As a travel company recently turned virtual game developers, we’ve learned a lot over the past few months about bringing people together at a time when we must remain physically apart. You may have read in our past blog posts about keeping colleagues connected and corporate culture strong through remote teambuilding activities. We decided to put our money where our mouth was and develop our own series of virtual experiences that offer a much-needed change to the standard game of bingo or your tenth yoga session.
When putting these custom remote teambuilding experiences together, we knew it was key to translate the elements that make our in-person activities fun and engaging into the online realm. At its very core, this meant finding a way to make each game an all-encompassing experience with enough depth to draw participants into the world we were hoping to create. After a whole lot of brainstorming and revisiting the drawing board, what came out were 8 fundamental ingredients for making a captivating virtual activity.
Let’s Get Visual
Visuals are everything - this rings especially true in the online sphere where you’re missing the other sensory dimensions that exist with teambuilding activities in the real world. In order to get participants engaged in the experience and hold their attention from beginning to end, you want your visuals to be crisp, enticing and, preferably, interactive.
Where possible, allow participants to click and walk-through gameplay elements on their screens - whether it be rankings, mini games, challenges, etc. This gets the brain going and allows teams to divide their resources between the different activity requirements. To do this, we like to custom build game-specific websites that allow for real-time collaboration with on-brand visual elements and external linking components.
You can also use a live host for the introduction - immediately immersing players and catching their attention as you set up the scenario. Interactivity can be furthered even more through the use of live, costumed actors conversing with players over the course of the activity. Where actors are not feasible, consider using videos and photos rather than text to communicate game elements. Participants are much more likely to be engaged when connecting with another human being rather than staring at a block of text. Remember: real time interaction leads to real time feedback.
Polish the Peripherals
If you want to go the extra mile in enhancing your teambuilding experience, we recommend investing in some peripherals. What we mean by this, is creating game-specific add-ons that take participants beyond the confines of the conference call. For example, we have developed a “Startup Starter Kit” for our game Patent Pending, which acts as a player’s manual sharing hints for creating a successful pitch as well as the game timeline and Zoom logistics. Similarly, our lunar disaster scenario, the Artemis Project, includes a themed Spotify playlist to get participants’ blood pumping over the course of their journey.
We aim to send our peripherals out at least 24 hours prior to game play so players have the time to read and digest their contents. Regardless of the type of supplementary material, you need to commit 100% to their creative development. The peripheral elements will most often be the first impression participants obtain regarding your activity. You want to set yourself up for success by creating something eye-catching that speaks to the tone and nature of the game itself. By incorporating these little “extras”, you create a more immersive environment that wholly envelops players in the experience.
The Devil’s in the Details
I’m going to kick this one off by sharing a little story. During the development of the Artemis Project: A Lunar Outpost Disaster Scenario, we decided to have our astronauts crash land on the opposite side of a deep, dark, ice-cold crater on the moon. We wanted a name for this crater, so we researched various existing lunar craters and settled on the most epic-sounding one we could find: “Tycho”.
During the trial run of this activity with a tech company, however, one of the participants just so happened to be an astronomy-fanatic. He quickly remarked that the real Tycho is actually a shallow crater with a slower cooling rate than the rest of the planet making it a “hot spot” - therefore, poking holes in the plausibility of our plot.
The moral of this story is to do your research and do it well because someone will always notice if your details don’t align. You want to keep participants in the universe you’ve established, and having inconsistencies in the plot and it’s particulars pulls them out of the experience - even if just for a moment. Read and re-read your plot multiple times to avoid holes and tie up any possible loose ends. It’s also a good idea to play test the activity multiple times through before rolling it out so you can have a fresh set of eyes on the contents.
Theme It, Just Theme It
Another component that has taken our remote teambuilding activities to the next level is developing each around a central theme. Utilizing a theme - whether it be related to an era (‘80s, ‘90s, etc.), happenstance (Zombie outbreak, Lunar Disaster, etc.), game show (Family Feud, Jeopardy, etc.), or otherwise - helps enhance the overall experience by making it more comprehensive.
