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How to Redesign Virtual Team Building Activities for a Positive Employee Experience

Anne Balistreri
min read

As The Great Resignation fuels an industry-wide reshuffle, you’ll have to work that much harder to retain the team members you have—and attract new employees, too. According to Forrester, this makes employee experience the differentiator in the coming year. 

Below, we share 5 fun virtual team building activities that will help your team bond, establish trust, and deepen their collaborations. Find out what makes these activities work—then try them all to design an incredible employee experience!

Why Team Building Matters More When You’re Remote

When you work in a traditional office, you have a chance of bumping into colleagues in the break room, seeing them in the hallways, and chatting with them before meetings. 

Without those same interactions in the digital workspace, however, your team might feel disconnected, isolated, or disengaged. In a study conducted by Buffer, the top two concerns of remote workers were “collaboration and communication” and “loneliness.” Even more telling? These concerns have remained static since 2018!

As if that weren’t evidence enough, one study from Gallup even found that employees with meaningful relationships at work, like a work best friend, were more productive, profitable, and creative. Isolation and lack of casual social interactions hurt everyone—but especially remote workers.

In this time of turn-over, creating community in remote teams is one of the best strategies HR leaders have for retention and employee experience. By creating more opportunities for connection and collaboration throughout the work-day, you’ll shape the culture of your remote teams so any team building activities you hold are more fun—and more effective.

How a Greate Remote Employee Experience Fuels Team Building

If you can’t resort to a traditional “happy hour” or “Taco Truck Tuesday” event to bring your digital team closer together, how can you build community?

Great team building is about more than replicating splashy in-person events online. Instead, the real challenge is to build a strong digital culture that supports your day-to-day employee experiences.

But you don’t get stronger interpersonal connections by scheduling more meetings or loading down work calendars with extra-curriculars. Instead, consider the small, day-to-day strategies that will help you meet your community building goals. This might look like:

  • Prioritizing introductions and low-stakes sharing during employee onboarding and at the beginning of team check-ins.
  • Slack channels for socializing, like a “water cooler” channel, as well as clubs or other social activities.
  • Open departmental meetings that encourage collaboration, cross-pollination, and team problem solving.
  • Celebrating team role models during an all-hands meeting as part of an overall culture of employee recognition and gratitude.

By trying out more regular community building strategies, you’ll improve your employee experience across the board. After all, community goes to the very heart of your company culture. With strong digital practices in place, the team building activities you do hold will feel more natural—and foster deeper, more meaningful connections.

5 Virtual Team Building Activities—And Why They Work

Good team building activities give employees a chance to collaborate, connect, and build trust. Playing low-stakes games, bonding over shared values, or taking the time to learn from one another will all help your team get even closer. Here are five of our favorite ideas—and what makes them work.

1. Collaborative Games

Is your team obsessed with Minecraft or Animal Crossing? You just might be able to leverage their love of video games to bring everyone closer together.

But don’t just launch your game night cold. Remember to plan for interested team members who might not have previous experience with the game—and give them time to acclimate. Better yet? Choose a familiar game, like Scattergories, that’s easy to access from any platform.

Why it works: 

Games are a fun way to rally the troops, and you don’t have to be in-person to make it work. By choosing games with a collaborative element, you’ll inspire plenty of creative problem solving, all while providing a low stakes way for employees to get to know one another a little better.

For example, after Forrester launched its own Minecraft team building exercise to help engage remote employees, they set some ground rules to make it work. Teams worked together to solve problems during the game, but the company nixed outright competition. That way, the emphasis was on creative problem solving and collaboration—not on winning. 

2. Virtual Volunteering

Does your company have a social mission? Or have you “adopted” a national nonprofit? Charitable efforts like fundraising or volunteering are a great way to unite your team around a common goal. 

To make the activity work virtually, encourage your employees to get local with their volunteering or donation efforts. At work, don’t forget to:

  • Dedicate paid time off for volunteering hours
  • Celebrate matching donations
  • Encourage team members to share their causes, why they’re important, and any memories they have from their experiences.

