Remote Team-Building 101: How to Make Virtual Activities a Success

Janey Zitomer
August 25, 2020

If the future of work is as flexible as many predict it will become, traditional team-building must transform with company culture. While that doesn’t necessarily mean taking attendance during virtual bingo night, businesses are reconsidering how they operate. For example, what does welcoming new hires now look like?

The following professionals prioritize presenting their teams with options so that employees can readily connect with colleagues no matter their physical distance in a style they feel comfortable with. 

“Sometimes people simply need the opportunity to join,” Jackie Libertiny, employee success business partner at Crossix Solutions, said. That’s where Libertiny comes in, sending out weekly reminders to the team about their book club, cinema club and a host of other new, remote-based opportunities. 

Rather than following the latest Zoom trends or taking wild guesses, Libertiny and her NYC-based counterparts host experiences based on employee feedback, which ensures that at least some portion of the organization will participate with excitement. Remember: one person’s favorite word game is another person’s worst nightmare.  

 

Celonis
Celonis

Celonis’s approach to team-building comes from the idea that each department has a different group style and personality. With that in mind, Office and Well-Being Manager Cooper Smith said that the software and automation company lets different teams host virtual happy hours that best fit their style. He hopes this approach and structure allows employees to expand their social circles within the organization. 

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date?

During virtual happy hours, we have been choosing teams to give creative presentations or lead an activity that explains what they do. The teams are encouraged to present however they feel captures their team mission, day-to-day work and personality. 

We’ve seen teams present themselves through a mock game show, music performances, storytelling and the tried-and-true PowerPoint. It’s been a great way to help everyone gain a more in-depth understanding of different aspects of the business and an opportunity to see their colleagues in a different light. 

Additionally, we’ve started introducing new hires during these events. These have been a great success and we hope to keep up the momentum. 

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective?

From a cultural perspective, this style of virtual experience allows participants to broaden their understanding of all the ways each department contributes to the success of Celonis. It also creates a space where someone might realize they have a lot in common with another person on a team who they haven’t taken the time to meet previously. 

Celonis has been growing so rapidly, it’s almost impossible to know everyone. So this has been an excellent opportunity to encourage people to expand their social circles within the company. 

Don’t be afraid to try something out of the ordinary.’’ 

What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in?

Shifting an office culture into a virtual experience has required a big learning curve. Don’t be afraid to try something out of the ordinary. If it’s not a success, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. Take the time to look at what went well and what could have been better. Be open to feedback from the participants. 

Additionally, we’ve encouraged team leads to make time at least once a month for virtual experiences within smaller groups. It can be a struggle to get everyone actively involved in meetings with the whole U.S. team due to the volume of people and different time zones. I've also noticed that many vendors are shifting their typically in-person experiences to be more virtually-oriented. So reach out to your vendor network to discover all available options. 

 

Bread
Bread

At Bread, Britney Pierini, senior manager of employee experience, takes virtual event planning seriously. This summer, her team organized “Camp Bread” so that employees and their families could feel connected through typical summertime team-building exercises. Pierini said it was important for them to include people living with team members so that everyone felt truly excited to be involved.     

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date? 

We’ve done a lot on the team level, including a virtual paint-and-sip event, virtual cooking classes and virtual scavenger hunts. We recently held our annual summer event remotely for all employees and their families. We created a day camp-themed event. We gathered information from employees about how many kids, pets and family members they had living with them and sent out swag boxes with activities and paraphernalia for everyone at home. 

During the event, we broke out into five breakout rooms with “camp counselors” (fellow employees), who ran different activities like Pictionary, bingo, puzzles, Family Feud and a dance party. 

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective? 

It was important to allow all employees and those living with them to participate. Unlike an in-person event, it was easier and more engaging to allow families, roommates and pets to be a part of the event in this work-from-home atmosphere. It really allowed employees to take that break from work and feel included. Plus it was nice to meet everyone’s families.

Team-building activities shouldn’t feel like a version of work in any way.’’

What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in? 

Cater to factors like time zones and different home situations as much as possible. It also helps to know what employees enjoy and play to those interests. 

Don’t be afraid to have fun! Working from home can create a lot of fatigue. Team-building activities shouldn’t feel like a version of work in any way. 

Create a resource page for managers with different virtual activities and allow them to choose what works best for their group. We have a list of over 25 ideas and counting!

 

Swagup
Swagup

Employees look forward to Monday mornings at SwagUp. That’s in part thanks to trivia sessions leadership has started hosting virtually to start the week off on a positive note, according to Culture and Talent Manager Mary Brady. She recommends looking to employees for ideas about what kind of team-building activities most speak to their interests. Often, some of the best ideas are the easiest to implement.  

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date?

We host short activities prior to our weekly all-hands meetings on Monday mornings. At the start of each meeting, our CMO, Helen Rankin, has been sharing activity prompts like movie trivia and emoji quizzes. Not only do the prompts get everyone involved, but they also ensure that our employees are engaged prior to the all-hands. 

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective?

These prompts have been beneficial in cultivating a remote team-building experience because they allow employees across all teams to interact with one another. The prompts also create a bit of competition to wake everyone up on Monday morning! 

While it’s a simple task in engaging our employees, everyone has started to really look forward to playing. It’s proven to be a successful way of engaging employees on all teams. Everyone tends to join the all-hands on time in anticipation of what that week’s prompt will be.

