If your team has been working remotely for months, using the same old ways to connect, it may be time for a refresh. Cultivating a sense of community can combat loneliness and isolation, and build trust among team members. Not only can boosting connections help you and your colleagues feel happier, you may work more effectively together, too.
While team building may call to mind in-person activities, there are many options for bringing people together online. Many of these activities are most easily facilitated through a video conferencing tool, but if you need an asynchronous or low-bandwidth option, try adapting some activities to your group chat, email or conference call.
This article was originally published in May 2020 and was updated in April 2021.
Hold a games night (Or afternoon, or lunch hour …)
There are many games that you can play virtually with team members. Create your own trivia (or join a local pub trivia that’s moved online), play a Pictionary-style game (or build your own using Zoom Whiteboards or Miro), get together for bingo, play a virtual version of the popular boardgame Codenames, find a game on Board Game Arena, or chat and play games together on the Houseparty app. At CERIC, we had a blast with a scavenger hunt, with people racing back and forth from their screens to show off novelty mugs, animal socks and costumes.
Show and tell
Children are popping into Zoom calls, dogs are barking in the background and we’re getting to know each other’s work-from-home wardrobes – in other words, our work and personal lives are blending together in new ways. Why not embrace this with some show and tell? Team members can give a guided tour of their home office, introduce their pet, or share a funny or meaningful photo.
You can also make it into a game of “show and guess” by having people submit photos in advance – of their home working space or a baby photo, for instance – and then getting co-workers to guess whose it is.
Brush up on your skills
There are a wealth of learning opportunities available online right now. Have your team sign up for a course, workshop or webinar together, and then set up a time to discuss takeaways. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this CareerWise compilation of “Spring 2021 conferences and webinars for career professionals.”
Also, from our article “Resources for career professionals navigating COVID-19,” here are some organizations offering regular webinars for career professionals and jobseekers: ACCES Employment; APCDA; BambooHR; BCCDA; BC Centre for Employment Excellence; Brandon Hall Group; Career Professionals of Canada; CCPA; CDAA; CERIC; CharityVillage; Conference Board of Canada; CPHR Manitoba; Crisis and Trauma Resource Centre; Hire Immigrants; Mental Health Commission of Canada; MENTOR; NCDA; OACM; Ontario Nonprofit Network; Pay Scale; Psychometrics; Respect Ability; Resume Writing Academy; World Education Services.
[Insert your activity here] club
While a book club or movie club might immediately come to mind, you can create team clubs around many different types of activities. Knitting, baking, TV show binging, writing – let your imagination run wild. Set up meetings to discuss or do activities together. (Pro tip for movie or TV clubbers: You can watch movies or shows together and chat by downloading the free Chrome extension Teleparty, if everyone has a subscription to Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu or HBO.)
Have a ‘just for fun’ chat
Whether in Slack, a WhatsApp group – or whatever instant messaging platform you keep in touch with co-workers – consider creating a chat that’s just for sharing gifs, memes, pictures, music and other fun things. These small moments of connection can put a smile on people’s faces and bring co-workers together around common interests.
Create a masterclass
Many workplaces host “lunch and learns” to help team members share skills, learn new things and develop presentation skills. That doesn’t have to change – but now that everyone is at home, consider how you could broaden it to add a little levity and fun. In addition to sharing their expertise in areas that can help their team members with their work, encourage people to give short presentations on their non-work-related interests or hobbies. For instance, “How to create your own sourdough starter,” “Home workout basics,” “Sew your own face mask,” “Writing short stories” or “Woodworking 101.” These are best conducted live, so people have the opportunity to chat and ask questions, but could also be recorded.
Revitalize your team dynamics with ‘morale officers’
This idea comes from the University of Alberta’s Career Centre, via the “Career Superpowers” issue of CERIC’s Careering magazine. To focus on well-being and authentic team-building, Director Blessie Mathew asked staff to volunteer in pairs to take on the role of morale officers for two weeks at a time. “Morale officers, in general, would be responsible for finding ways to connect our team and ensure we had opportunities to stay engaged with one another as we started to work remotely,” she writes. They were given the freedom to make it their own. Some of the popular team activities that emerged were the co-creation of a coat of arms representing team values and the Pand-Emmys: peer-nominated awards that recognized people’s efforts while working from home.
Cheers to long-distance happy hour
This could be an opportunity to show off your mixology skills, but virtual happy hour can also be alcohol-free. Grab a coffee, a snack – whatever – and bring the team together for an end-of-day, casual hangout. No shop talk! This is an opportunity for people to relax and talk casually; save the to-do lists for meetings. If your work schedule permits, consider carving out some time toward the end of the work day instead of asking people to join in their personal time.
An alternative to this is a virtual lunch break or virtual water cooler chat. (The CERIC and Counselling Foundation of Canada teams have been getting together regularly for “recess” since we’ve been working remotely) Set up a recurring video call or chat at the same time each day and invite people to stop by when they want to.
Capture the highlights in a newsletter
If they are no longer working together on a daily basis, team members may not be aware of all of the great things their colleagues have been doing since they’ve been apart. Create a weekly or monthly email newsletter to celebrate tiny wins, acknowledge hard work and commend accomplishments. You may also want to share some personal news from colleagues. You can build something simple in email, or take it up a notch with a newsletter builder like MailChimp or Tiny Letter.
There’s nothing quite like a personality assessment to get your team chatting about everyone’s strengths and unique qualities. While career professionals may be more accustomed to administering formal assessments with clients, there are quick and free options available online that can work as conversation starters. (And for the Potterheads out there, you can learn a lot about a person by through a patronus quiz.)
Enjoy the great outdoors
Not all team building has to happen synchronously – or over a screen. Encourage people to get moving in a way that feels accessible and comfortable to them. Suggest that staff take breaks during the day and post photos to a group chat from walks, bike rides, backyards or balconies. Share stretching or meditation videos/exercises that can help people decompress. Encouraging people to take a staff meeting outside by phone can also be a good way to bring some balance into the workday. Teams could consider adding a gamification element to build camaraderie. For instance, set a target of collective kilometres walked/wheeled and reward the team with an early Friday end of day when they reach the goal. Of course, it is important to ensure any activities be non-judgmental and inclusive of all team member’s abilities/comfort levels.
Ideas and inspiration for this article came from:
- 25 virtual team building activities for remote teams
- 5 of our favorite virtual team-building activities to grow a strong remote team
- 18 Easy Virtual Team Building Activities for Remote Teams
- The best virtual team building activities, according to real remote workers
- These Two Weird Techniques Will Keep You Connected To Your Team During Isolation
- Virtual Team Bonding During COVID-19
- 15 Best Team Building Activities & Games for Remote Workers
- 15+ Social Events and Games for Remote Teams