It goes without saying that COVID-19 has completely shaken up the way both people and companies are working. Trading in their cubicles for video conferences, heeding the advice of their governments to work remotely, organizations from all around the world have taken to working from home to do their part in an effort to help “flatten the curve”. While we are starting to see the societal benefits as the number of new cases decline, the lasting effects this shift in work arrangement is having on companies’ morale and people’s mental wellness are also coming to light. Companies are struggling to find a way to inject a boost to employee engagement as they simultaneously struggle to adapt to this new norm of working from home on the fly.

While remote work has been a growing trend in many industries - particularly, tech - you might be wondering how you can still bring your team together and foster a sense of corporate culture in the midst of this global crisis and on a virtual stage.

Under normal circumstances, flying your team out to, say, Tuscany for a week of teambuilding and meetings is the perfect way to give your employees a boost. Of course, with recent travel bans and “State of Emergency” declarations popping up in nearly every country, hosting a traditional corporate retreat is just not on the table for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, with the help of modern technology and our guide below, you can tide employees over until your next in-person retreat by planning online teambuilding activities that create and foster a sense of camaraderie as close to the in-person alternative as possible.

In this article, we’ll share the ins and outs of planning remote culture-boosting activities for your team. At first thought, this may seem like a simple feat - afterall, isn’t hopping on Zoom at 2:00pm to play a round or two of online games (here’s a link to some of our favourites) contributing to team dynamics? Take it from us, even when your teambuilding is taking place from behind a computer screen in the comfort of your own home, there are a variety of aspects to consider should you want it be 1) worth pulling your employees away from their operational tasks, and 2) successful in strengthening the company culture while everyone is ‘out-of-office’.

Set Goals & Objectives For Your Teambuilding Activities

Even when planning a series of virtual teambuilding activities, it’s important to first outline the what and why. What do we want to get out of each activity? Why are we bringing the team together? Are you looking to have some fun and replace your usual Thursday-after-work ‘social hour’? Or do a more work-focused traditional teambuilding activity to challenge people’s critical thinking and problem solving skills? For both planning and execution purposes, it’s critical that you go into your teambuilding with a clear idea of what you want to get out of it.   While this can look different for every company - whether it’s getting to know each other, taking a break from the ordinary, improving communication and collaboration, etc…, the importance of deciding on your goals is key before you set off too far down the path of hosting a virtual event. In doing so, you set the tone for the agenda, and can help determine the type of activity (or activities) you will ultimately choose.

What Should We Play?

It’s amazing what activities you can host to bring people together and/or inspire friendly competition. Depending on if you’re looking for - a social event aimed at eliciting a few laughs over a shared experience, or challenging your teams to solve a problem together, experiences like a virtual murder mystery, remote escape room, or a whacky version of ABC’s hit show Dragon’s Den, go a long way.Don’t be afraid to break people into teams for some activities and have others executed solo - it’s all about getting to know each other in different ways. Looking for some inspiration? Check out our completely custom built, remote-friendly activities here.

Put Together an Agenda

Once you know the objectives of your remote teambuilding activities, it’s time to start putting together an agenda. We like to use Google Sheets to plan out a breakdown of our activities and on what platform they’ll be hosted. You’ll want to block out time slots for every aspect - meetings, breaks, activities/teambuilding, etc. - so employees know when to be available and what for. What this means is that you create a framework and hold everyone accountable to a set schedule, sharing it well in advance to avoid confusion. Just as important, you should be crystal clear on which activities are mandatory and which are not. 

Time Zone Considerations. Depending on the distribution of your company, it’s important to take into account the differing time zones when creating your agenda. You don’t want to schedule a mandatory teambuilding activity at 6:00am PST! Consider first building out your agenda based on a mid-day timeslot in the time zone where the bulk of your company is located, then populate the activities based on when most people are awake.

Intermission. If the activity you’re planning on hosting is going to be running over an hour, it’s important to schedule in an “intermission” that attendees can utilize at their discretion. Whether this be for refreshing their coffee, catching up on an email, or a quick bathroom break, attendees will generally be grateful for the opportunity to momentarily step away. 

Choose a Platform

There are several platforms to choose from when it comes to hosting your virtual teambuilding activities. Perhaps your team already has a preference, but if this remote workstyle is completely foreign, we’ve shared a few options below:

Zoom. Our recommended platform to use. Zoom is a remote conferencing service that specializes in real-time collaboration and content sharing from anywhere in the world. With multiple plans and pricing models, it’s easy to find a solution that fits your team size and budget. The platform is super easy to use, and is entirely web-based so participants don’t need to go through the hassle of downloading the software onto their desktops. Additional features like breakout rooms, session recording, polling functions, streamlined calendaring, and built-in collaboration tools make this software rise above the rest. 

Google Hangouts Meet. If you work in a team that uses Gmail as your email platform of choice, hosting activities on Google Hangouts Meet is a breeze. Meet is fully integrated with G Suite, so you can join meetings directly from a Calendar event or email invite. Video calls are easy to join, and can be used to host meetings up to 250 participants per call, with live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain. Thanks to its new feature, meetings can be recorded and saved directly to Google Drive. The only drawbacks we encountered were a lack of breakout room functionality and not as robust audio-sharing when trying to play a video within a shared window.

Hopin. New to the online conferencing scene, Hopin is an excellent way to bring people together when we have to remain physically apart. Mirroring the sessions found in in-person conferences, Hopin allows up to 100,000 participants at a time, with a wide array of capability to manage the flow of your event. Participants can watch presentations happening on the “main stage”, be divided out into breakouts for networking sessions, and raise their hand to ask questions. The entire registration and event are hosted in an online platform, making it easy for all invitees to access. With two pricing plans, you can easily scale Hopin to fit your business needs. 

Microsoft Teams. Dubbed the “hub for teamwork”, Microsoft Teams is an ideal platform for companies that work in Office 365. All your team conversations, files, meetings, and apps live together in a single shared workspace, making it easy to connect from anywhere in the world. Teams of 10 to 10,000 can instantly jump from group chat to video conference with the touch of a button, with the ability to access, share, and edit Word docs, PowerPoint, and Excel files in real time. Features such as scheduling assistance, meeting note taking, screen sharing, meeting recording, and instant messaging are also worth highlighting.

GoToMeeting. GoToMeeting is great if your team works through the Microsoft Office Suite. The software specializes in hosting online meetings, video conferencing and web conferencing, enabling businesses to collaborate with colleagues around the world. Integrated with the Office 365 Suite, you can seamlessly schedule, flawlessly manage and quickly join upcoming online meetings directly from your calendar. Similar to Google Hangouts, there are multiple plans and pricing schemes so you have options for meeting your particular business needs.

Send Out Your Invites

Once you’ve got your agenda, games, and platform sorted - it’s time to send out your invites! It’s best to get them out early on, so participants can plan accordingly (especially if you’re looking to host outside of the regular office hours). You can use an online invitation platform such as Paperless Post and Evite, or something as simple as an email. Regardless of your medium, you’ll want to ensure the invitation has branding consistent with your activity. Everything from the language and tone to the images and backgrounds should offer invitees a little preview of what to expect on game-day. Be sure to include the following:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Platform (and a link to download the platform)
  • Any players manual that should be read in advance
  • Registration form/survey (if registration is required)    

Consider sending one or two reminders closer to the activity date so 1) participants don’t forget, and 2) you are aware of any participation status changes. Then… it’s show time, baby! 

If you’re looking to bring your team together, provide some levity, and boost morale, remote teambuilding activities may be just what the doctor ordered.