If you type “virtual team building” into Google trends, there is an explosion in the search term usage between the 7th-20th of March 2020. That’s when many countries around the world went into lockdown with once desk-bound employees now working from home.
This trend demonstrates the need to connect with our colleagues. No matter the circumstance, it is absolutely essential to running a successful virtual office.
But what is virtual team-building? How can it further the success of your company? And how can you do it right, even when there may be members of the team who have never even met each other in real life yet?
Whether your “team” consists of employees, colleagues, contractors, clients, customers, or all the above, effective teamwork is an essential element of virtually every business.
By now, we’re all familiar with the multitude of crazy ways we can promote effective team-building in person – making marshmallow and spaghetti towers; being tied together to complete races; creating pitches in a dragon’s den style exercise. But in the age of ‘Work From Home’ translating the benefits of such creative and novel team-building to virtual platforms is the new necessity.
Here are three vital steps you can take today to build strong virtual teams:
Step One: Schedule Check-ins: Daily, at the Beginning of Every Meeting, or Both
A quick 5-10 minute check-in with the people you work with to ask how they’re doing will go a long way. It’s also best to save up those little one-liners you’re tempted to send via email or instant messenger if you can for these regular check-ins.
In this climate where everyone is dealing with regular overwhelm, a quick touch base that shows you care will make them feel supported, while funneling little questions into these conversations will free up valuable headspace for the both of you throughout the day.
Step Two: Embrace the Zoom
Yes, we all have screen fatigue, but we have to work with what we have. These days, what most of us have is Zoom. Or Teams. Or Skype. Or Google Meet.
With some people having been at home alone for many months, and others simply missing the serendipity that can happen when people are together, one way to increase collaboration and mimic an in-person office setting is to build small teams who work independently but are connected on Zoom (or the equivalent) for most of the day.
At first, it feels strange to be working mostly silently with a screen of two or three of your colleagues doing the same in the background. But you soon get used to it, and the first few times you’re able to say, “Hey, can I run an idea by you,” you’ll appreciate having real-time, in person feedback just like you would if you were able to just pass by someone’s desk.
Try it first for limited sessions of a couple of hours once a week and see how it goes. I know people who love this so much, they now spend much of their week working this way.
Step Three: Design Activities with Purpose
When we’re all in the same space, sharing the same energy, throwing ideas at the same whiteboard, sometimes starting with a conversation can be enough. Something else needs to unite people over Zoom. This is especially true when you’re working with team members who have never met in person.
In a recent interview for my podcast, guest Michal Levinson suggested that everyone eats the same meal and bond over that shared culinary connection – which is great for colleagues, as it gets them talking about things other than work. Either everyone could be sent a recipe card for a novel cuisine a few days before the event, so they could prepare a quasi-communal meal to enjoy with their colleagues, or those more pushed for time in closer proximity to one another could get the same meal from a local restaurant.
Sharing food is a great bonding experience, and all preparing food ‘together’ can work really well, especially for smaller groups when people can compare their methods and spend some time doing something novel as a group.
If, like many of us, it feels like you’ve been tethered to your screen since March, the term ‘virtual team-building’ may make you want to roll your eyes. But precisely because we all feel that way, it’s more important than ever to be able to have great rapport, communication, and trust with your colleagues.
So, go forth and Zoom. And remember, it won’t always be this way.