As a business grows, its workforce also grows, and so does the importance of building trust and encouraging collaboration among employees. One of the best ways to achieve this is through team-building events, whose history dates back as far as the early 1900s. Team building activities help promote employee motivation as they interact and spend time close to one another to realize they have a similar vision and mission as coworkers.
But in a world where the number of companies depending on remote teams for everyday operations is rapidly growing, it makes sense to find ways to achieve the same virtually. Thankfully, there are tons of tools that can be used by employers and remote teams to promote employee happiness, communication, interaction, and respect among team members if you care to look.
These may range from online collaboration and productivity apps to video conferencing software and even gaming apps. Whether you’re a supervisor, employer, manager, or team member, here are some tools you may want to look at if you’re thinking of hosting an online team-building evening event.
Why Remote Workers Need Motivation Too
While the ability to work remotely comes with several perks to the company and its employees, it doesn’t come without a significant set of drawbacks. For starters, remote workers tend to be in a constant battle with various kinds of distractions. This is not to mention challenges like isolation, possible connectivity challenges, and a threat to work-life balance, among other things.
In fact, according to Buffer‘s 2022 State of Remote Work report, some of the biggest struggles faced by remote workers are:
- Loneliness – 43%
- Communication – 29%
- Not knowing how to separate work from personal life – 27%
- Difficulty unplugging – 26%
Additional surveys have revealed:
- Over half of remote workers feel left out and struggle to bond with teammates (CMI, 2021)
- 57% of remote workers feel less connected to their direct team (GitLab, 2021)
- Managers think 27% of their company is struggling with mental health, while employees report its really 42% (Mind Share Partners, 2021)
This data indicates that remote work can often lead to feelings of isolation, miscommunication, burnout, and deteriorating mental health. The lack of human connection and bonding experiences inherent to office environments is the root cause behind these issues.
Science shows us that human beings are wired to be social. Our brains release hormones like oxytocin and serotonin when we have positive interactions with others. We evolved to be part of tribes and communities. So when removed from physical proximity to a team, it takes a toll on our psyche.
Some of the proven benefits that stem from strong human bonds and team cohesion include:
- Increased feelings of psychological safety and trust
- Better collaboration through enhanced non-verbal communication
- Development of third spaces that spark creativity and innovation
- Elevated empathy and emotional intelligence between team members
- Fostering a sense of belonging and group identity
When teams lack an opportunity to connect socially, it also inhibits their ability to reach peak performance. Researchers have identified states of collective flow and group efficacy that result in higher team productivity, satisfaction, and creativity. But these only emerge when a team has strong familiarity with each other‘s working styles and high morale.
This reveals why consistent team building for remote teams is so crucially important. Virtual events and activities meant to facilitate social interactions, relationship building, and fun can have profound impacts on the health, cohesion, and performance of distributed teams.
Investing time into social bonding experiences helps create community and replicate the social elements lost from cities and office buildings. It results in increased camaraderie, engagement, and even improved retention rates.
In one study by Achievers Workforce Institute, companies who scored high on team connectedness had:
- 21% lower turnover rates
- 20% higher sales productivity
- 17% higher customer satisfaction scores
The ROI on thoughtful virtual team building is clear. The rest of this guide will explore tools and strategies to help build tribe-like cultures within distributed teams.
5 Useful Team Building Tools
Thankfully, there are tons of digital tools and activities that can be used by employers and remote teams to promote employee happiness, communication, interaction, and respect among team members.
Whether you’re a supervisor, employer, manager, or team member, here are some recommended tools you may want to utilize when hosting an online team-building event:
Zoom has become ubiquitous as a video conferencing platform, especially after its surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may seem like an obvious choice, Zoom provides a variety of features that lend themselves well to virtual team building activities.
Here are some ideas for using Zoom to host an engaging online team event:
Icebreaker activities in breakout rooms – Split people into smaller groups in breakout rooms to facilitate more intimate conversations and icebreaker activities to kick things off. Consider questions like:
- What‘s your favorite city you‘ve traveled to and why?
- What‘s something unusual you‘ve always wanted to try?
- What‘s your favorite hobby outside of work?
- Digital scavenger hunt – Assign teams to find silly items in their homes like "something that makes you happy" or "something that represents your quarantine experience" and be the first to display them to the group.
- Show and tell – Have team members take turns showing an item in their home and explaining its significance. Maybe a souvenir, childhood item, or favorite book.
- Virtual trivia – Host a trivia night by screensharing trivia questions and keeping score. Services like TriviaMaker or QuizBreaker allow you to customize questions.
- Online games – Play games like pictionary, charades or scavenger hunts over video. Use whiteboards or notepads to draw and have people guess.
- Storytime – Go around the virtual room and have each person share a funny work-related story or discuss their craziest business trip.
- Virtual happy hour – Grab drinks together over video to unwind and chat in a casual setting. Send everyone fun drink recipes beforehand!
