Team building is one of the most important parts of being an effective leader. Ensuring that your employees are connected through team meetings, clearly defining their roles, and facilitating collaboration is easier said than done. And recent events have made it even more difficult to enhance social relations among a working team.
As more employees and companies choose to adopt a remote work model, finding the time and bandwidth to support fun and effective virtual team-building activities is more challenging, but not impossible. Let’s explore how to maintain essential employee relationships and some of the top virtual team-building activities you can do over a conference call.
The Importance of Maintaining Employee Relationships
As a manager, understanding how your team is feeling is important for evaluating the pulse of the company in real time. Their accomplishments and concerns all affect their productivity, the performance of the team and the company culture as a whole.
Gallup explained the importance of maintaining employee relationships in more detail, stating that having strong social relations helps avoid potential conflicts, boosts group cohesion, and creates positive dialogue. As a team leader, it’s important to foster remote team building not only to promote collaboration, but also to better serve your employees. By understanding their strengths, talents, and career goals, you can place them in positions suited for their passion that can improve their performance.
8 Fun and Effective Team-Building Activities
Just as it’s important to dedicate time to talk with your employees individually, it’s also essential to connect your entire team so they feel comfortable interacting with one another on both a professional and personal level. One of the best ways to do this is through structured team bonding activities and collaborative games.
For remote workers spread across different geographic locations and time zones, happy hours and team lunches to their favorite restaurant may be out of the picture, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still connect. Video conferencing applications have made it easier than ever to hold informal virtual meetings.
Here are eight fun yet effective team-building games and activities that are more than just your average icebreaker:
1. Office Competition
Your team members were chosen for their positions based on their talents, so why not showcase them with some friendly competition? Hosting an office game by challenging team members to complete different tasks, either individually or collaboratively, gives them the chance to flex their skills and accomplishments.
This team-building game can take many forms, from challenges focused around the company and team expertise (like who can create the best balance sheet), to more light-hearted tasks (like which team can do the most jumping jacks in a minute). The key is to have your team learn about one another’s skills and talents in a fun and personal way. Having them break out into smaller groups is also an opportunity to have team members who may not work together as often become more comfortable collaborating with one another.
2. Scavenger Hunt
Sometimes working from home can begin to feel monotonous. A great way to get out of an office chair and learn something new about your team is to host a virtual scavenger hunt. Writing for TeamBuilding, Jessica Chen explained that you can share a list of items for employees to find around their house that they will get points for. This can include items such as their favorite mug, a dictionary, something from their fridge, and more fun and quirky items.
The catch is they must collect these items in a certain amount of time (like five minutes) and then share them with the group. This activity requires engagement in real time, so it’s a great way to ensure everyone is involved. As they share the items from the list it will be fun to learn about some of their favorite things and why they have them. There are sure to be some funny stories and it’s a great glimpse into employees’ personal lives.
3. Book Club
Any kind of leisure club at work is a good way to have a team bond over a common interest. A book club, is a relatively easy after-work activity to initiate. In a piece for USA Today, Carly Mallenbarun, Mary Cadden, and Barbara VanDenburg provided advice for how to make a virtual club just as engaging as an in-person meeting.
This starts with finding a video call app that works best for you and your team. Zoom is a great option because you can use a smartphone, laptop, or tablet as long as it has a camera. Then, you can have some fun with the setup. Utilize custom background features on your video chat to add an image relevant to the book being read and have other members of the club do the same. On a more practical note, also be prepared with questions and comments to fill any awkward pauses in the conversation, and encourage everyone to bring a snack or drink to make the meeting feel more casual.
There are many other clubs you can start as well, from a monthly cooking club where team members swap recipes to a movie club where employees watch a film is watched each week and different employees can make recommendations.
4. Global Field Trip
Who said you can’t have a team outing when your employees work remotely? Many landmarks, museums, farms, and even the Johnson Space Center are offering virtual field trips at little to no cost. Gauge interest with your team about where they want to visit, perhaps a European museum or favorite aquarium. Then, simply share your screen as you tour the location so everyone is experiencing the same thing.
This activity can also be engaging, especially when you have team members take turns playing tour guide in a place they have never visited before. It will be interesting to explore something new together and see what fun knowledge your team members have. If anything, taking a virtual field trip can break up the monotony or working from one location.
Alternatively, you could have team members host hometown field trips where they take you around their favorite local spots on a virtual map or through photographs. This option helps you learn more about your team members as individuals.
5. Creative Icebreakers
Two truths and a lie and desert island are some basic icebreakers that nearly everyone has done at some point in their lives. And while these activities do help team members begin to know one another in a fun way, there are better questions to ask. The key about creative icebreakers is that people won’t even realize they are icebreakers, but rather just fun and easy questions.
Museum Hack offered a curated list of creative icebreakers tailored to remote teams. It includes fun questions like “Be honest, how often do you work from bed?” and prompts about home office tours and morning routines. Many people take for granted how many casual discussions occur in the office over lunch or a quick chat at the water cooler, but these creative icebreakers are great prompts that lead into natural conversations.
6. Happy Hour
Virtual happy hours are one of the easiest ways to check in on your team members and have some fun at the end of a long work week. Setting aside 30 minutes or an hour to meet virtually and chat over coffee, lunch, or drinks provides a nice mental break and a chance to talk about more than just work.
The Society for Human Resource Management provided some more tips for keeping virtual happy hours fun and engaging. For starters, make sure the group size is manageable. Keeping a happy hour relatively small and acting as a moderator ensures everyone has time to talk and no one is left out. This may mean setting up time for different happy hours depending on the size of your team, which may feel like more work but is better for engagement in the long run.
7. Team Trivia
How well does your team know each other? An easy and engaging team-building activity is to host a trivia night. Simply send out a quick survey to your team asking them some fun questions like “How many cups of coffee or tea do you have a day?” Then, you can split your team into smaller cohorts and ask them questions like “Who on the team drinks the most coffee?” and see who knows the correct answer and which team wins the most points.
You may be able to find an online game already created for this purpose where all you need to do is fill in questions and answers. Alternatively, you can create your own Jeopardy!-style trivia game with pre-made templates online. This friendly competition helps your team learn fun facts about each other they wouldn’t otherwise know.
8. Show and Tell
Finally, one of the easiest team-building activities for your remote workers is a quick show and tell. Ask you employees to find an item based on a prompt such as one of their favorite things, their most recent purchase, or their most useful work-from-home tool. This is an innovative way for your team to share small parts of their home life. There will likely be some funny stories involved as they share their objects.
This doesn’t have to be a one-time activity either. As a leader, you can set a theme for the show and tell each week, and see what your team members bring to a happy hour meeting to share.
Polishing Your Leadership Skills with an Online EMBA
Leading remote teams comes with many unique challenges, including how to maintain and promote healthy social relationships. Washington State University’s Executive MBA Online program understands the unique work environment in the new digital world and helps students become leaders with this in mind.
With the continuing rise of remote work, it’s important for leaders to have the skills and strategies needed to manage in this environment and foster working and social relationships with distributed teams. The EMBA program does this and more by providing students with opportunities to expand their professional network and learn new ways to engage with virtual teams. For more information, visit WSU’s Executive MBA Online degree page.