At TestGorilla, we’re a 100% remote team. In fact, most of us haven’t even met—yet! (We had plans for an in-person high five, but the pandemic put that on pause for the time being.) Even though we only interact in 2D, we have a powerful team that has a lot of fun doing incredible things (like going from 0 to 1000+ users in under a year! ??). One way we have developed a strong sense of camaraderie is through remote team building activities.
Despite the challenges of the past year—one of them being the shift to remote working as a norm—one thing remains the same:
Behind every successful team lies not just good communication but meaningful interaction, too.
Now more than ever, workplaces are looking beyond the scope of everyday tasks and are cultivating a culture of trust, meaningful relationships, and connections on a virtual basis.
Creating workplace bonds can be complicated, especially when managing teams of people who have never met in person. Many companies—including Slack and Spotify—have opted to allow their employees to work remotely, and their leadership is working to create and maintain successful virtual teams.
But success isn’t enough. It’s important for employees to enjoy going to work every day (even if they’re not actually going anywhere). In addition, good work relationships are an essential part of keeping your employees happy and reducing turnover.
That’s where remote team building activities can help.
Remote team building activities are activities that engage employees and deepen bonds within teams in a virtual format.
They’re similar to the traditional team building activities in physical workplaces—think icebreakers, scavenger hunts, trust falls—but are carried out online.
When done right, virtual team building activities strengthen relationships between coworkers and improve team performance, creativity, trust, and also help to break down silos that may be detrimental to company performance.
There’s a long list of benefits that come from investing in team-building activities for employees. Now that we face a situation where so many teams work remotely, the list is even longer.
A 2020 study conducted by Buffer found that the biggest challenge for remote workers is collaboration and communication with their colleagues more difficult. The second biggest struggle is the loneliness remote workers sometimes feel.
Fortunately, virtual team-building activities can help in both areas. Here’s how remote team building activities can alleviate the challenges of communication, collaboration, and loneliness amongst remote teams:
Creates a support system. Many teams have had to adapt to the new model of fully remote working. This can be a difficult adjustment for employees or teams that depended on face-to-face contact in the past. However, fun remote team activities help remind them that their team is there for them when they need them.
Builds a positive remote working environment. Since many employees are struggling to unplug and create a healthy work/life balance while working at home, team-building activities help break up working days and help teams reconnect.
Keeps employees engaged. Remote team-building activities demonstrate to your team that you have their best interests in mind and help maintain employee engagement levels while adjusting to the new “normal.”
If you’re looking for new ways to engage your remote team, here are five ideas for fun remote team building activities that will help you and your team members build trust, improve communication, and engage with each other.
That’s right; you can do scavenger hunts virtually. Online scavenger hunts have become wildly popular over the past year to engage employees in teamwork.
Scavenger hunts are straightforward to execute. Here’s a simple example:
In advance, ask each team member to submit a list of 10 items for another team member to find in their house. The items can be straightforward, such as a dictionary, or less explicit, such as “something somebody made for you.” The latter option also gives employees a chance to explain the stories behind these items.
Gather your team on a video call. Here’s where you go through the rules. For example, if you have a team of six, three people will receive one list and will be given 10 minutes to find all of the items on the list. Once the ten minutes are up, or once a team member has found all of the items, the other three team members will make sure that the items fit the list criteria.
Declare a winner. Once the round is over, declare the winner and move onto the next round. Remember to keep a note of who found all items in the least amount of time—this person will receive a prize!
Scheduling morning or afternoon virtual coffee breaks gives your team a chance to catch up outside regular team meetings. Your team can use this time to talk about their lives outside of work and socialize with one another.
Some organizations even send their employees gift cards for a coffee shop or cafe so that they can enjoy a free drink during coffee breaks. This type of remote team-building activity might not be particularly innovative, but it is great for boosting employee morale and motivation.
Since many people working on remote teams have never met face-to-face, it can be difficult to accurately gauge one another’s personalities on a virtual basis alone.
Personality assessments can help you and your team members understand each other on a deeper level. For example, Enneagram tests can help teams understand how best to collaborate. In contrast, the 16 types test provides insight into team members’ decision-making styles, their sources of energy, and what kind of lifestyle they prefer.
Ask your team members to complete a personality test, and discuss the results as a wider group. Doing this will allow your team to know how each person works best, where and why potential clashes may occur, and how to deal with them effectively.
Set a day of the week where each team member can share a photo with the rest of the team. You can announce a theme each week to give them some direction.
For example, one week could be kids and pets; the next could be the TV show they’re currently watching; the next their favorite photo from the previous weekend. Each photo will spark a conversation and give team members a glimpse of each other’s lives and personalities.
Donut is a Slack extension that creates virtual team-building opportunities outside of employees’ regular teams.
Donut randomly pairs team members together every 1-4 weeks to get employees together to talk about anything but work.
Working with distributed teams can make it hard for employees to feel connected to the wider company. Unlike teams in an office, virtual teams don’t get the opportunity to talk with people from other teams during lunch or at the water cooler. Pairing members from different teams to get to know one another helps employees from across the organization bond and strengthens company collaboration.
Getting the balance right with how often to schedule activities and which activities to choose will depend on the personalities in your team. However, there are a few best practices you should follow when running remote team building activities:
When you can, make remote team-building activities optional. Many people are juggling work with being a parent, caretaker, and many other responsibilities. Making sessions obligatory might make some team members feel like they have extra tasks on top of their existing workload.
Check in with your team regularly. During your regular one-on-ones, ask your team which team-building activities they enjoy, which they think could be tweaked, and their ideas for new activities. The more that your team has input into the activities, the more successful they’ll be.
Whether you’ve found yourself managing a fully remote team for the first time, or you’ve been at it for a while, remote team building is a necessity.
These team-building ideas will help your team become more cohesive and remind them of the importance of collaboration, even when they’re separated by distance. Since remote work is now embedded in modern work culture, the way you manage your team and encourage communication and collaboration will directly affect their performance.
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