According to a survey conducted by social media software company Buffer, loneliness, collaboration and communications were at the top of the list of woes for people struggling with the remote working environment.
Since that survey was conducted, the current global pandemic has forced its hand in terms of dictating this ‘new normal’ trend of home working and distributed teams.
While we’re undoubtedly seeing more and more teams embrace the freedom and flexibility that home working offers, one of the biggest challenges (aside from having the right technology) is replicating an environment which is conducive to encouraging genuine human connections between colleagues.
At a time when we can’t be physically together, we’ve put together a list of virtual team building activities to keep remote teams connected. In this post we’ll take a look at what virtual team building is, why the activities are important, six fun virtual team building activities to try, and some of the tech tools you’ll need.
Our whistle-stop tour of virtual team building
Traditional team building often gets a bad rep. Stiff-upper-lip corporates may well baulk at the idea of cringeworthy ice breakers or forced merriment at a team social event. However, it’s undeniable that the act of team building, whether it’s simply a drink among colleagues, a painful karaoke night or a day of brain teaser challenges, these events bring teams together and give colleagues something to bond over other than a mutual love for the humble spreadsheet.
Whether it takes place online or offline, the concept of team building is the same. Companies and business owners want to create an environment where employees can spend time together in a non-working capacity, allowing them to unwind, have fun and get to know each other better.
Team building also helps to build a deeper level of trust, respect, and cooperation between teammates, bringing about a more seamless and knowledge-rich workplace environment.
The rising trend of virtual team building brings the traditional challenge of getting team building right for your company into the unknown digital realms we now inhabit.
Thankfully, the technologies at our fingertips mean that remote teams don’t have to miss out on team bonding. In recent months, savvy managers have jumped at the chance to recreate the ‘water cooler’ experience that co-workers may be yearning for, delivering it in an even more fun and more cost-effective way than the old-school team events of yore.
Conferencing tools such as RingCentral Office, which bring together team messaging, collaboration features, and phone and video calling capabilities, offer a whole host of new ways to connect, helping organisations build a stronger team ethos from literally anywhere.
Why we need to virtually build teams
While productivity levels seem strong and teams may be working effectively from home, it’s easy to overlook the importance of face time, or simply human connection. In a world where 20% of remote workers feel that loneliness is their biggest struggle with working remotely, giving your team the time to bond is more important now than it ever has been.
It’s important to allow employees the opportunity to develop bonds with colleagues. More notably, bonds which go beyond the day-to-day work chatter about projects documents over email. Good relationships in the workplace are key to employee engagement as well as staff longevity.
Virtual team building gives employees a much-needed outlet for non-work-related talk and quality time.
Team building in this sense is also particularly important for new hires. Employee onboarding in a remote landscape can be extremely challenging, with new hires wanting to feel integrated and at one with the team, achieving this when teams are totally disparate is a real challenge. Helping your employees to feel welcome and settled in a new team doesn’t happen by accident. This is where virtual team building becomes especially useful.
Six fun virtual team building activities you should try
The great thing about working in a digital environment is that you can source new and cost-effective ways to let your hair down as part of a team. All you need for these fun virtual team building activities are a few simple tech tools, then simply find the right virtual activities to suit your teams. Here are a few ideas which could work for specific teams or companies of any size.
1. Allocate random pair-ups
Allocate two randomly selected team members to have a scheduled 15 minute ‘pair-up’ chat using your video conferencing tool. You might want to use the trusty old ‘names in the hat’ method, or you could use the handy wheel of names app to ensure allocated pairs are truly random. Encourage non-work-related prompts to help co-workers get to know each other or just keep things organic by simply encouraging a work-free zone for those 15-minutes to talk about anything they like.
Ice breaker prompts work well and don’t need to be particularly in-depth, with many using questions such as “what was the last thing you binge-watched on TV/Netflix”, or “What’s the most surprising thing you purchased for yourself recently” working well to break down barriers and trigger new conversations.
Pair-ups are a simple but effective way to help existing team members bond on a deeper level and are also a great way to introduce and integrate newer team members. With little planning required, this is arguably the simplest, most cost-effective way to kick-start your virtual team building plans.
2. Virtual scavenger hunts
Popular as company-wide or smaller team challenges, scavenger hunts present a new way to glean insight into the lives of your fellow teammates. A scavenger hunt is essentially a treasure hunt style challenge which takes place within the comfort of your home (or even just your desk). With a list of items to find from ‘something with a face’ or ‘your favourite cheesy fridge magnet’ to ‘hand sanitiser’ or ‘an empty toilet roll tube’, these timed challenges give teams a little down-time while getting some fun and unobtrusive insights into the daily lives of colleagues.
