The year 2020 was a big test for many companies around the world. We had to figure out how to quickly adopt new technologies into our companies and make our businesses flexible enough to fit into the current market situation. Many employees, on the other hand, become remote workers overnight and need to find a way to efficiently work and communicate with the team while sometimes having Armageddon at home.
We have started using virtual communication tools daily and sometimes it was quite a struggle – “You are on mute” became one of the most popular quotes of the year 2020. We have been carrying out online meetings so often that the most well-known communication brands increased their revenue – Zoom reported $777.2 million in revenue during its third quarter, over 4x its revenue from the same quarter in 2019. Even so, we haven’t learned yet how to spark and fan the flame of our company culture.
Continue reading because this article gives great virtual team-building ideas and answers the question of why we should still interact even as a virtual team?
First, you may wonder, is there a difference between a remote team and a virtual team? These terms often appear to be used interchangeably, however, they have a slightly different meaning.
Virtual teams are brought together to perform specific tasks or resolve specific issues, and are made up of people with different areas of expertise. A virtual team consists of people who work for different functional and line managers. Team members report functionally to their management and are seconded to a virtual team. Some of them may be co-located, but the term usually refers to geographically dispersed teams, characterised by ‘dotted line’ reporting. Virtual teams formed for a specific purpose ‘disperse’ once their task is complete.
The remote team is also co-located but every single team member reports to the team manager from the same company. Remote team members are often full-time employees hired only by one company and collaborate together even after the project has been completed. Shortly speaking, virtual teams most of the time can be understood as project-development teams or dedicated development teams.
Find out more about a dedicated development team by reading one of our older articles: When Is a Dedicated Development Team the Best Solution for My Project?
Anyway, no matter if your team is remote or virtual there seems to be the same problem – staying connected and identifying with a specific group when you often can’t physically meet. A Forbes report found that 45% of online teams state that they feel “less connected” to their peers since COVID. Partly due to a lack of formal and informal team-building activities.
Socializing at work and after work with team members has always been important since it builds trust, removes communication barriers, makes the people on the team better understand both their roles and the roles of others – which, in short, means efficiently cooperating team. Virtual team building is all about interacting together and finding activities that can be done online synchronously. Activities that will change a group of strangers working under the name of one company into a group of colleagues who support each other.
Remote work became a new normal last year, however, it is nothing new - we have just started paying more attention to it. It may be an interesting fact that in 1990 the Federal government of the US conducted a telecommuting study on 2,000 federal workers. Around 5 years later companies like IBM, AT&T, and American Express started letting their employees work remotely (Source: We Work Remotely).
During all of these years, we have learned a lot about online team communication. No matter if you are asking your co-worker to finish their task or if you are having a quick chat over a specific topic – there are a lot of possibilities. You can have a conversation via email, live chat, comments, online forms, instant messaging, social media sites, forums, and through other channels in communication tools. Slack itself boasts about having 10+ million daily active users.
Anyway, there is one thing we all seem to keep forgetting about – interactions! Communicating daily is important, talking about tasks, wins, and losses is important but it doesn’t necessarily mean that employees feel like a team. Video conferencing tools are helping us stay in touch, see each other and handle meetings but they aren’t events that bring us together. That’s why searches for “virtual team building activities'' are up 1540% over the last year – it can be a quite big business soon.
In-person interactions are valuable for any team because they help to build a bond, and sense of community. Being a part of a community that is thriving gives us an opportunity to share experiences and work towards specific goals together. Earlier, companies have been spending thousands of dollars for organizing the all-company get-togethers or smaller retreats offline because it pays off later on. Now, when all of it is “on pause”, we ought to find a fun substitute online.
The easiest way to build stronger relationships between remote workers is to perform activities not related to work together. However, it might not be that easy to find those which your employees will perceive as fun, especially that we all have different preferences based on our personality traits. Another difficulty is that it must be handled online. We prepared a list with virtual team building activities we recommend:
The first live escape room was built by the company SCRAP in Japan in 2007. Since then escape rooms can be found all over the world. The concept originates from a computer game. Such escape rooms have all sorts of themes and storylines and a wide range of difficulty levels. Now many of them are also built online. A team of up to 10 members can solve puzzles and hunt down clues in a specific amount of time.
It is a typical game that you could have experienced while attending any class during your life – when people introduce each other. However, the online version can be more fun and turn into a series of short meetings that happen, for example, every Friday at the end of the workday. Inform your team about a topic before the meeting begins so as not to make it a stressful experience. Then each team member gets one minute to show and talk about a chosen topic.
Cooking has always been gathering people together and now thanks to technology it can be done remotely from many places at the same time. Team members log in to the meeting at the scheduled time and day. Before that, they need to receive the necessary information and products. Such a cooking workshop takes around 1.5-2 hours. While there is a chef who shows you how to prepare the dishes there is also a space for conversations over the food.
Many companies have been involved in sports initiatives. In larger and smaller organizations people were joining company teams of runners, volleyball players, or cyclists. Some companies choose to introduce free yoga lessons. Now we need to get it online. One of the ideas is to organize regular sports team meetings remotely – such classes may be conducted by a specialist or any team member. It can be everything from fitness to dancing.
There are a least a few ways how a virtual tour can be handled. You can choose a specific place with your team – now many museums, zoos, or even theme parks are offering earlier prepared virtual tours – and discover a new place together. Another way is finding a tour guide who will give your team an online speech over the most popular attractions or art pieces. Or you can ask your team members to talk and show the photos or videos from a place they have visited.
The most popular is tea, coffee, wine, or beer tasting class which can take place also in online reality. Find an expert who will talk about the origin of a chosen type of drink and how it has journeyed through the ages. Your team can learn how to choose, prepare and serve it to bring out the best flavor and aroma. You can also decide to send out samples to your team members so they can have more real experience.
Virtual team-building activities ought to be a part of company culture. When the times have changed daily human interactions don’t come naturally anymore, so founders, team leaders, or human resources teams need to plan it and find a way to bring people together. When co-workers/team members don’t feel comfortable working with each other it slows down the flow of information. This can even lead to the lack of sharing feedback or asking questions related to tasks or difficulties encountered at work.
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