A distributed team is often viewed as a challenge. In this case, however, it’s a chance for your company to support causes that are near and dear to your employees’ hearts—and make it a part of your culture.

Why it works:

More than ever, employees are prioritizing their own values—especially when it comes to where they work. According to Gartner’s Chief of Research, Chris Howard, “[the] pandemic has been a catalyst to elevate personal purpose and values.” Howard’s research shows that as many as 56% of employees want to contribute more to society. 

What if you can ensure their job is where that contribution will happen? Whether you’re raising money for a cause or tackling a day-long volunteer project, your team members get a chance to feel good doing values-based work. Plus, they’re working together to solve a problem in a brand new context, which gives you more opportunities to mix things up between departments or roles.

3. Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) Sessions

Your employees have a wealth of knowledge. Virtual Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) sessions let your team members show off their skills in new contexts. They’re also a great way to build connections across departments—and to informally recognize the talents you have at your company.

Consider polling your team to see what kinds of skills and hobbies people are interested in learning. A few ideas to get you started include:

  • DIY projects
  • Creative skills, like photography, design, writing, or music
  • Coding or engineering
  • Gardening

Set aside some time each month for an AMA or build it into your Slack channels, so team members can share in less formal ways.

Why it works:
Employee recognition is crucial for building community. As many as 70% of employees feel more connected to their peers when they’re recognized for their contributions to the company. 

By giving your team a chance to be recognized for their skills—even if they’re indirectly related to their day-to-day work—you’re building a broader culture of recognition and support. When your team feels valued, they’re more likely to stick around.

4. Lunch and Learn

From soft skills to life skills, your employees are hungry to learn and improve. What better way to build camaraderie than to give them a space to learn together?

Lunch and Learn sessions might have a reputation for being boring, but you can easily liven them up with engaging virtual meeting strategies, like live Q&A or emoji reactions. You can even design an experiential event with pre-made taco kits, so everyone makes and eats the same lunch! 

Don’t forget to survey your team members to see what they’re itching to learn.

Why it works:

A survey from Microsoft found that 80% of employees on the verge of quitting during the “Great Resignation” are concerned about advancing in their careers. Meanwhile, 74% of CEOs are worried about a skills gap.

Taken together, these two statistics show that companies can do a lot more to address a perceived skills gap by reinvesting in the growth of their existing team. Not only will you build a more skilled workforce that can tackle your specific challenges, but you’ll also re-engage employees in their own work.

5. Off-Site or On-Site Meet-Ups

Even virtual teams need an occasional chance to meet in person and bond with their co-workers beyond the screen.

If you have a distributed team, choose a centralized location that’s easy for as many people as possible to get to. And make the event truly worthwhile! Here are a few of our favorite ideas:

  • Company-wide retreats that focus on bonding and the bigger, strategic picture
  • Group activities, like playing mini golf or tackling an escape room
  • Low-key hikes or other outdoor activities

If you’re planning on making your off-site all about business or creative collaboration, be extra sensitive to people who may need to attend virtually and plan for a hybrid event.

Why it works:

Despite craving the flexibility of remote work, as many as 55% of remote office workers miss interacting with their peers in the office. According to Dropbox, who conducted the survey, remote workers found brainstorming challenges and other creative collaborations more difficult to tackle virtually.

Bringing your team together for an occasional in-person meeting or team-building activity will help those collaborations go more smoothly. Plus, your team can continue to build trust and make personal connections that will improve your day-to-day virtual or hybrid work.

Final Thoughts

Remote team building activities might look a little different than what you’re used to, but the principle remains the same. Give your team meaningful time together to collaborate, solve creative problems, and build trust.

Most importantly, it’s up to managers to build a daily remote working culture that supports monthly or quarterly team building efforts. By designing your remote work practices for connection and collaboration, you’ll get the most out of team building time—and improve your employee experience across the board.

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