Ideas For Remote Team Building Activities
The breakthrough that technology is achieving has made organising and managing diverse and dispersed people easier. The pressure and competition of the world’s economy and the pandemic have made remote working necessary for most organisations. Research by IWG revealed that 70 per cent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week.
Managing a virtual team is a unique, dynamic and rewarding experience. It involves applying all you know as a manager but with a twist influenced mainly by distance and lots of screens. When you manage a physical team, finding perfect team building activities that can keep everyone motivated may not be difficult. You could even get all the feedback you need by just looking at your teammates’ faces. However, when it comes to a virtual team, the dynamics are different because you can’t outrightly calculate if they’re engaged enough or see who’s cringing.
Despite the pros and cons, team building activities are necessary for physical and virtual teams alike. The distancing that comes with remote jobs can sometimes bring a disconnect that leads to burnout and reduced productivity. According to a study on remote working and productivity by Gallup, about 48% of full-time staff felt burnout sometimes, while 28% felt burned out very often. Before the pandemic, remote workers were more likely to experience burnout, but the dynamics are different now, and the tides are shifting.
Before we delve into other discussions and different team building activities that are work-from-home friendly, let’s define remote team building.
What is remote team building?
Remote team building is the process of bringing members of your virtual team together to create connections, relax and creatively engage the brain. It’s a way to reassess your team’s strengths, weaknesses, growths and needs accordingly. To get the best out of a team-building session, managers need to lean towards activities that build trust in the team while developing them and fostering a healthy space for meetings.
While creating a remote team building plan, it’s essential to develop a collaborative but sound online environment where creativity and empathy are encouraged and applicable. Setting up an environment that feels like the less technical version of the office with strategies and activities that promote human interaction is a great way to begin. It makes the team more effective and ultimately creates a successful virtual team.
What makes a remote team successful?
OnPoint Consulting conducted a global research study of 48 virtual teams across various industries to point out the associated practices with successful virtual teams. The research showed that about one-third of the surveyed virtual teams were categorised under ‘less effective’, while below a third was graded as high-performing. The differences across all the categories were statistically significant, and they drew the basis for identifying characteristics to help differentiate the effective remote teams and the low-performing ones.
Based on the research, three qualities that successful virtual teams exhibit include:
Averagely, successful teams have a reduced frequency of employees that quit. Frequent changes of the team members will disrupt relationships and cost the company time and money, thus reducing productivity. When more employees stay long enough to go past the learning phase of the organisation and be around for most projects from start to finish, the better. This stability promotes accountability, creates relationships that last and allows members to focus.
Productive Virtual Meetings
Since we know how crucial effective communication is to remote working success, it’s not surprising that having productive virtual meetings is a significant element to measure the success of virtual teams. Successful remote teams have more engaging meetings that are well run, with employees being vocal about needs, wants and company growth.
Learning never stops. Teams that constantly organise training and skill development sessions are significantly more successful than those that don’t and may outperform them. Through targeted development programs, virtual teams can always learn new skills to improve their work and fast track their growth.
Making your virtual team successful doesn’t require another meeting that could have been an email; it needs the team-lead to be strategic and help teammates understand the need for what Monday Report calls the ACE strategy.
THE ACE STRATEGY
Having a sense of responsibility is key to being a better teammate and an overall trustworthy employee. When employees own their tasks from start to finish, they will be motivated to produce high-quality work because there’s more autonomy.
– Collaboration: Collaboration is the game-changer that creates cohesion in a dynamic team with people from different backgrounds working with different processes. As organisations continue to discover new digital tools to make communication and performance at work seamless, it takes teamwork and collaboration to pull it off effectively. Collaboration creates and maintains ties that allow employees and stakeholders to stay on course and aligned with their goals and objectives.
– Engagement: Virtual employees who are engaged achieve better company results than those who are not. As a result, engagement is a requirement for speed, collaboration, and execution in a fast-paced workplace. It fosters a healthy work environment and promotes the sense of inclusion that comes with allowing everyone to voice their ideas.
In looser terms, most things that make a remote team successful can be achieved through team building activities.
Here’s why you need team building activities for your virtual team.
Although most managers think that remote workers would rather have no human interaction forever, that’s not true. At least, not entirely. There’s no ‘I’ in team; therefore, teamwork can only be strengthened by activities that emphasise teamwork. A Gallup research also highlights virtual team-building exercises. Their studies show that virtual team-building practices lead to an increased employee performance rate, absenteeism reduced by 41% and a 21% higher profitability rate.
Some other attractive benefits are:
- Encourages collaboration
The independence and isolation of virtual teams can sometimes lead to communication gaps, downtimes and overall reduced productivity. However, the idea of having a team work together in a department or on a project is to have everyone pull their weight to get the work done. The seamless synergy that is evident in a well-connected team is something every company aspires to have. Although that synergy can be achieved through various means, one vital one is through team bonding exercises. Team Building exercises foster collaboration and coordination, thus reminding the team why they need each other. It teaches them how to leverage each other’s strengths to complete tasks, save time and lend a hand when needed.