It may seem silly, but if it gets your employees involved, it’s worth a shot.’’ 

What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in?

Talk to your employees. Right now, different organizations are participating in a variety of team-building activities. Your employees may have seen activities on social media through their peers that they’d like to bring to life at your organization. 

Send out a survey, allowing employees to remain anonymous if they choose. Your employees might even volunteer to bring their idea to fruition themselves. Also, don’t be afraid to try something adventurous. It may seem silly, but if it gets your employees involved, it’s worth a shot. 

 

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Employee Experience Manager Yanilsa Osoria and her team recently called in outside support to plan a virtual activity that would get everyone involved. They landed on Virtual Escape Quests, experiences that allow people to work together to solve a puzzle in a setting akin to in-person escape rooms. And as it turned out, OpenWeb employees weren’t the only ones joining in on the fun.  

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you've done to date?

My absolute favorite was the Virtual Escape Quest via digital employee experience company Confetti. It was a blend between an escape room and a scavenger hunt. The game was timed, which allowed everyone’s competitive edge to shine through. I don’t think I’ve worked with a more competitive team than the one here at OpenWeb. 

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective?

The Escape Quest contained a variety of puzzles, maps and riddles. They called for teams to work together and use their individual strengths to complete the levels. While hosting the game, I was able to interact with each team and see how they collaborated to put pieces of these puzzles together. 

There were a range of different challenges, which required knowledge of geography, history, technology, pop culture and more. Teams learned a lot about each other outside of their usual work. One team was lucky enough to have a couple of their kids virtually jump into the game to help them win — a clear advantage!

Be open and welcome suggestions from employees.’’

What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in?

Ask people what they really want. Be open and welcome suggestions from employees. Set aside a designated budget to provide well-thought-out and interactive virtual experiences. Whether it’s a virtual Mario Kart race or a cocktail-making class with supplies included, employees appreciate being uplifted with fun, meaningful experiences.

 

Crossix
Crossix Solutions

All Crossix Solutions, employees have 15 minutes blocked off on their calendars every Monday, Wednesday and Friday so they can chat with whoever joins a company-wide Zoom meeting about non-work-related topics. This initiative is known internally as a “coffee break.” According to Employee Success Business Partner Jackie Libertiny, the coffee breaks and other remote activities have provided employees with a consistent form of comfort the last few months. 

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date?

To foster socialization and keep employees engaged, we launched a few new virtual opportunities including book club, cinema club and what we call “coffee breaks.” Although we have introduced many new opportunities, our most popular activity is our weekly wind down, which is a happy hour that we previously hosted in-office on our rooftop terrace every Thursday. We have moved this Crossix staple to a Zoom-based setup where we can catch up with one another and play games.

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective?

I think the comfort of having something consistent right now appeals to our employees. Additionally, I think people really enjoy the games. Some favorites are trivia, people bingo (to get to know each other on a more personal level), and new-hire-themed happy hours. 

I think the comfort of having something consistent right now appeals to our employees.’’  

What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in?

Keep things light-hearted and fun. Try to be creative. Also, understand that sometimes people simply need the opportunity to join. I send out weekly emails to highlight our opportunities to socialize. Not everyone will join, but offering the space and an activity can help foster something really great.

 

Podcaster
Podcaster

During a show-and-tell team-building activity, Podcaster People Operations Generalist Ryan Rosa said she learned about the array of talents her colleagues share: musical, culinary and otherwise. She recommends that teams looking to create memorable, remote experiences lean into existing employee passions. Have a lot of Broadway enthusiasts? Plan your own version of the Tony Awards. 

 

What’s the most fun, unique or engaging remote team-building activity you’ve done to date? 

Every month we run what we call our Podcaster Celebration Social. At these socials, we highlight big team milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, wins and launches. Being remote hasn’t stopped them from happening. We start with the milestone shout out portion and then bring in some kind of surprise guest through Cameo videos from celebrities like Mark McGrath and Montell Jordan. Then we always end with some collective activity like Jackbox Games or trivia. 

Right at the start of quarantine, we held a team show and tell. We got to see each other's homes and people shared cool talents as well as things that had been lifting them up. We shared embarrassing childhood photos with each other, were introduced to parents and roommates who’ve now become everyday co-workers, and were even given a live demo of a podcast that two teammates started while working remotely. It ended up being a full hour of laughing, sharing stories and bonding that we wouldn’t normally get while in the office together. 

 

What was it about this activity that made it so successful from a cultural perspective?

We learned more about the different people who make up this incredible team. It was affirming and powerful to share space with each other like that. Being able to maintain that communal aspect of our culture meant sharing more intimate discussions and getting a look behind the Zoom curtain, as it were. 

Think about what brings your team joy.’’ 

What advice do you have for other companies that are struggling to find team-building activities that their teams will actually enjoy and engage in?

Get creative. Don’t be afraid to go off-script and push the boundaries of what you think can make a virtual hangout fun. Think about what brings your team joy. If you have a bunch of foodies, send everyone the same pack of Ramen and have everyone make their own, unique version on a video call together. If you have a crew of musical lovers, start a Slack thread for everyone’s favorite Broadway shows. Create a virtual Tony Awards program where you sing songs together. Figure out what keeps your team connected organically in order to create memorable events.

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