The success and productivity of any company largely depend on the interactions between its employees. A strong, bonded team of employees, simply put, accomplishes more than a disconnected team. Team building exercises have consequential implications for a company and, for that reason, represent a crucial part of office culture.
For teams with employees that interact face-to-face on a daily basis, team building exercises tend to be more straightforward: Your employees can learn a lot from each others’ body language, speech patterns, work ethic, and countless other observable traits. However, when dealing with a remote team that primarily interacts via the Internet, you must take a more creative approach to build the company culture through virtual team building exercises. Just because the members of your team don’t interact in person doesn’t mean you can’t help them create meaningful bonds. So, what are some effective online team building games for remote teams? We’re here to share.
For teams that work together in an office, a majority of their interactions are based in casual exchanges and small chit chat. Because your team doesn’t have this privilege, make sure you find ways to make room for people to simply talk to one another. At the beginning of your team’s Skype conference calls, set aside a few minutes to let your employees engage in small talk. If it’s Monday, for example, have everyone share a highlight from their weekend round-robin style; a great way to get to know someone is to learn about the ways they spend their free time on the weekend.
While the remote employees on your team may mix it up and work from a library or coffee shop once in a while, chances are many of them work from their homes for a majority of the work week. Get people excited about their personal “offices” by setting up an MTV Cribs-style interaction once a week where one member of your team shows everyone else via Skype what their house is like (“Glad you could make it, now come on in!”). Not only will this allow the members of your team to learn more about the specific environment that hosts the creative process of a particular employee every day, but it will also reveal more about the employee’s personality and lighten the mood with some humor. Your employees can put together pre-made videos of tours of their homes or you can have them do it extemporaneously, which is more likely to be funny. The same can also be done if they’re working out of different coworking spaces around the world.
Remember that the entertaining value of the Internet is largely premised on funny cat videos, and harness this to entertain your remote employees. Set up a channel on Slack, or whichever company-wide instant communication system you use for employees, to share funny pictures of their pets. The only thing people love more than looking at silly pictures of animals is sharing silly pictures of their own animals. Of course, everyone might not have a pet, so you can modify the theme to be inclusive of everyone on the team—we call our channel #warmfuzzy.
While many of us roll our eyes at the thought of icebreakers, these kinds of team bonding activities for conference calls are incredibly useful for remote teams. Try the Birth Map icebreaker: Upload an image of the globe to the shared screen and have everyone place a pin on the place they were born and explain a little bit about their background, using their birthplace as a jumping-off point. Or try ‘10 Things in Common’: Split the team into a few groups and have them brainstorm at least 10 things they have in common, whether it be hobbies, favorite foods, preferred styles of music, etc. While sharing the results of this with the other teams can be fun and informative, the substantial bonding occurs between the team members who are trying to sift through their traits to find what they have in common. Another fun icebreaker in a long list of virtual team building activities is called “Aliens Have Landed,” where the members of your team must use pictures or symbols to explain the mission of your company to a group of aliens that have landed on the planet and don’t speak English. This is a great way for you and the members of your team to learn about specific motivations that drive everyone’s work ethic and the different aspects of the company that matter to them.
While several members of your team may be located in disparate parts of the country or globe, there’s also a good chance that many of them are working from homes not too far from one another. If geography allows it, set up a few different in-person meetups for your team so they can see what it’s like to interact with their co-workers face to face. These meetups don’t need to happen constantly but it could benefit the overall productivity of your company to do this once in a while.