Thanks to technology, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workforce has been somewhat cushioned as organizations are able to continue their operations and coordinate with their people across different locations.
This prevailing remote work environment has been both a benefit and a challenge though. While people are able to continue to work and provide for their families, they are unable to interact with their colleagues physically the way they used to. In some cases, that takes a toll on their mental health. Fortunately, organizations are finding ways to maintain camaraderie and a positive workplace culture despite the current circumstances, thanks to virtual team building activities.
In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of holding virtual team building activities and the different types of activities that can be done to help bring fun and camaraderie among colleagues even in a virtual setting.
Team building has been defined as the process of turning a group of individual contributors into a cohesive group who will be able to successfully meet the needs of their customers. (Heathfield, 2021). Given the individual traits of these contributors, there are some instances when they do not see eye to eye. Hence, team building is essential to keep everyone on track in achieving the mission, vision, and goals of the organization and to ensure that they deliver the same level of performance the organization expects them to.
The current pandemic and the remote working environment that came with it only served to further emphasize a greater need for team building. But with in-person interactions in the workplace or any particular location being discouraged at the moment, team bonding cannot be done the traditional way.
Holding team-building events virtually is the next viable option organizations can set up as a way to continue building camaraderie among contributors and encourage them to keep doing their best despite the challenges of the moment. While the experience may not be on the same level as that of in-person activities, any opportunity for interaction among colleagues and management is most welcome in ensuring individual mental health and overall team cohesiveness.
However, remote teams need a clear structure and guidance to make virtual team-building effective. One study recommends tapping into the vast literature of Self-Determination Theory to provide a framework for managing remote work educators and ensuring they state engaged and motivated.
“As we do our best to embrace online remote work in these times of uncertainty, team leaders’ management and leadership style should especially consider their team members’ basic psychological needs to promote autonomous work motivation and job commitment,” Cesar Orsini and Veena Rodrigues noted in their article published in Medical Teacher (Orsini and Rodrigues, 2021). “It becomes essential to support educators’ adaptation and psychological wellbeing, and to find ways to maintain their initial level of engagement before motivation to work from home starts to decrease.” And one of these “ways” is through team-building activities.
Remote audio-visual communication has evolved immensely in recent years, which has helped people and organizations to stay in constant communication especially during the pandemic.
Currently, there are several platforms available that enable organizations to communicate with their entire teams for meetings and, most especially, team building activities. Each platform has its own features and advantages that fit the organization’s needs, budget and other considerations. Here are some of the more notable ones:
Zoom has risen in the past year to become the default videoconferencing platform for many individuals and organizations (Aten, 2021). One of its strengths is that it can handle up to 100 participants in a given virtual meeting. However, the free version limits such meetings to only 40 minutes. Meeting hosts would either have to pay for a premium plan of at least $14.99/month for longer uninterrupted meetings or set up a new meeting invite where participants can continue where they left off.
While not as widespread in use as Zoom, Google Meet offers a few advantages such as its free version being able to hold meetings for up to 1 hour and can accommodate up to 100 participants. However, its most notable feature is that it is part of the greater Google ecosystem. Those using various Google apps such as Gmail, Hangouts Chat, and Google Calendar will find a great deal of convenience with Google Meet’s interconnectivity with these apps.
Microsoft Teams may be a fairly new videoconferencing platform, but it actually evolved from Skype’s business-oriented version Skype for Business. Like Google Meet, the free version can hold a meeting for up to 60 minutes with 100 participants. And if users are already subscribed to a Microsoft 365 plan, which already provides a subscription for Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, a premium version of Microsoft Teams is already included.
Unlike the other platforms listed here, Discord was developed originally as an app for gaming communities. Over time, it became popular enough that non-gaming groups established their presence on the platform as well. As a videoconferencing tool, it allows for up to 25 participants while video meetings can last up to 5 hours, depending on user bandwidth. It is also a viable option for small teams that are looking for a tool that is less business-like, thanks to Discord’s gaming-centric aesthetics while providing security and other unique features such as allowing teams to have their own robust servers where they can set up general and team chatrooms and make voice calls as well. (Hoyt, 2020)
Once the platform has been chosen, it’s time to determine the type of team building activity to hold. There are a lot of virtual team building ideas that organizers can choose from. But some of the popular ones are listed below, categorized as games or other activities.
