How Can You Keep Spirits High Online?
While the Covid-19 crisis shined a light on remote working and working from home, having remote team members and even entire divisions of a company working off-site has become increasingly common. High speed internet and cloud-based systems allow for a great deal of business to be accomplished from just about anywhere in the world.
Team building is even more important now than it ever has been as people stuck at home begin to feel isolated. And text-only communication can be rough on interpersonal relationships since the lack of vocal and physical inflection can lead to misunderstandings about the meaning and intent of critiques or comments on a project.
But how do we encourage interpersonal bonding and a collegial atmosphere without access to the types of team building exercises and activities that one can engage in when everyone is in the same place at the same time?
Team happy hours are out. Office scavenger hunts aren’t an option. Group trips for nature walks or escape rooms aren’t feasible. So what is to be done?
Fortunately, the same technology and ingenuity that has made working remotely possible in the first place has made morale boosting team building activities possible.
Before You Begin
Planning is important when it comes to team building. You need to have a good read on the members of your team and context for how long they’ve been working together. If you’ve got a team that has been an intact unit for years, ice breakers probably aren’t needed. If the team is a group that doesn’t have much experience with each other, prioritizing learning about one another will be your best bet.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of what you learn about team members’ lives outside of work. That information can help when planning activities like team building exercises or even things like birthday parties or secret santas. If your company has a cloud-based document management software like M-Files, you can make sure the team members themselves can update information sheets with little tidbits about themselves that they’re comfortable sharing publicly with their coworkers.
Armed with knowledge about team members’ personalities and context for how long they have been in the company and with their current department, you can tailor your team building to fit your team.
Getting To Know You
One of the most important types of team building exercises for remote workers is the ice breaker. They help teams get to know each others’ interests and personalities which improves communication.
It cannot be said enough that moving to majority text-based communication can lead to misunderstandings. This is because removing vocal inflection and body language can make innocuous comments or suggestions seem passive aggressive or even outright aggressive—even when that isn’t the intent.
The only way to combat those kinds of miscommunications is making sure your team members know each other and understand where everyone is coming from. Some of these activities can come from HR, but others are simple things that team managers can incorporate into daily meetings.
Learning about a person’s home is a great way to learn about a person’s personality. Do they have a kitschy collection? Do they have fashionable furniture? A great way to find that out is by taking time in meetings to have a member of your team show off their domicile as if they were on MTV’s Cribs. Schedule one person per daily team meeting or schedule a dedicated conference call just to get to know each other.
Truths and a Lie
The traditional way to play this game is to offer two truths and one lie about yourself, but it can be adjusted to add more information. If your team can pick out the lie, it shows how well they know each other, if they can’t, it gives everyone the opportunity to learn something new.
Rose and Thorn
One of the best ways to not only get to know other team members, but add depth to existing relationships is to check in at the start of a daily call with a Rose and Thorn exercise. Everyone on the team says one positive thing from work or life (the rose) and one challenge (the thorn). This exercise shows team members the things that matter to each other. Understanding what a person enjoys and what frustrates that person goes a long way toward learning how that person ticks.
Fun and Games
With everyone limiting their movement as much as possible for much of the past year, feelings of isolation have been extremely common. Making sure work isn’t just a stressful thing we have to do everyday is important. Having not only the sense of purpose that a job can provide, but an opportunity to blow off steam in a fun way is a major boon to morale.
A classic in-person team building exercise is the scavenger hunt. Having teams of coworkers run around out of the office to find as many strange items from a list is fun and leads to a lot of laughter when everyone returns to show off their findings. In the era of working from home, that formula can be tweaked a bit. Make a list of things like “most worn out sock” or “oldest piece of food in your refrigerator” and give everyone a set amount of time to gather as much as they can. Then let everyone show their stuff off and share in the laughter.
Whether playing general trivia or focusing on a specific topic, exercising a team’s brains is always a fun competition. For remote trivia, you can either rotate between team members for questions and answers, have everyone download apps that allow them to buzz in for their answers, or hire a company that specializes in running remote trivia parties.
Whether playing a dedicated video game like Jack Box or a tabletop simulator to allow team members to play board games with each other remotely, there are plenty of options out there to allow for a fun social event. Some tabletop simulators even let you flip the virtual table—often the only way to actually end a game of Monopoly.
Learning new skills, developing outside-the-box critical thinking, and reinforcing the importance of how we communicate are all common themes of team building activities. Fortunately, there are plenty of enjoyable remote options that satisfy these needs.
With everyone spending more time at home, picking up new hobbies or refreshing your skill on something you already like is a great idea. You can give your team a list of activities for a vote. When an activity like baking or woodwork or even weight loss is chosen, everyone can engage in tutorial videos and share their progress. Seeing who makes the best sourdough or birdhouse can be great!
Improv and Storytelling Classes
The pandemic has been rough on the live entertainment industry. Everyone is trying to find new avenues for income. While it wasn’t rare for improv troupes to be hired as corporate entertainment, one thing that many theaters are offering now are online classes in improvisation and storytelling. These help hone a team’s soft skills and encourage quick thinking and great listening skills.
Role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons have seen a resurgence during the age of Covid. They can seem intimidating, but many local game stores can connect you with experienced game masters that can bring your team through a single session adventure (called a one-shot). Some GMs even combine other skills with their role playing. For example, Acting by the Dice combines top-notch role play while incorporating techniques used by actors to flesh out their characters. Acting relies on goal-oriented communication and identifying obstacles and tactics with which to overcome those obstacles—valuable skills in any business.
Build That Team
No matter what, your remote team building should encourage your team to communicate openly and give them an outlet to have fun and share how they feel. Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before. Don’t be afraid to adapt an activity you’ve used in the past. Take stock of who your team is, what they need, and give them the tools to build their team together.