- Set up diverse relationships
The beauty of having a virtual team is the possible diversity that comes with the team – from different time zones to different geographic zones, to different cultures and different perspectives. One of the best ways to leverage this diversity is to embrace it and celebrate it. Virtual team building activities that celebrate inclusion will help set up diverse and meaningful relationships and connections. The employees will learn how to relate with geographic and culturally distributed teams, thus developing deeper relationships.
It exposes employees to new ways of working diligently, despite the boundaries that may come through processes, technology, and people.
- Promotes Innovation
One way to always be one step ahead of your competitors is to have a team with innovative people. When employees cultivate the habit of viewing tasks and problems from the lens of innovation, the company will not have the problem of dynamism or joining new trends. Virtual team buildings are avenues to bring all the great minds in the company under one virtual roof to brainstorm, promote creativity and innovate new ideas. Activities that encourage innovation will boost team feedback, encourage constructive criticism, and help the company make the best out of a cohesive team.
- Create a healthy work culture
There are tools that help organisations to have more precise insights and performance of ongoing work. However, when teams are isolated, they may become discordant. When that lingers, activities that emphasise the need for team members to be united and accountable is needed. Virtual tea breaks where employees can have casual but healthy office-related conversations allows for increased productivity and a sense of clarity. It creates purpose and motivates them to work diligently to reach their goals. Virtual team-building games such as contest nights, virtual happy hours, and birthday celebrations significantly influence employees and help reinforce positive work culture in an organisation.
- Boosts the team’s morale
An unspoken aspect of working from home is the isolation that comes with it. Constantly setting deadlines for yourself and dealing with all the unseen pressures of remote working can cause burnout. Thus, ideally, activities that build functional cohesiveness and positive reinforcement among team members will have the employees feeling valued and empowered. It also allows team members to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work towards the common good of the team.
Virtual team-building challenges
The best way to successfully pull off a plan is to anticipate challenges and work around them. While the challenges may differ based on the industry and work dynamics, here are the common challenges you might encounter while creating virtual team building activities include:
- Trust issues among team members: Virtual teammates may have difficulty trusting each other since they are used to working in isolation, making it difficult to participate fully in some activities. An excellent way to salvage this situation is to start with team building activities that are not too personal.
- Poor communication skills: Again, working in isolation ‘does a number’ on people’s social skills, and this may bleed into working habits. While this is a gradual learning process, you can help the affected employees through activities that increase articulation and teamwork, allowing the ones with stellar communication skills to lead the activities often.
- Lack of collaborative tendency: When people manage their time and activities, they may get used to ‘not needing’ anyone. Unfortunately, this will hurt any organisation’s framework. Exercises that emphasise teamwork are an excellent solution for challenges like this. However, a gradual process of easing the affected employees is the best path to take.
Planned team building activities are the easiest way to overcome team-building challenges. Connections are not so easy to establish and maintain with a virtual team, so it requires being intentional. Remote building activities are more effective when managers build them around structured sessions, not just ‘chit chat’. This plan will help the team focus, build trust and make communication more seamless.
These activities can be in the form of games, questions, icebreakers or fixed activities. You can have a list of go-to activities you can always use, a website or an icebreaker generator to have fresh ideas. Either way, here’s a great place to begin.
Remote team building games
When you create team-building games for remote workers structured around an actual activity and not just “chit chat”, you will find that helps to focus everyone and gets everyone more involved. Here are some games to get you started:
- Aliens have landed
This is both a game and a way for people to develop their pitching skills. It also creates an atmosphere where people can think on their feet without the actual pressure. The game encourages communication, out-of-the-box thinking, and fun. When team members see each other at their best and worst, it creates a bonding experience.
Rules: Split everyone into groups of three or four. Tell everyone that aliens have landed on Earth and are interested in learning about your company. But, the aliens don’t speak English, so they’ll need to explain what the company does using five symbols or pictures. They’ll be split into groups, and group members need to talk and come up with their chosen images or symbols. As the manager, look at the pictures to see if they describe the company. You can also look out for common themes to help you decide if all your employees understand the company.
- Truths and a Lie
This is a simple virtual team building game for remote workers trying to get to know each other. It is an easy way for people to introduce themselves without outrightly introducing themselves. Usually, “tell me about yourself” ranks as one of the most awkward ways to get to know people and can be uncomfortable. The game helps to eliminate that awkwardness and bring in some fun as well.
Rules: First, everyone on the video call takes turns telling three truths and one lie about themselves. The lie should be as realistic as possible, so it won’t be easy for people to identify it. Once each person is done guessing, the truth will be revealed. The one who guessed the lie gains points.
- Virtual Charades
Initially, the game was a dramatic form of literary charades where a person would act out each syllable of a word or phrase in order, followed by the whole phrase together, while the rest of the group guessed. This game builds connections and allows imaginations to run wild, thus encouraging out-of-the-box thinking. While you may be familiar with the physical game, the virtual variation is just a bit different.
Rules: While being timed, everyone takes turns to try and describe something without saying the word. The rest of the team draws what they think the person is trying to say, and everyone shares their works after each round and have a good laugh. The person with the image closest to the word wins the round and goes next.