Trivia Games and Quizzes – Whether as an intellectual challenge or plain trivia fun, trivia games and quizzes are popular team building activities. The subjects of these activities can be anything, be it general knowledge, specific subjects the team is generally familiar with or anything related to the organization itself. While pen and paper can be used to do a virtual quiz, apps like Kahoot and ahaSlides have easy-to-use quiz-making templates and updates the scores as well.
Virtual Pictionary – The rules for the virtual version of Pictionary are somewhat similar to the classic game, where the presenter draws the object selected from a choice of words or an idea generator, which the players will try to guess what that object is. For virtual Pictionary though, the participants can either draw using a pen and paper within a given time limit or use tools like the whiteboard feature used in Zoom Games, which lets the players see what the participant is drawing in real-time and make guesses similar to how it is done in the traditional Pictionary game.
Charades – This is one of the easiest games to translate into a virtual setting. The presenter acts out a word or phrase chosen from a list or an idea generator and the players guess the word within an allotted time. In the virtual setting, the participants use the built-in presenter settings of the platforms being used, like “Spotlight” for Zoom so everyone will have a better view of the presenter and what he or she are trying to act out.
Scavenger Hunts – Another game that is easy to set up virtually is a scavenger game. The presenter chooses an item that the participants should present within a given timeframe and the first one who can present the item wins the game.
Online Games – Online multiplayer games are more than just the usual battle games being played on esports tournaments. There are a variety of online games that are less intense and more fun to play. Many online games can work well as virtual team building games. Most notable of these is Among Us, a strategy game where participants can either be one of the crew members who tries to find who among them is an impostor or an impostor who must dispose of the crew members without being caught as one. Among Us has grown in popularity in recent years, partly because it makes great use of observation and analytics skills. It is considered a great game for practicing problem-solving skills needed at work. (Davies, n.d.)
A virtual meeting over a cup of coffee at the start of the workday is an opportunity for team members to share roles and the tasks they need to do for the rest of the day. This helps contributors get to know what their colleagues are up to and offer assistance if necessary to get the work done much earlier while ensuring quality. It is supposed to be a light and fun meeting so there should be no pressure among team members. Productivity meeting icebreakers can help lighten up the mood on this one, encouraging virtual team bonding.
Just like the coffee meeting, a team lunch is another opportunity for team members to get to interact and bond more. Even in a virtual setting, team members can share what they are eating and have a fun chat over a meal. It can also be an opportunity for team members to learn something or be inspired by holding talks during this time conducted by a mentor or a figure who is considered inspirational by the team.
This activity can be considered a bit more intimate as participants share an item that represents something that is close to their hearts or part of their memory. It is an activity that helps contributors get to know their colleagues in a more personal manner and help build stronger connections based on empathy and relatability.
Art is another way for members of a team to bond. It also helps foster creativity in them. A drawing party is one activity that can help achieve both and there are many ways to go about doing it. It can have a certain theme such as drawing their colleagues as superheroes or the animals they associate themselves with. It can also come in the form of a drawing class where they are asked to draw a particular object the best way they can or have an artist teach them how to draw.
Birthdays of team members are milestone events that teams never fail to celebrate. Even in the current remote work environment, birthdays can still be celebrated virtually. The team leader or celebrant can organize a birthday meal shared virtually by the team across locations and hold fun activities like the games listed above or other appropriate activities that everyone in the team can participate in. Birthday greetings or messages can also be posted and shared across the organization, keeping the community ties strong.
While there are so many possibilities for conducting virtual team building activities, there is the risk that such activities may not turn out to be successful due to various reasons such as disinterest, tech issues, and scheduling conflicts. There is also the matter of “Zoom fatigue” with people feeling exhausted and stressed due to constant online meetings, some of which are held too close to each other in their schedule.
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Organizers should take heed of these challenges early on and address them as effectively as they could be by doing the following:
It is easy for organizers to be carried away with all the preparations. But it is important to always remember the purpose of these virtual team-building activities, which is to build a strong, results-oriented team that delivers for the organization. At the end of the day, what matters most is that the activity that was conducted had achieved its goal of bringing people within the team closer than before and motivated to ensure the growth of the organization.