12 Key Virtual Team-Building Activities to Create Stong Remote Teams

The remote work culture dates back even before the rise of the industrial revolution. The economic expansion and technology refueled virtual work while the ongoing global pandemic mandated work-from-home practices across many industries. Remote work paved the way for companies to host virtual team-building activities and stay in touch with their geographically dispersed employees.

In this guide we will cover some best practices and benefits of virtual team-building. But let’s begin with understanding what virtual team-building refers to.


Content

1. What is virtual team-building?

2. Why is virtual team-building crucial?

3. Best practices for virtual team-building

4. Main activities for an effective virtual team-building

5. Tips for successful virtual team-buildings

Introduction

According to a Gartner research, by 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30% as Gen Z enters the workforce.

While working from a concrete-and-glass office space, employees had the privilege to socialize at cafeterias, elevators, office desks, or work events.

Due to the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, remote work is suddenly an overnight requirement for many. With the rise of remote work, communication and bonds between colleagues are slowly becoming strained. Therefore, organizations need to keep their virtual teams aligned with company values and goals while ensuring productivity.

Teams rely on meaningful interaction helping to strengthen relationships builds trust, and support personal well-being. You want all of your employees to be more than just colleagues. You want them to be supportive of one to another. You want a diverse and inclusive environment where everyone is safe and motivated, even when working remotely.

But creating such bonds can be tricky. With the “teamwork makes the dream work” saying in mind, companies must organize virtual team-building activities that leverage team empowerment and employee engagement. They include weekly activities, happy hours, coffee meetings, virtual games sessions, and fun challenges. These practices reinforce employee morale, strengthen team connections, and maximize productivity.

Team-building games for remote workers are vital to keeping the team spirit, even while spread out.


What is virtual remote team-building?

Usually, we spend eight hours a day, five days a week in our cubicles, surrounded by coworkers. We know their personalities, the names of loved ones, and what everyone likes to do outside of work.

These close relationships mean that when a team member needs a hand with a task, they know who to ask. They can effortlessly collaborate to produce more exciting results.

But what happens when the team works remotely?

When the team is remote, team building, forming relationships, and maintaining these bonds need constant work. The physical distance between workers can soon lead to feelings of separation and disconnect.

Ultimately, this can reduce employee motivation and increase staff turnover rates.

Virtual team building is a continuous process of creating human-to-human bonds between remote teams through various communication technologies. Forging these bonds promotes team harmony, helps streamline communication, and increases productivity. Since communication is not in person, trust and transparency are crucial.

Virtual team-building activities require team leaders to take specific initiatives to keep the team on the same page.


Why is virtual team-building crucial?

Regular virtual team-building activities help your workforce quickly adapt to a new remote work lifestyle. It helps minimize the negative impact of online workplace cultures, such as the inability to maintain a healthy work-life balance, loneliness, and the added stress of a global health crisis.

Here is how virtual team-building activities can benefit you:

  • A supportive team creates a durable and efficient working system.
  • They feel motivated, and empowered and can share their ideas better if they know who is listening.
  • Remote working can be isolating and lonely at times, so creating a sense of togetherness can help to boost morale and happiness in times of struggle.
  • Team building for remote teams creates a genuine camaraderie between workers as in-office teams.
  • When employees know teammates and their strengths, they can collaborate better for great results.
  • Team building plays a crucial role in building a solid company culture. Having a company culture in place, especially remotely, will help you improve internal communication and external reputation.
  • It also improves team output. Without strong team morale - which is one of the purposes of virtual team building activities - company productivity suffers, raising the attrition rates. This may ultimately lead to exhaustion and tensions for remaining team members as they make allowances for the increased workload.
  • Additionally, bringing team members together eases the multiple challenges intrinsically factored into the template of remote working. Team-building enhances employee performance and decreases burnout levels. Technology appears less robotic and more, well, human.
  • Building a connection with the team is key to a smooth onboarding process. Social activities help starters feel like one of the team.

