One of the more unusual side effects of the global shift to remote working has been to highlight the importance of corridors.
Those spaces between workplaces where we bump into colleagues and take the opportunity to check in, get a quick approval or just catch up socially.
Researchers have known the value of unstructured space in team building for a long time. These are places where knowledge is shared, problem-solving can occur, and networking takes place.
Unfortunately, a year after the pandemic was declared, half of the offices in Sydney remained empty, while less than a quarter were occupied in Melbourne. Remote work is clearly going to play a big role in the ‘new normal’.
While remote working tends to prevent the serendipity of the workplace and rule out hands-on, face-to-face team-building activities, it’s still possible to build high-performance teams virtually.
All you need is a fresh approach to creative team building that builds employee engagement and benefits employers, too.
Top virtual team building activities
Before you introduce remote team building activities, there’s two things to consider.
Firstly, the phrase itself - team building exercise - may bring up unpleasant memories of a trust fall exercise.
Secondly, Zoom fatigue is real and your team may be reluctant to jump on one more call.
The secret is to invite your whole team to connect from a different location. Australian psychologist Elton Mayo observed the positive impact of a change of scenery a hundred years ago at the Western Electric Company.
Mayo was trying to find out if lighting, breaks, team size or other factors increased productivity. It turns out that when he took team members into new rooms, simply having a new environment increased productivity and teamwork.
So, ask your team to leave their remote workspace and take their laptop or phone somewhere that they can be more comfortable and less work-like. Then avoid the phrase team building events and invite them to one of these instead.
Quizzes, trivia and online games
You could use the quiz in your daily newspaper, download one from a website like Pauls Quiz, or team members could take turns coming up with their own customised quiz.
How you play the quiz is limited only by your imagination. When you put questions to your team you can ask them to click on the raised hand in Zoom, put up their actual hand, or make their own unique buzzer sound with their mouth.
The role of quizmaster can be shared around to give everyone a chance to speak – especially if you have a gameshow-worthy team member who seems to know all the answers.
Get-to-know-you / icebreaker sessions
For new employees, supportive ‘get-to-know-you’ sessions are vital. As the team leader you can facilitate three-way conversations with a variety of other employees to start building their network.
After you’ve made the introductions via video conferencing, it’s important to encourage employees to book in some non-work one-on-one video calls with new employees.
‘Get-to-know-you’ sessions are equally important for existing employees. Structured and planned ‘get-to-know-you’ sessions give team members permission to share their thoughts, feelings and interests.
Virtual water cooler or coffee break
Some organisations have set up a Slack channel or a Microsoft Teams group called Virtual Canteen specifically for the purpose of allowing remote workers to “drop by and chat”, even virtually.
Slack also has a couple of bots available to create watercooler moments with a bit of structured spontaneity. The Watercooler bot randomly pairs up team members to encourage them to catch up socially for five minutes.
Donut is a Slack app that also makes random connections, with the added benefit of conversation topics, Zoom links and calendar integrations.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Friday nights may also be an occasion for remote workers to clock off early, grab a beverage and have a virtual group chat. No work-related topics allowed!
Yoga and meditation
Yoga and meditation have been available on Youtube for a long time, but lockdown brought nearly every mindfulness studio in Australia online.
If you’d like something more engaging than watching a yoga video on Zoom, consider inviting a yogi to join your virtual meeting for a more unique experience.
Lorraine Kelleher is a marketing executive in Ireland who works for a company who has been very proactive in virtual team building. The HR department coordinates the virtual water cooler and ‘get-to-know-you’ sessions with new employees.
"We also have weekly gym classes. There's online yoga classes, mindfulness, meditation, and there has been quiz nights as well," says Kelleher.
Lunch and learn
Inviting an expert into your video chat for a lunch and learn is another excellent idea for virtual team building. While your expert can come from within the business, there’s plenty of webinars every week that you can join for free as well.
TED Talks are another great resource to tap into. You could invite team members to take turns hosting their favourite Ted Talker or topic.
Lunch can also be a fun way to boost your team building. Meal delivery service Deliveroo has seen a 50 per cent spike in orders on Fridays for team lunches.
To really keep things interesting, one company has mystery lunches. Team members order for a meal delivery for another team member – bringing new meaning to the term Lunch and Learn.
Learn leadership skills for remote employees and beyond
Technology has made it possible to achieve things that were thought impossible pre-pandemic, and virtual team building is one of them.
You can also use the same technology to upgrade your qualifications with a Master of Leadership from Deakin University. This one-year course has been fast-tracked so you can complete it 100 per cent online while you work.
Our online learning platform FutureLearn also gives you access to webinars, quizzes and watercooler chats with other students and academics. They’re all linked by digital corridors that will be an inspiration for your own virtual team building exercises.
Find out more about our Master of Leadership.