Zoom breakout rooms create opportunities for more personal conversations and fun interactions between smaller groups. Leverage Zoom‘s full suite of features for maximum team building impact.
Slack has also become an indispensable team messaging app for many remote teams. Its variety of tools and integrations can help facilitate team building virtually:
- Donut bot – This integration randomly pairs up team members each week for casual 1-on-1 conversations to get to know each other better. Provide sample questions to break the ice.
- Polls and emojis – Use polls and emojis in chat to get quick feedback from the team. For example, ask "How is everyone feeling about the project launch?” with emoji options.
- Shared channels – Have a dedicated #social-lounge or #watercooler channel for team bonding where people can share stories, GIFs, memes and fun facts about themselves.
- Integrated games – Play games like crossword puzzles, word scrambles and trivia directly in Slack channels. Search "Slack apps" for options.
- Kudos – Enable the Kudos bot so team members can easily recognize each other for recent wins and milestones. Public kudos motivates teams.
Donut and other Slack tools make it easy to replicate the social interactions of an office digitally. Using polls, emojis and integrations infuses fun into regular conversations.
3. Multiplayer Online Games
Online multiplayer games are a great way to get some friendly competition going between remote colleagues while facilitating laughter and inside jokes. Popular options include:
- Jackbox – This party game provides a variety of comedy/trivia mini games for up to 8 players. Participants play using their mobile devices while video chatting. Games like Quiplash and Drawful work well.
- Houseparty – Social video chat app with built-in games like trivia, Heads Up and QuickDraw you can play with remote colleagues.
- Psych – Clever team trivia/word guessing game where you try to guess which words other people associate with a given prompt.
- Skribbl – Virtual Pictionary that you can screenshare through video chat. Take turns drawing prompts like "first day on the job" or "bad business jargon."
- PlayingCards.io – Allows for playing card and board games like Go Fish, Uno and chess online. You can even create your own custom deck!
The variety of quick, multiplayer online games makes it easy to engage everyone in an activity together. They also facilitate inside jokes and friendly competition that brings team members closer over time.
4. Virtual Escape Rooms
For teams that enjoy puzzles and problem-solving, virtual escape rooms are an immersive team-building activity. Participants "escape" rooms by solving riddles, puzzles and clues within a given time limit. Popular platforms for custom virtual escape rooms include:
- TeamBuilding.com – Offers escape rooms scaled for teams with built-in video conferencing for remote play. Themes range from haunted houses to prison breaks!
- The Escape Game Remote Adventures – Produces live, facilitated 60-minute remote escape room experiences for corporate groups. Can accommodate groups up to 50.
- Escape Room Master – Allows companies to build and customize their own virtual escape games. You can craft puzzles tailored to your team!
The shared experience of collaboratively working against the clock to crack codes and solve puzzles is exhilarating. It requires communication, division of labor, creativity and thinking outside the box – great skills to build with teams!
5. Personality Tests
Having team members take personality and role tests can facilitate understanding and appreciation of everyone‘s unique strengths. Some options to try:
- 16Personalities test – One of the most popular tests determining Myers-Briggs style personality types. Comparing results can provide "aha" moments.
- TeamRole – Identifies roles like Implementer, Coordinator, Shaper based on Belbin framework. Helps balance teams.
- StrengthsFinder – Uncovers natural talents based on Gallup research. Allows teams to better utilize individual strengths.
- VIA Character Strengths – Measures 24 character strengths like bravery, humility, creativity. Fosters self discovery.
Following up assessments with a structured discussion on learning styles, communication preferences and strategies to leverage everyone’s abilities can be very impactful. It allows people to see differences as strengths to be harnessed.
Making Virtual Team Building Successful
While choosing the right activities and tools is important, there are some other best practices to ensure your remote team building initiatives are successful:
- Make it a consistent habit – Hosting sporadic one-off events often fizzles out. Consider a weekly or monthly virtual happy hour to regularly connect.
- Keep groups small – Don‘t overwhelm with too many participants. Groups of 8-12 are optimal for deeper discussions and activities.
- Get creative with digital space – Use posters, music, custom Zoom backgrounds to make the virtual space more engaging.
- Encourage equal participation – Get everyone engaged through inclusive activities and questions directed at quieter team members.
- Show vulnerability as a leader – Leaders should participate and open up to set the tone for authentic conversations.
- Cater to different personalities – Introverts may prefer small group chats. Extroverts tend to thrive in bigger games. Offer variety!
- Keep things fresh and fun – Alternate the format between trivia, guest speakers, digital breakout rooms, cooking classes etc.
- Follow up and improve – Gather feedback on what resonated and what can be better to drive engagement up over time.
- Share highlights broadly – Capture photos, videos clips and anecdotes to post on internal networks to promote camaraderie company-wide.
With consistent and thoughtful virtual team building programming, companies can transform distributed teams into highly engaged communities. Now get ready for some fun and bonding online! What activity will your team try first?