You could also run a photo-based scavenger hunt via your team messaging app. These could be conducted in real-time or throughout the course of a working day (say a Friday). Scavenger hunt snaps might include ‘a home-office selfie’ or ‘a sentimental item from your desk (and the story behind it)’ etc. Some teams conduct short and snappy scavenger hunts which simply require searching the web for various things such as ‘a GIF from your favourite film’.
3. Virtual gaming challenges
The world is your oyster with this one. The internet is rife with ideas for fun virtual team games, all specifically designed to be played remotely.
These have proven popular with companies looking to wrap up a stressful day or challenging work week during lockdown. Friday evening quiz nights have proven popular among employees while others choose online games such as Werewolf or choose from the range of smart-phone-friendly games available on Jackbox.
4. ‘Unplugged’ Friday team gatherings
Why not hijack the Friday update meeting for an impromptu team-build session. This is a great, casual way to encourage open, non-work-related conversations between co-workers during everyone’s favourite day of the working week.
These do not necessarily need to be pre-planned, and in fact, often work better when they are ‘off the cuff’ and everyone is feeling relaxed. Encourage team members to take to the floor to talk about more than what they did at work that week, things they may have achieved, a new craft or hobby they’ve taken up at home, or a culinary masterpiece they were able to whip up on a school night.
Managers integrating these into the weekly or monthly schedule offer-up a great opportunity for team members to bond over mutual interests and get a deeper knowledge of those they work with.
5. Set up a ‘just for fun’ chat channel
Many teams have started dedicated ‘fun’ channels within their chat platforms as an outlet where co-workers can share more light-hearted content. These can often be used to share funny memes, photos of the latest sourdough or banana bread lockdown baking attempts or simply chat about the latest news.
This is effectively a great platform for recreating the much mourned ‘water cooler’ culture, opening the floor for more casual conversations. RingCentral’s team messaging feature allows you to created these group-based channels within seconds.
6. Virtual happy hour
At a time when we haven’t been able to physically ‘go out’ for a drink with co-workers, many teams have embraced the virtual happy hour, recreating our favourite Friday pub tradition but in a virtual space using video meetings.
Again, this one is super simple in terms of hosting, simply clock off for the day, rustle up a homemade mojito or grab a beer (non-alcoholic beverages are also available) and enjoy a chilled sundowner with your colleagues. To add to the party vibes, why not allocate a weekly DJ to create a Spotify playlist of their favourite chilled tunes.
Some simple tech tools to aid virtual team building
When it comes to the tools you need for virtual team building, it’s all pretty simple. There are a few key tech tools you can use to help your virtual team activities run smoothly.
A video conferencing platform
This is your holy grail for virtual team building. From online chat channels to virtual video happy hours, one simple-to-use conferencing platform should be the cornerstone for any extra-curricular remote team activities (and in fact, simply for managing a remote team in general).
Employee recognition apps
Employee recognition goes hand in hand with team building while working remotely. Being able to give colleagues a pat on the back for a job well done is even more important than before in terms of keeping up remote team morale and encouraging a culture of trust. Mobile apps such as Kudos and TapMyBack.com have proven popular in giving colleagues a well-deserved digital shout-out during times of solitude.
Love it or not, social media does what it says on the tin. For the most part, it is social.
Whether you’re a social media hermit or an Instagram addict, social platforms can provide a great outlet to connect with fellow employees outside of the etiquette confines of the nine to five.
These platforms also come in handy for boosting the visibility of your team building activities, shout-out to your co-workers and follow up with colleagues to continue to connect, building a more well-rounded sense of employee community.
A long-term need
While lockdown restrictions ease and offices reopen, evidence suggests that this new remote working trend isn’t going to disappear. Employers now increasingly have the choice to continue with remote working or return to the bricks and mortar of the office, which means teams will continue to be dispersed throughout various geographical locations.
This means that virtual team building won’t be restricted exclusively to the COVID-19 period either and the financial virtues of virtual team building mean it’s likely to stick around. So, calling all managers, if you haven’t already, it’s time to take one for the team and check out how RingCentral can help with keeping up team morale and keep teams connected in a disconnected working world.
Originally published Jul 16, 2020, updated Jan 17, 2023