- Would you rather
“Would you rather” is a conversation game that poses a dilemma in the form of a question beginning with ‘would you rather’. It promotes critical thinking as the participants need to choose an option quickly while being timed. The answers help team members bond and get to know each other better.
Rules: Keep the game as civil as possible since the purpose is to build a connection among staff and not cause embarrassment. The manager can have a list of questions that he or she can ask in the ‘would you rather’ style, and team members get to answer honestly.
- Guess the refrigerator
Sharing an inside view of your refrigerator comes with some vulnerability, which encourages honesty and trust, thus contributing to the success of virtual teams working together.
Rules: Everyone in the team submits a photo of their refrigerator’s interior to the manager or game organiser. The organiser then posts the pictures to a channel where all participants can study the contents and take guesses to figure out which refrigerator belongs to who. The players submit answers to the organiser, who tallies up the scores and announces winners.
Remote team building activities
- Fun geography
With this activity, the team members get to share 3-5 unusual facts or fun stories about the area, city, state or country they live in that other teammates are not likely to know. This session encourages peer to peer knowledge sharing while helping improve presentation skills. The team members will also understand new things about each other and learn about the places where other remote team members reside.
- Pancakes vs Waffles
Pancakes vs Waffles is an activity that focuses on friendly debates and unanimous but healthy decision-making sessions. This is a helpful virtual team building activity that encourages creativity and applied-knowledge. It also encourages everyone, including introverts, to talk, as everyone usually has an opinion over less serious topics. This debate usually consists of two teams, with one group being in team waffles while the other in team pancakes. The debate topic starts with – either pancakes or waffles will disappear forever, and your team has to choose. You can keep playing until you decide to move on to another debate topic, like Love or Money.
- Virtual coffee
The conventional gold standard of effective teamwork is the agile short morning meeting where everyone is standing and talking about the work they do throughout the day. As fun as this sounds, it is a bit difficult to pull off remotely. But, there’s a way.
The team can arrange a remote coffee meeting once a week or once a month, where each team member would find a coffee shop and connect with the team online. Everyone will discuss their daily tasks over a nice cup of coffee. However, as a manager, ensure to keep the conversations light but productive.
- Lunch and learn
One simple yet effective way to organise an online team building session for your remote team is to get your remote employees together on a video call and have an expert talk to the team on something beneficial. The expert can speak on topics such as productivity, motivation, problem-solving, empathy, time management, delegation and definitely, remote working. This sort of virtual session can last for about 40 – 50 minutes. It can be scheduled at mealtime so that employees can eat during the session. If the company has a large budget, they can cover the cost of the food.
- Typing Speed Race
Most coworkers will enjoy engaging in a Typing Speed Race. This activity is a great way to show off your fast typing skills. It is also a great way to develop an essential remote working skill: fast and accurate typing. All team members can participate in the typing test and post scores to a virtual leaderboard, which can be a communication channel. You can also visit speed typing websites and add up team totals.
A bonus activity is to have scavenger hunts and have winners of each round on a leaderboard, creating anticipation for the next remote team-building exercise.
Remote Team Icebreakers
- Rose/Thorn virtual icebreaker
Your team can start the virtual huddle by having everyone share their rose (any positive that makes them feel grateful, happy, good, etc.), and they also share their thorn (a challenge). Roses and thorns can either be work or non-work.
- Open Mic virtual icebreaker
You can inform the team about how the meeting will start with fun performances so that everyone comes prepared. Give everyone a heads up that they will have about a minute to take the virtual stage at the beginning of the meeting.
They would be able to say an icebreaker joke, read a poem, sing a song, play an instrument—anything they want to use their 60 seconds of fame for!
- Snapshot virtual icebreaker
Ask everyone on the team to use their phones to take a picture of something; anything. The ‘something’ could be Kids, workspace, pets, outdoor, outfit, shoes, selfies etc. Everyone would need to upload the pictures to a shared ‘whiteboard’ to look like a collage of everyone’s photos. Some time can also be spent asking questions and complimenting the pictures.
- One word and I’m in virtual icebreaker
Start your virtual meeting in high spirits with this icebreaker. It begins with having everyone on the team pick one word to fill in the sentence “I’m ______ and I’m in”
For example – “I’m pumped and I’m in” or “I’m ready and I’m in”. It’s okay to get creative, like “I’m still a little sleepy but I’m in”.
- “Do you really know your team?” virtual icebreaker
Before the meeting, the organiser or manager can ask all the teammates to answer three “about me” questions. For example:
If you could have one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? What social media platform do you spend most of your time on? If you were to be an animal, what would you rather be?
At the meeting, share the answers and get everyone to try and pair the answers with the right person.
After the guessing is over, reveal who gave what answer, and teammates can explain if need be. It’ll create a bonding, learning and laughing experience!
As a manager leading remote workers in Africa, you want to be trusted and have your team at 100% of their game at all times. It may not be easy to get all your teammates to be stellar performers, but you can try. It’s essential to always communicate and let the team members feel heard all the time so that no one feels alienated. In the end, remote workers who understand their roles, can communicate effectively and are happy will be the most productive and resourceful on the team. So, invest in team building activities that can grow your team.
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