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Virtual Team Building: proximity versus unity

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many of us to start working remotely; something we may have not been ready for.  While working with virtual teams may have some positive effects, especially on work-life balance, it might lead organizations to lose that “water cooler chat” that is so essential to team building and employee satisfaction. Several studies have shown that teams working together in the same location report higher productivity and efficiency in addition to better decision making. So, what happens when a pandemic like Covid-19 forces teams to work together remotely? Is it possible for teams to stay as connected and productive? Despite the fact that a slight drop in productivity is inevitable, this can be remedied by taking the right steps to ensure that employees comprehend that their commitment towards their teams and their common goals should remain intact.  Virtual team building activities are an excellent way for team members to feel like they are not alone in this, and that despite the physical distance, they can remain united and aligned with their teams. Here are six virtual team building activities that will help keep remote employees cohesive.
  1. Weekly Lunch and Learn Sessions: ideas group (ig) has been implementing this activity prior to the pandemic, and it had such a very positive impact, that the team decided to maintain it throughout the quarantine period. So, what are lunch-and-learn sessions or what ig members refer to as “learning moments”? These sessions can be described as mini-trainings that are led by a different team member each week. The assigned employee has to select a topic of choice, and deliver a brief training to the rest of the team. This helps boost employee morale, job satisfaction and performance levels. Additionally, it is highly encouraged to do this activity during lunch break, and leave room at the end of the training for employees to share a meal together and chat. Researchers led by Kevin Kniffin of Cornell University have unraveled that “eating is such a primal behavior that it can be extraordinarily meaningful”, and that the simple act of sharing a meal can be highly effective in enhancing team cohesion.
  2. “Quarantea” Breaks: Amidst all the instability that the world is currently facing, people are in need of time away from the news to re-focus their energies on more positive aspects. Scheduling consistent virtual tea breaks across the week will allow team members to identify this time as their break time and to associate it with relaxation and rejuvenation. These tea breaks consist of video calls with all the team members, where they discuss how their day is going and chat about different topics. It is highly advisable not to discuss any work or news related matters. “Quarantea” breaks are a space for sharing thoughts and bonding with the team in an informal setting.
  3. Trivia Games: Trivia games have been proven to mobilize breakthrough thinking by improving alertness and receptivity to useful information, enhancing cognitive skills, enabling better memory, and most importantly, building unity through sharing common knowledge. They are a fun and informative way to foster communication among team members. Team leaders are highly encouraged to prepare weekly or monthly virtual trivia games for their team, based either on general knowledge or work-related topics. In addition to the former mentioned benefits, these games can also have a highly positive influence on mental health.
  4. Moments of Gratitude: Based on positive psychology research, gratitude is highly and recurrently correlated with greater happiness. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study on two groups of university fundraisers, one that received a pep talk expressing gratitude for their efforts, and one that was simply asked to make fundraising calls. The study found that the employees who received the message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not. So, how can we implement this across our virtual teams? One example that ig team members are also currently applying is to introduce team meetings with gratitude sharing sessions, where each employee gets to choose one team member and one incident to express gratitude for. This activity helps create a culture of appreciation across the team, in addition to increasing happiness.
  5. Do you really know me? : This activity helps team members get to know one another on a deeper level. The team leader will ask all the team members to send him/her three facts about themselves that they have not shared before. The team leader will then create a list of facts and read them out loud during a virtual call. Team members will take turns guessing whom each fact describes. The employee with the highest number of correct guesses will win a small prize.
  6. Storytelling: Storytelling has been continuously proven to increase resilience and happiness. Science has even confirmed that our brains are hardwired to store and process data in the form of stories. TED talks are a living example of how telling stories can be captivating and mentally stimulating. Virtual teams can utilize this game to enhance their creativity, synergy, and well-being. In this activity, the team members are given one minute to select a random item from their surrounding; they are then required to tell a three minute story based on that item. The story can be completely fictional or based on true events. The listeners are bound to walk away with a higher level of emotional connection.
The one thing all these activities have in common is their simplicity. Often, when managers think of team building activities, they associate them solely with outings, physical activities, and a lot of monetary expenditures. Virtual team building activities are a proof that teams can stay connected regardless of their geographical locations. They also demonstrate that the simplest of acts, such as sharing a meal or telling a story, should not be taken for granted when it comes to their impact on fostering social bonds.
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