A study by Gallup reveals that although remote employees may feel despondent and isolated, it is not the norm. The company conducted a recent poll of 1900 remote employees and found:

  • 90% intend to work remotely indefinitely
  • 94% endorse working outside the office
  • 21% said the feeling of loneliness is the most challenging.


Best practices for virtual team-building

The best way to connect remote teams is to help them feel seen and heard, literally and in ways that directly address the challenges of a dispersed workforce.

A survey on remote work from mid-2020 uncovered the complications we are all facing with distributed work: feeling that our work is invisible and having less access to our managers.

A similar survey published in 2021 found that, although some of the initial challenges we faced have eased up a bit, teams are still struggling with belonging and cohesion.

The common thread here is that working from home can be desolate. Spending less time in an office means fewer built-in opportunities to form social bonds and build trust with colleagues. That can lead to disengagement, which, in turn, can lead to underperformance on the job.

Understanding each other means communicating more effectively and having an easier time distributing roles and responsibilities across the team.

# Regular check-in

It is easy to check your employees in traditional workspaces by visiting their desks. However, it gets challenging when the team is remote. Managers must make it a point to conduct regular check-ins with employees. The one-on-one conversation with employees will help managers understand how best to support their work, productivity, growth, and success.

# Foster virtual chats

From casual office breaks to impromptu chats by the water-cooler, physical office space provided several opportunities for interaction. To replicate them, managers can schedule online small talks where team members can indulge in a casual conversation over a cup of tea or coffee. These initiatives positively impact the mental well-being of remote employees and help them feel less isolated.

# Provide constant recognition and awards

Team leaders can praise and acknowledge the well-performing employees by providing recognition and awards. The recognition awards such as employee of the month, team hero, etc., will boost employee morale and motivate others to perform better in tasks. Beyond financial incentives, other perks for employees can include online training, workspace upgrades, a wellness package, technology allowances, etc. It will make everyone aware of the performance expectations and drive them to take ownership of their work.

# Conduct employee wellness programs

Employees are struggling to embrace the sudden shift of virtual work culture due to the challenging times of the pandemic. Companies can provide wellness packages to employees and introduce the concept of mindfulness. Other supports include free and accessible counseling for mental well-being in remote employees, reimbursement for fitness activities, etc., to address employees’ stress, work concerns, and challenges.


Main activities for an effective virtual team-building

Your employees can get to know each other wherever they are. There are many team-building solutions, from simple games to well-structured programs.

Find inspiration in the list below to build a fun virtual team-building plan to keep your employees engaged and connected.

# Create a virtual room

The main difference between remote and in-house teams is the simple ad-hoc chats. These happen naturally in the office, and they are excellent team-building blocks. Thankfully, you can recreate them remotely in a virtual break room. Your team members can log in and join over their lunch or tea break, letting them catch up as they would in the office.

# MTV cribs, remote edition

Before weekly meetings, ask team members to do a short tour of their working space over video. These tours help members to bond over outside-work mutual interests - whether it is an impressive library or a well-loved guitar.

# Hold virtual company events

Employees feel like a team when everyone comes together for company-wide events and meetings. Make sure you don’t miss these out from your remote schedule! With virtual company events, you should run them the same way as a physical event: have an agenda, a host, speakers, awards, and rewards. The only difference is everyone joins in over video.

# Start the meetings with “anxiety-free news”

By creating a good news conversation channel, you give your team members an outlet to share things that have happened to them that made them happy. For example, a coworker could share that they finally went to that dance class they wanted for a long time, or someone has just played a great song and it boosted their mood. Sharing good news can be a great conversation starter and lets teams feel closer as they celebrate each other's small successes.

# Hold “show and learn” sessions

Everyone has a unique skill or talent that the rest of the team would benefit from learning more about. Create time for employees to take turns to teach their teams something new in an informal way. This activity helps remote team members to get to know the specialties of others, which also allows for better collaboration and better results from projects in the future.

# Daily snapshots

A daily snapshot is a simple way to make teams stronger. Encourage colleagues to post a picture of something they enjoy. The team can then comment on the pictures and get a conversation going. It is a simple way to have a non-work-related chat every day and bonds team members through a regular insight into their lives.

