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How Virtual Safaris and Other Team-Building Activities Can Engage Your Remote Team

Anne Balistreri
5
min read

As we re-imagine our relationship to work, we’re not just looking for jobs that give us a purpose. We also yearn for more meaningful interactions with our colleagues and bosses. And if we can't find it in our current roles, many of us are willing to look elsewhere.

“McKinsey published a study in September about the Great Resignation and one of the biggest reasons why people are leaving their jobs is because they don’t have a sense of belonging,” said Suman Siva, the co-founder and CEO of Marco Experiences

“Investing in creating that sense of belonging actually creates business results,” he added. “People talk about events and experiences, which is what we’re doing now, and it can be a band-aid, just something that you need to do. Approaching it with a different mindset and saying, ‘How do I actually foster a connection?’ while still maintaining strong business results is super important.”

As Siva suggested, virtual experiences are just one tool you can use to build more lasting connections with your team. In our recent event, Virtual Safari: Creative Ways to Engage Remote Teams, Siva joined Erin Hinson, Engineering Manager at Bonusly, and Welcome’s Head of Marketing, Jena Andres, to discuss creative ways to engage remote teams.

Watch the full event here for more tips and tricks to build connection in your remote team.

Creating Time and Space for Authentic team-building Activities

Over the next year of hybrid work, people leaders will need new tactics to move beyond transactional team-building, overcome virtual burn out, and create a culture of belonging. The best virtual team-building activities do just that. Not only will they help your team members get to know one another better, but they will also help everyone learn the working and communication styles of their colleagues.

For Hinson, these kinds of authentic connections can only be built from a solid foundation. At Bonusly, for example, Hinson asked each member of her team to create an “About Me” page that detailed their background and communication preferences. She created one, too. Hinson also asked her team to respond to the CliftonStrengths Finder, which she called “the first thing I did that helped the most.” 

“We all talked about what we were good at and…what the team was good at collectively,” Hinson added. “We have a cross-functional team, so our team includes members of design and product. The engineers were very analytical and our design and product partners had great relational strengths, so that balanced the team out.”

As Hinson indicated, team-building is only possible when people leaders make time for connection. This is especially true if your team is already stretched to the limit. While this may seem counterintuitive, overloaded teams need more sympathy from and for their coworkers. Without a solid foundation of mutual understanding, the stress of over-work will make it harder to understand one another—and get work done.

That’s why Siva tries to stay proactive. “We create a culture calendar. Instead of being reactive, we create a way for folks to look forward to meeting,” he said. “We talk a lot about the intentionality of experiences. Experiences can be fun, but they can also be meaningful and really provide an opportunity to get to know one another and do our best work.”

Whether you play Mario Kart together, like Hinson’s team at Bonusly, or experiment with a virtual company cafe, like Welcome, the fun should be in service of forging real connections.  “We can have amazing safaris, happy hours, and all these things,” said Andres, “but at the end of the day, if we’re not feeling that connection and deeper understanding of one another, then those things aren’t as meaningful.”

When team-building and Boundaries Go Hand in Hand

Building authentic relationships with your virtual team is especially difficult right now, when employees are stretched thin. The pandemic, family responsibilities, and rising prices have all put extra pressure on everyone. 

To create more space for connection, sometimes it’s better just to get all those stressors out in the open. “We’re living in a world that’s been pretty crazy for the past two years,” said Siva. “Even now, when there’s another outbreak of COVID or a geopolitical crisis, acknowledging the stress that people are going through and allowing for a space to talk about mental health is impactful and allows people to open up.”

Whether you schedule a virtual experience, like guided meditation, or a one-on-one to create that space, your employees will only benefit from a human-centric approach to work. 

This means it’s on managers to be more mindful of the employee experience. For Hinson, that looks like modeling positive approaches to work-life balance. “I try not to work late and to get all my work done within business hours,” said Hinson. “If I do work afterwards, I don’t ping my team on Slack. I schedule messages or save it for tomorrow,” she added.

Siva agreed. “There are blurred lines between personal and professional life because everyone’s working all the time and can just hop on a Zoom call. Respecting boundaries is super important.”

Mindfulness from managers also benefits introverted employees who want to be included in company culture but who may not shine as brightly as extroverts in social settings. “I have a team of introverts,” said Hinson with a laugh. “Creating a space where people can talk to each other and be as open as they want to be, where we can work as a team together” gives everyone a chance to connect.

Final Thoughts

From virtual safaris to company cafes, making more time for authentic connection requires new commitments and intention from people leaders. The good news? You get out what you put in. For every hour your team invests in more meaningful virtual team-building activities, the better your employees will be at communicating their preferences and solving creative problems together. Plus, you might even get to spot a flamingo or a giraffe along the way!

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