make order their own food ahead of time is also convenient. While it might be slightly strange to hear some slurping and seeing fellow staff members chewing via video, the socialization and bonding that occurs by seeing each other’s faces and discussing non-work-related things are priceless.
4. The “What If” Group Project or Plan
Out of all the virtual team building activities, this one may be the most creative yet. The object of this activity is to get staff members who would not regularly interact to show their most creative selves and work together to solve a “fun” problem. Because adding additional stress is not a goal for this project, it is essential to encourage the participants to have fun when dreaming up solutions and remind them that there are no wrong answers or plans for this project.
How It Works
Pick a team of four or five workers and dream up a scenario for them that includes anything from escaping a deserted island or creating a new (ridiculous) consumer product to planning the ultimate vacation on a specific (low) budget or surviving an alien invasion. Make sure you schedule the due date for this “project” at least a month beforehand. This allows everyone in different time zones the ability to join in at some point. If you are using collaboration software, such as Slack, make sure each team has their own private project channel. Participants can “present” their final outcomes any way they desire. Use a video presentation, PowerPoint, a blog post, etc. To increase participation in this activity, include a prize for the top two or three projects or plans.
5. Show Us Your Zone
One benefit of having a distributed team is that everyone has a different view when they look away from their computer screen. A great icebreaker when working from home is to have teams is to have remote workers show the rest of the team a little bit of their everyday environment. This can be their home office, a tour of their city, or just some of their favorite spots.
How It Works
Set up a shared calendar and have a participating team member schedule a day to upload a series of photographs, a video, or a presentation of their favorite environment. This gives people time to plan where to go or clean up their area if they want to show off their home or remote office. It also allows a bit of time to plan what they want to say as they describe their area.
6. Pair Up Staff For Quizzes
QuizBreaker is a great ice breaker for remote employees. This service enables teams to learn new things about each other and increase communication among remote staff. You can customize quizzes by day, timing, and frequency, so this service is perfect for a company with an upcoming in-person retreat or meeting. Complete quizzes with staff prior to the event, and it should alleviate some of the awkwardness that comes from meeting co-workers face to face for the first time.
How It Works
QuizBreaker sends out an email with a list of fun questions. From there, the team receives another email where they must guess and match the answer to the person who said it. This becomes an ideal way to help get to know your team members and have fun doing it too.
7. Schedule A Virtual Movie or TV Show Night
With the boom of social media and television outlets, “live-tweeting” (sharing one’s reactions to TV episodes, sporting events, or awards shows while they are airing) is another virtual team building activity you can try with remote teams. It can also be quite simple to set up. The main goal here is to provide a means for your distributed team to relax and bond with one another.
How It Works
The most important requirement for this activity is setting up a screen-sharing software or streaming service. It is easiest when everyone is watching popular global or national events such as the Oscars or Super Bowl. Services like Kast enable users to create watch parties and view the same movie or TV show simultaneously. Determine a set time to stream the film by picking a date and time, and have everyone log on to the video stream at the same time. Kast also offers messaging capabilities so viewers can chat while watching.
8. Organize A Scavenger Hunt
Running out of ideas of how to build camaraderie for your remote staff? Don’t dismiss classic activities such as scavenger hunts. Two tools that should be in your arsenal for virtual team building activities are ActionBound and GooseChase. These mobile applications take users on digitally interactive scavenger hunts, and because they monitor activities in real-time, they are perfect for encouraging collaboration among distributed teams.
How It Works
Users can play in teams and complete missions where they score points. You can schedule the hunts for a set time and duration. The applications enable users to submit and use GPS locations, directions, pictures, and videos during the hunt. When the game concludes, the event organizer can put together a slideshow of the best photos and videos of the hunt.
9. Celebrate Holidays and Special Occasions Online
Remote staff have lives outside of work, and because of the geographical isolation that often comes with telecommuting, it can be hard to bond with colleagues regarding things going on in their daily lives. It becomes necessary to celebrate important milestones in a virtual setting just as much as you would if you interacted face-to-face with your team.
How It Works
The easiest way is by putting every telecommunications tool in your arsenal to work. If you use a communication tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams, have a dedicated channel for “watercooler” news or personal events. Encourage staff to upload pictures of celebrations (weddings) or milestones (kids, pets, or sports activities). Host virtual baby showers or birthdays by having the team join in on a video call and send a gift or birthday cake to the person being celebrated. Want to make it extra special? Send everyone on the team a cupcake too so that they can join in on the tasty fun.
There are many ways that remote workers can come together and truly become a cohesive team. It just takes work, consistency, and a sincere effort by managers and their distributed staff members to make these virtual team building activities work.
iStock Photo Credit: Jelena Danilovic
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