# Bring the virtual Friday happy hours

By Friday afternoon, after a long working week, most team members will want to kick back with a cold beverage. So, why not drink them together! Host this last thing on a Friday at the end and ensure that all team members are around to socialize.

# Organize virtual workout sessions

Time to put the 'exercise' in 'team-building exercises'. When people work from home, they often get fewer steps or workouts than they would when going to an office. Staying fit and moving enough is vital. But when done together, virtual workouts can also be a great team-building activity. This way of working out also helps to keep each other accountable, especially for those who need a little extra push.

# Get together in a virtual book club

Hosting non-work-related events is a great way of getting to know each other. And why not have a virtual book club for a team-building activity? A book club gives them something to talk about and is a great way to get conversations flowing. You can let a different team member host every event, so everyone has a chance to show their organizational skills - and great taste in literature.

# Take personality tests

It is hard to form a human connection through a screen. If you want your people to get to know each other, start by having them get to know themselves. You can host activities around a personality test - create groups where people can get to know their similar profiles and later mix it up to see how you can improve collaboration.

In case you didn’t know, enneagrams are a personality framework that can help you understand other people and why they behave in certain ways.

# Organize DIY and cooking activities

People love to show their skills, and those are not always job-related. If you want to boost creativity, start a Pinterest board with DIY projects that employees can work on in their free time. Include projects with different levels of difficulty to make them accessible to everyone. Don't forget to start a new Slack channel where participants can share their creations.

# Find and play online games together

There is an abundance of online games to play within a team. You can do this during working hours, with a small ice breaker game in conference calls. Alternatively, you could set up team-building games that can be played over a longer time and keep a scoreboard in Slack. And if you have any PlayStation or Xbox enthusiasts on your team who already love to play in their free time, you could connect them to see if they could join each other's teams.

Tip: If you’re using Zoom, here you can find some games to start while video conferencing.


Tips for successful virtual team-buildings

Successful virtual teams are remote colleagues that work productively together. The nature of remote work calls for higher levels of trust and increased communication. These teams use technology and team-building best practices to collaborate from a distance. Since employees do not inhabit the same physical space, leaders and teammates must employ different tactics to cooperate, communicate, and excel at high project standards.

Try to keep these ten tips in mind for successful virtual team-building:

  • Model enthusiastic participation. Every team needs someone willing to dive in first - if you are a team leader or the organizer of fun, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.
  • Lead with inclusivity.
  • Gather feedback and ask for input.
  • Communicate details, expectations, and logistics ahead of schedule.
  • Give your team plenty of time and space for fun activities.
  • Don’t guilt or shame folks if they can’t participate.
  • Encourage connections and explore creativity.
  • Make sure everyone has the resources to participate.
  • Put the work to the side; it can wait.
  • Have fun!


Wrap up - Virtual teams and the future

A virtual team is a group of people who collaborate using virtual collaboration and communication tools. Members of a global virtual team are remote workers, often located in different geographical regions.

While the trend toward virtual teamwork had already been growing in the years leading up to 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process.

In 2021, 66% of workers in the US are working remotely at least once a week, and a virtual environment has become the new reality for many people who previously worked in a co-located team.

And the trend is here to stay — according to 451 Research, 64% of companies say the increase in remote work will be a permanent change.

The fears that virtual teams would be less effective than traditional teams seem to have been unfounded, as 69% of enterprises say at least 75% of their workforce can work effectively remotely.

What’s more, 78% of employees are happy with these changes. They give them greater flexibility and they save time and money on commuting.

And according to GitLab, 62% of respondents said they would consider leaving a co-located company for an organization with a company culture of remote work.

Team bonding doesn’t need to happen in person.

Being virtual opens up new possibilities. Not everyone enjoyed or benefited from the big happy hours of old and sometimes we learned very little about our colleagues. Look for opportunities to encourage different types of participation with virtual events. You can form strong connections and build your team virtually with small or big events.

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