Finding ways to build trust and cultivate positive work relationships is one of the most challenging aspects of managing virtual teams. Although there’s no shortage of technology that allows geographically distributed team members to interact and collaborate, the barriers of distance and time differences often make it hard to create a sense of community and trust that’s essential to promote accountability.
Fortunately, that same technology offers a variety of tools virtual leaders can use to help team members build relationships that allow them to work together more effectively. Here are a few creative virtual team-building activities companies are using today.
7 Creative Virtual Team-building Activities
Non-Work Conversation Channels
Most virtual teams utilize some form of software platform to facilitate communication and collaboration. Slack and Microsoft Teams are among the most popular choices, allowing team members to communicate directly and easily no matter where they’re located. These platforms can accommodate multiple conversation threads and channels, most of which end up being dedicated to specific work topics. Setting up a number of non-work conversation channels, however, is a good way for team members to engage in conversations that allow them to share interests or learn something about each other. While this might sound like a recipe for distraction, these channels serve the same function as general office conversations in a colocated work environment. Setting up a channel to discuss common topics like sports, family, or food gives virtual team members an opportunity to interact with one another in a new context.
Team-Building Software Extensions
Going a step beyond conversation channels, virtual teams can also install applications like Donut, which randomly pairs two team members together over a period of time and schedules a video or in-person meeting between them. These meetings help team members to learn more about people who they might not regularly interact with in the course of their work. Even if they know the other person already, a dedicated meeting encourages them to go beyond the basic pleasantries of typical office conversation and learn a bit more about their fellow team members, which helps to build familiarity and trust.
Videos of Company Events
When working remotely, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and become disengaged. Virtual team members spend so much time working on their own tasks that they don’t have a good idea of how everything comes together to support the team’s goals or the company’s vision. Creating video segments that document company activities or provide a tangible example of how the team’s work is making an impact can be tremendously motivating for many team members. If the video involves people who work on the team, these online events can be even more effective because it reinforces the sense that the team is collectively working toward something that’s making a difference.
Quizzes are especially valuable as virtual team-building icebreakers. Competitive quizzes can take a variety of forms and can be played in teams, but even simple quizzes that reveal people’s interests and personality can contribute to entertaining conversations and provide insightful information. For instance, a quiz about what items someone would bring to a desert island or what music they would pick for a long road trip is easy to organize and serves as a great conversation starter that encourages team members to share something about themselves, which can provide the foundation for future relationships.
Thanks to smartphones, nearly everyone has a high-quality digital camera at their disposal. Photo competitions can give people an opportunity to use their creative side or share moments that are important to them. Team members can even be encouraged to work together for some competitions, which can help promote collaboration in a team environment. Of course, not everything has to be a competition. Simply setting up a photo-sharing channel in Slack or Teams to allow people to post recent or memorable photos can help to build a sense of community within a team.
While it may be the most predictable entry on the list, scheduling time for a group to meet over coffee (or tea, for the non-coffee drinkers out there), whether to work or to discuss interests outside of work, is still one of the most effective ways for virtual team members to build stronger relationships with one another. This is especially useful if several people are located in the same city or geographic area because it gives them an opportunity to meet and interact face-to-face. Even for geographically distributed teams, however, a virtual coffee meet-up facilitated over video conferencing can be just as effective at overcoming virtual team-building challenges. Many virtual teams we work with use technology to have “coffee chats” or team “snack breaks” to replicate what teams would do if they were together in person. Other teams have virtual dinners where they highlight specific foods that are unique to different cultures to help team members learn about one another.
A novel approach to virtual team-building, a digital bonfire gathering is a regular meeting that involves not just a specific team, but the entire company. The online event features a number of message board topics that allow employees to engage with their own teams and people from other teams, which allows for relationships to form across departmental functions. Guest speakers are often invited, and people can hold group video discussions or break off into smaller chats. While these interactive programs require a bit more coordination and effort, they can be tremendously helpful in building a strong organizational culture for a company that relies on a largely virtual workforce.
As this list demonstrates, virtual leaders have plenty of options when it comes to helping their teams get to know each other better and slowly develop relationships that facilitate trust and accountability. The nature of remote work often makes it easy to forget that being part of a team isn’t just about churning through tasks as quickly as possible. In order to collaborate effectively and develop creative solutions, team members need to have a good idea of what the people they’re working with are like. Virtual team-building activities can help them to break the ice and get to know their fellow team members, which then paves the way toward building strong relationships based upon trust and respect.