Virtual Team Bonding Ideas You’ll Actually Want to Try
With social distancing measures still in place across the United States and the world, many companies are in their 6th, 7th, or even 8th month of remote work. If you have teams split across multiple locations—or even time zones—how will you keep them motivated and connected so that they can deliver productively for your company?
A recent survey from Morning Consult found that 58 percent of remote workers feel disconnected from their co-workers, and 44 percent of respondents reported feeling more isolated and lonely working from home, too.
A demotivated team isn’t just bad for morale—it’s bad for your bottom line.
Companies with engaged employees see 2.5x more revenue than companies with disengaged employees. On the other hand, detached employees are estimated to lead to up to $550 billion in global annual losses due to slow productivity and poor customer retention.
A UK study found that in 2016-2017, 526,000 workers reporting suffering from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. In the time period, it is estimated that 12.5 million working days were lost due to mental health problems.
While remote work can have positive effects for productivity and work-life balance, your employees also lose out on “water cooler chat” that can be crucial to employee satisfaction and retention. Casually bumping into each other to chat about non-work topics such as personal life, pop culture, family, and the news is a big part of culture-building.
Productivity might also be impacted by teammates not having a proper home work setup. An ergonomic working environment can improve the mood and health of your team, such as with Autonomous offers standing desks and office chairs to improve productivity by reducing body pain from poor posture.
If you have isolated teammates working remotely, allocating time to build their relationships and take a break from project work can result in a sizable impact on collaboration and motivation, improving their connection to the business and to their peers. Team bonding builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration. The best team building is not just a one-time event, but a recurring series of opportunities to connect.
The best bonding events will allow your team to:
- Get creative. Taking the team out of their regular work mode can encourage creative problem solving when they’re back to their regular duties.
- Increase approachability to management. About half of employees report that they don’t regularly speak up about concerns. Having a good relationship with team leaders can improve employee productivity and satisfaction, while reducing turnover.
- Identify potential leaders. A hidden opportunity of team bonding is that it gives lower-level team members an change to take on a leadership role, displaying qualities they may not normally. It’s a positive way for managers to observe their team’s skills outside of an office environment.
- Uncover hidden potential and talents. There are often hidden talents that are uncovered while chatting at team-building events outside the office that can be valuable to your business and even advance careers. Employees who get to use their strengths at work every day are 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit.
- Improve communication and teamwork. Encouraging teammates to build strong personal connections in fun settings will boost morale and motivate the entire team.
- Learn new skills or hobbies. It’s no secret that happiness and learning are tied very closely together. Trying new things as a team can generate positive feelings amongst employees, bringing benefits to the company itself.
If you have 10 minutes at the start of a meeting….
Reply All: Before the start of your meeting, ask a question to the group via email, asking them to “reply all”, so that everyone can see the answers. Spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting discussing answers and allowing the sender to elaborate. For a team that is already comfortable together, keep the author anonymous and have their teammates guess who sent it!
Potential questions include:
- If you could visit anywhere in the world, regardless of budget or time it took to get there, where would you go?
- Who would you have dinner with, either living or dead?
- If you could pick one superpower, what would it be?
Name That Throwback: Before the start of your meeting, make a playlist of songs that were popular 10+ years ago. (There are plenty of throwback playlists online if you do not have time to make your own.)
Play the songs through your video chatting platform without showing the title, and have people reply with the song title, awarding points to the fastest responder!
Picture This: Ask teammates to take a picture of an object in their work area, then email them to the organizer. The photos may be fidget toys, family photos, desk organizers, or even some cool art. The group leader shares the pictures at the beginning of the meeting, and team members have to guess whose is whose. This can spark interesting conversation and provide insight into what each co-worker is like. Alternatively, you could ask team members to take a picture of the view out their window, or the most interesting object within arm’s reach.