Once you’ve selected a theme to move forward with, effort should be made to communicate it through all aspects of the activity. The backstory and plot should lend themselves to fleshing out the theme - establishing tone, setting, relevant characters, etc. - while the peripherals help reinforce it. From the participants’ perspective, doing so adds depth to the overall game scenario, making it more plausible and therefore more engaging. From the organizer’s standpoint, harnessing a theme opens up doors to creativity and content creation.
By way of example, our team leverages an ‘80s theme for our virtual murder mystery - Love in the First Degree. Our player’s manual is designed in an ‘80s scheme, using bright colours and funky fonts. As player’s enter the Zoom call, cheesy ‘80s music videos play with a countdown timer leading into costumed actors. We also send out a “killer cocktail” list prior to the event, and offer bonus points for the team with the best ‘80s attire. Righteous!
You Get What You Give
A great way to get participants interested right off the bat is to solicit their involvement prior to, during, and following the activity. In doing so, you allow players to shape the content, making it especially exciting as it fosters an emotional connection with the gameplay. For us, this takes the form of registration surveys asking for prompts, interviews between actors and players, and feedback forms requesting suggestions for bettering the gameplay.
Seeking external input for each game also helps tailor the experience to each individual company and the particular participants of that event. Inside jokes and callbacks that exist within one company likely won’t land with another, so getting that extra level of customization makes all the difference in engagement. Of course, it is also a nice feather in one’s cap to see the activity creators have actually chosen your prompt and to see how it plays out before your very eyes.
Keep it Short & Sweet...but not too short
In order to hold the majority’s attention span, we recommend keeping your teambuilding event short and sweet. An activity that is too long runs the risk of losing engagement as the clock ticks on. By the same token, one that is too short makes it hard to get participants fully immersed in the activity (especially if you have a few who are a bit tardy to the party!).
Our experience has shown that 60-90 minutes is the sweet spot for virtual teambuilding. This allows enough time for everyone to get situated and introduced to their teammates, become fully engrossed in the story, and finish up before dinner time. Consider scheduling in a brief intermission so participants can take a quick bathroom break or refill their coffee as well.
Smells Like Team Spirit
It goes without saying that if you want to see the most success from your teambuilding activity, it’s best to ensure there are elements that foster discussion and promote collaboration. When it comes to the division of teams within the activity, we’ve learned one key thing: size matters.
If you’re a smaller company, try roping-in partnering companies or keeping the entire group as one team so different perspectives can be brought into the discussion. If you’re a larger company, you’ll want to divide and conquer in smaller teams. Depending on the activity, we recommend teams be limited to around 3-5 people, and split into breakout rooms for discussion. In doing so, you ensure every participant’s voice is heard and that everyone feels comfortable contributing to the discussion.
In a larger group, especially over online platforms like Zoom, you run the risk of people taking a backseat to the more outspoken members of the company. By limiting team size and utilizing the breakout rooms function to foster discussion, the likelihood that everyone gets to share their input increases tenfold. Take it from us, the last thing you want are 90 talking heads in speaker view!
Leverage Your Platform
Regardless of the platform you choose, do your best to leverage it to the fullest extent. From screen sharing to spotlighting, it’s amazing how many capabilities are “hidden” within remote conferencing mediums. We prefer to use Zoom for our selection of virtual teambuilding experiences due to groups’ familiarity with the software and its elevated functionality. Zoom broadcasts are used to communicate the amount of time remaining in the activity, speaker view and spotlighting are leveraged for hosting, and the breakout chat function is perfect for dropping hints and links to supporting documents.
Other platforms will have their own special features, and it’s important to fully understand each so you can more easily create a seamless event. On that note, we recommend keeping as many of the discussions and peripherals within the one platform as possible so participants aren’t left clicking between multiple windows.
Did any of our teambuilding experience pique your interest? Feel free to reach out below for more details!