Keeping employees connected and engaged during the pandemic has been a big topic of conversation, resulting in new remote team building activities ranging from the daily zoom meeting to the Friday night virtual pub-style quiz.
Teambuilding is a sure-fire way to
nurture employee comradery but many managers have neglected it during the
pandemic while they have spent their attention and budget on more pressing
matters. They may have begun to notice that teamwork and productivity is now
suffering as a result.
Why is team building important during COVID-19?
When the pandemic struck, a large chunk of employees found themselves working from home full time. One of the most common problems arising from this ‘next normal’ is the feeling of isolation and loneliness that comes from working alone. Employees have also described feeling their excitement for joint projects slipping and feel demotivated by the lack of visibility they have within the team.
Remote team building activities can help employees feel included, remind them of the skills and support of their colleagues, raise enthusiasm, help build a team identity and allow remote workers to stand out and gain trust from senior management.
Jeanne Wilson, PhD, is a professor of
organisational behaviour. In a study of 733 work relationships among colleagues
from a variety of industries, she found that relationship quality was more
closely tied to “perceived proximity”—or relational closeness—than it was to
“Teams with a strong group
identity—for instance, those that have unified against a competing team or
organisation—tend to have more perceived proximity”, Wilson says. At a personal
level, team members who share personal information, such as a favourite
television show or the birth of a child, build stronger connections and more
Team building is ideal for generating trust and building a team identity. To make it work virtually requires commitment and enthusiasm from leadership.
Whether you are looking for COVID-19 friendly icebreakers, team building ideas or remote activities to plan into your virtual Christmas parties, we have collated a selection of fun, socially distanced options.
Virtual meetings can start off
awkwardly. Warm the atmosphere quickly with these ideas:
Rose/Thorn: Begin by having everyone
share their rose (any positive that makes them feel grateful, happy, etc.) and
also their thorn (a challenge). They can be work or non-work related.
Critical Thinking: Begin by asking
this lateral thinking question: “If you were alone in a dark cabin, with only
one match and a lamp, a fireplace, and a candle to choose from, which would you
Give everyone 30 seconds to choose. Have
everyone share their answer. Discuss the differences in your answers and what
you each learned from one another.
“Do You REALLY Know Your Team?”: Before
your next meeting, ask all your teammates to answer three “about me” questions
(i.e. If you could eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?;
What’s your favourite holiday spot?; If you were an animal, what would you be?;
What’s your favourite movie?)Share the answers and have your teammates try to
pair the answers with the right person. Once everyone has guessed, reveal who
gave what answer.
“Big Talk”: Start virtual meetings
with a few minutes of organized “big talk” about global events and news. Before
the meeting, send out a current news story for the team to read. At the start
of the meeting, give everyone a minute to share their thoughts on the story without
interruption or commentary. Set aside five minutes after that for open group
Open Mic: Give everyone a heads up
that they will have about a minute at the beginning of the meeting to take the
virtual stage. Ask them to find or write a joke, read a poem, sing a song, play
the mandolin—anything they want!
Virtual team building activities
Virtual team building is using
technology, emotional intelligence, and management skills to keep teams
connected when they can’t physically be together. Virtual team building comes
in many forms, but the best ones make employees forget they’re not sitting in
the same office.
You can bond with a remote team by
making sure your virtual team building activities incorporate human elements,
such as information exchanges instead of rote information delivery.
The Deserted Island: Join your virtual
meeting and give everyone the bad news: They’ve been stranded on a deserted
island. Counter with the good news: They get to choose three items from a handy
list of survival tools.
Provide a list of tools for everyone
to choose three items from. The longer the list, the more interesting the game
will be. You also don’t have to design your list to be sound from a survivor’s
standpoint; you simply want everyone to think creatively.
E.g. rum, compass, knife, matches,
rope, plastic tarpaulin, an out-of-battery mobile phone, makeup mirror, canvas
tarpaulin, lighter fluid, mars bars, training shoes.
Put your meeting on hold or pause
while each person gets a few minutes to select their three items. Resume the
meeting and have everyone share which items they picked and also explain why.
Allow time for each speaker to answer questions about their selections. Now ask
everyone if they want to change any of their items and explain why. By the end
of this activity, everyone will find themselves more open to new ideas.
Employee tours: A great way
to get to know someone better is by taking a quick look inside their
weekly meetings, ask team members to take turns to do a short tour of their
house or remote working space over video. By pointing out some of their
favourite items in their home – whether it’s an impressive Disney DVD
collection or a well-loved guitar, it helps to paint a picture of who that
These tours help
members of the team to get to know each other better and allows them to bond
over any mutual interests. It also gives a bit of light-hearted relief to the
Scavenger hunt: Since you
won’t be able to plant items for people to physically find, your best bet is
creating a list of subjective, goal-based items.
Here are some example prompts:
- Find the item that makes you feel the happiest.
- Find an item attached to a powerful memory.
- Find your favourite way to connect to others.
Have teammates share
their items and explain them. You can also try pre-planned scavenger hunts
which you can find online.
Offline fitness challenge: Have everyone on the team vow to complete a fitness challenge. The challenge might be completing a certain workout every day or even achieving a specified fitness goal. As you all complete the challenges independently, you’ll know you’re not truly alone.
Create and collaborate: choose a craft
project such as a mosaic of painted rocks or a
paper quilt, and ask everyone to create one piece independently. When you can
get together to assemble the larger project, you’ll be delighted to see how all
the individual displays of creativity come together. Challenge everyone to create something useful for the office using only items from their
recycling bins and kitchen pantries. Have people share photos and descriptions
of their completed items.
Escape Hunt virtual
escape rooms: Take control of a real life expert games master, guide them
around the physical room, find hidden clues, solve puzzles and battle to escape
before time runs out.
Virtual Christmas parties
Sometimes – for better or worse – a
year’s worth of team bonding can happen all in one night at the annual
Christmas party. As we head into the silly season, employers will be thinking
about how to manage the annual festivities without breaking the ‘rule of six’ –
or whatever the rule might be by then.
Virtual black tie dinner: ask everyone
to cook a nice meal and dress up to dine at their screen. Maybe even send
everyone a mini bottle of fizz. You could turn it into a black-tie awards
ceremony and announce winners,
Pass the parcel: Send a box around the team to add a wrapped gift to.
Then send it around again, this tie they can choose a gift.
Cocktail making session: If you have an in-house expert they can lead
the class via video call. Or you can hire an expert. Send the team mini bottles
Fancy dress contest: Ask everyone to dress up for your weekly call and
Party time: party game tournament –
different teams compete for a country champion,
Joke telling contest: Everyone comes
to meetings with a Christmas cracker style joke to tell.
Office decorating: Allocate budget for
people to decorate their office space for Christmas.
Are you having fun yet?
Always read the
(virtual) room. If it seems like people aren’t interested, try to switch things
up. You need to find what’s best for you and your people.
You’ll know if a remote team building activity was successful by surveying your participants. Have them provide honest feedback and incorporate that feedback into future events.
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