With many people set to continue working remotely at least part-time post-pandemic, it’s important that leaders look to identify ways to translate some traditionally in-person activities to a digital format. Team building activities should be near the top of that list. Having a strong team bond is important in any working environment, though arguably more so when you’re working remotely. You need your team to be communicating well in order for them to collaborate successfully when working remotely and this is sometimes easier said than done. Therefore, you don’t want team building days to slip to the bottom of the agenda.
A carefully planned virtual away day can be just as successful at fostering a strong sense of togetherness as an in-person away day. These days can be used to develop the relationships between team members which, in turn, will improve their ability to work effectively together.
In this article, we’ll look at what you’ll need to run a successful virtual team building day and some ideas for activities to get you started.
Tools for virtual team building away days
Before setting up your team building day, you’ll need to make sure you have the right software in place. You don’t want to be held up by any technical difficulties before you’ve even got started.
First up, you’ll need good video conferencing software. Zoom has a handy function where the host can create ‘break-out’ rooms which is really useful when trying to coordinate large groups. If you have a large team, you may want to deliver initial instructions on a big group call, however, when it comes to the activities themselves, dividing the team into smaller groups will be much more effective. The host can choose who goes into which break-out room before the meeting starts. Throughout the day, you could switch up the groups or keep the people who work with each other the most closely together.
Most conferencing software will also allow call participants to share their screens which can be very useful if you need everyone to be looking at the same thing at the same time or you need to deliver some instructions.
You’ll also want some software that will allow your team to collaborate effectively. Not only will they need to be looking at the same thing at the same time, they will need to be able to make changes or additions to those resources. It’s likely that you’ll already have something suitable for your day-to-day activities, however, if you don’t, it’s worth looking into this. Tools like Google Workplace or Microsoft Teams allow your team members to share documents or slides and work on them simultaneously. This is useful for a whole range of team building activities, keeping everyone on the same page and allowing things to run much more smoothly. There should be no need to be constantly emailing edited documents back and forth.
Activity ideas for virtual team building away days
When you start a team building day, whether that’s in person or virtually, things are invariably a little awkward at first. This is especially true if you’re dealing with a big team. You’ll want to start the day off with some sort of icebreaker activity, ideally something that requires everyone to join in a bit and get everyone chatting. This will make everyone much more relaxed when it comes to the main activities later on.
How well do you really know your team members? Icebreaker challenge
You might want to start with this classic icebreaker that’s popular at in-person team building days and translates easily to a virtual setting. Get everyone to submit three interesting facts about themselves before the day, or ask everyone to answer the same three questions.
At the meeting, share the answers on your screen and see if your team members can match up the answers with the person. You could even award points and the person who gets the most right gets a prize of some description.
Encourage team members to share unusual or interesting facts about themselves that other team members might not guess. This will get everyone talking and learning more about each other and your away day will be off to a great start.
We’ve all done one too many Zoom quizzes over the last year but before you skip this idea, you might want to take a look at QuizBreaker. This nifty tool does all the hard work for you and is quick and easy to set up. Invite your team to answer the icebreaker questions or add in your own custom questions and then the quiz will be sent round to your team when you choose. You don’t have to send out all the questions at once. You could schedule rounds to go out throughout the day as a light break from other tasks. Answering fun quiz questions about each other will help your team members learn more about each other, build deeper connections and maybe even discover some shared interests. The tool has gamified the process, adding the element of friendly competition and avoids the slightly clunky format of questions being read out over Zoom.
Once everyone is relaxed and all the awkwardness has disappeared, it’s time to get stuck into the main activities. The type of activities that you choose should depend on your goals for the day. Are you looking to improve your team’s communication skills? Or perhaps they need to learn to collaborate a bit better on tasks.
Virtual Escape Rooms
There are several sites that have cropped up over the last year with virtual escape rooms. These can be great for team building as it requires your team members to work together to complete the challenge. In order to find clues and solve the puzzles, they will need to communicate, share ideas and make decisions together. If you’ve got a big team, you could divide them into several escape rooms and add an extra element of competition to see who can complete the challenge first.
You may recall an episode of The Office called ‘Office Olympics’ where the characters compete in challenges, such as, who can get the most M&M’s in their mouths or racing with cartons of paper strapped to their feet. While these activities aren’t perhaps the most advisable or practical for virtual team building days, adding a competitive element can help people stay engaged throughout the day. This is perfect if you have a lot of people on your team building day as you can divide people up into countries and compete to see which country gets the most medals.
If you had, say, twenty people on your team building day, you could divide them up into five groups, or ‘countries’, of four. Then, come up with five activities for which each country will have to nominate a team member to compete in. The activities can be anything from quiz rounds on specialist subjects to who can stand on one leg with their eyes closed the longest, to who can build the tallest card castle (evidence via video for these last two). Reveal the activities beforehand and give your teams a chance to confer as to who should be nominated. Then, allow some time before each activity for ‘training’. This is the real team building part. How the teams decide who will be up for which challenge and how they help their team members prepare. They will have to identify strengths and weaknesses within the team and go through some sort of decision making process to identify their best chance of winning the most challenges. They will also have to support their team members by offering advice and ideas during the ‘training’ sessions. This will all require a lot of communication. Each team member will also have the experience of ‘stepping up’ when it’s their turn to compete, building their confidence in front of the group.
Get a scoreboard together and award medals or prizes for each challenge and overall rewards for the winning team.
By the end of your away day, your team should know each other better and feel more comfortable communicating with each other virtually. If your team is going to be working remotely, it’s important to conduct at least some of your team building activities in the same environment. Remember to include some sort of icebreaker activity to get everyone out of their usual routine and comfortable talking to everyone and then embark on some activities selected to help the elements you have identified as needing improvement. While some of the games or challenges may feel a little trivial on the day, the lasting impacts on your team will create a much more productive working dynamic.