Team Map: Before the meeting, ask members to be ready to share three unusual ‘fun facts’ about the city/state/country they live in that aren’t commonly known. This can be a good way to learn something new, while improving understanding of the location and cultural environment where your teammates work. If you want to take this to the next level, have the participants create and share a one-page slide that includes a map of their favorite places in town, or a little slide of facts and pictures.
Emoji Pictionary: Send a prompt to your team like “The last song you listened to,” “Your favorite movie,” or “Highlight from the weekend.” Take turns asking team members to use only emojis to convey their answer, and have the rest of the team guess!
If you have 1 hour….
Personality Test: The Myers-Briggs personality test can reveal different strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for your teammates, and improve team dynamics. Ask each teammate to take the test (or a free version like this) and collect results. Show a one-slide summary of the results and prepare discussion questions so teammates can consider each other’s working styles and how they might adapt. (For example, if your team turns out to be mostly logical thinkers who like data before making decisions, how should the more artistic or intuitive decision-makers adjust their communication style?)
Quiz Bowl: Classic quiz night minus the pub! Use a free quiz platform like Kahoot, where you can use a pre-set quiz (like Disney or Marvel) or make your own using inside jokes and buzzwords from your company. You can also use your own trivia questions taking inspiration from pre-set trivia sites. Present your screen with the link and quiz code, and then each team member uses their web browser to participate in the quiz while keeping the audio from your work platform open. Do a practice quiz with a co-host first to get the hang of it, but the platform is intuitive after a few questions!
Lightning Scavenger Hunt: For Lightning Scavenger Hunts, create a list of items or characteristics. Then, on a team call, challenge your remote employees to gather the item within 1 minute and show it on screen to earn points. Only show one challenge at a time, and each time employees come back on screen they have to share what they found.
Some example scavenger items might be:
- Something red.
- Your favorite mug.
- Whatever is in the pockets of your winter jacket.
- The thing you have had the longest.
- A book that you did not enjoy.
If you have 2-3 hours….
Virtual Murder Mystery: Using a virtual murder mystery program, your group can split into teams, examine clues, review evidence, and channel their inner detectives. Your team will need to communicate effectively in order to successfully solve the case. If you DO solve the case in time, celebrate the victory and discuss what led to the “aha” moment when everything clicked. If you DON’T solve the case in time, that’s okay! Take this moment to do a group reflection on which challenges your team overcame and which ones stumped you. Check out virtual murder mystery programs here, mostly $30-$40 to play, or try the free Whodunnit app (with in-app purchases).
Guess Who?: You can remix the classic children’s game for your virtual meeting! Start off with all team members with their video and audio on.
To play Guess Who? on Zoom:
- Choose a random attendee to pick a teammate.
Allow all other players to take turns guessing traits. For instance, a player might ask, “Does your person have glasses?” If the chooser says yes, then the player would eliminate any non-glasses wearers, and vice versa.
When eliminated as a possibility, that attendee will stop their webcam, but can continue to guess on audio.
The game ends when only one teammate remains, and the chooser confirms the identity of the “person.”
Since you and your team members know each other, you do not need to limit guesses to physical traits such as clothes or hair colors. For example, a player may guess, “has your person been with the company for more than ten years?” or “did your person travel abroad this year?” Players should try to confirm the identity in as few questions as possible.
Ongoing team bonding….
Virtual Water Cooler: Remote workers might miss the casual conversations they used to have back in the office. Create a group chat on Google Hangout, Slack, Skype, or any platform your team uses, and note that this thread is just for non-work fun. Encourage memes, new song releases, photos taken throughout the day, etc. If your team is already in a group chat together, consider making a “business” chat and a “just for fun” chat to keep the two separated!
Article Club or Podcast Club: Using the standard ‘Book Club’ format, take turns selecting an article or podcast episode and host bi-weekly or monthly discussions over lunch or in the afternoon. This will be less time commitment than a full book, but still a way to intellectually engage your team. (The topics could be work related, or just something interesting!)
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WRITTEN BYMolly Stoneman
Freelancer passionate about design, travel, and innovation.
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