11 MIN READ

Virtual Team Building Exercises

Building Connections When You're Working Remotely

Virtual Team Building Exercises - Building Connections When You're Working Remotely

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Make your remote team more effective.

Many of us are now working from home, with a vast number of businesses asking employees to stay at home following the coronavirus outbreak of 2020. Some of us will likely already be used to remote working, but others will be struggling to adapt.

Remote teams have fewer opportunities to socialize and get to know each other. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from our colleagues, and it may even lead to team conflict and reduced productivity.

Virtual team-building exercises can help remote teams to overcome these difficulties. They can build rapport, improve communication, and increase co-workers' understanding of one another's strengths and weaknesses. They can also reduce feelings of isolation, and drive a sense of community and shared understanding.

In this article, we'll explain what virtual team-building exercises are, and how they can benefit your team. We'll also look at three team-building activities that you can try with your team.

Remote Work and Virtual Teams

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has resulted in millions more people working from home across the globe. But, even before this, many organizations were keen to take advantage of the benefits of remote working.

Working remotely can reduce costs spent on expensive office space, for example. It can also help people to work with fewer distractions, reduce commuting time, and encourage employees to be more autonomous.

Companies are increasingly using videoconferencing software, email and other online tools to allow team members to talk in real time and to connect with one another. Our article, Working in a Virtual Team, provides tips on using technology to collaborate with people remotely and to build effective virtual teams.

Why Is Virtual Team Building Important?

Teams can find it difficult to build rapport when they never meet "in real life." But developing good working relationships is important for individuals to feel able to communicate openly, solve problems, and collaborate well. It can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.

While some people view team-building exercises as a waste of time, studies have shown that they improve teams' effectiveness and help to build trust. These exercises can be equally as effective for virtual teams.

Choosing a Virtual Team Building Exercise

There are a huge number of team-building exercises, so how do you decide which ones are most appropriate for your team and the platform that you intend to use?

Start by defining your purpose and objectives. For example, do you want to improve communication? Build trust? Introduce your global team members to one another? Or increase productivity? It's essential that the outcome of the exercise meets your objective, and that it promotes individual and team growth.

Next, think about the platform you want to use. For example, what are the benefits of using online tools such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack, GoToMeeting, or Google Hangouts Meet? What are the constraints? How will you overcome them?

Tip:

See our article on Team Building Exercises to think about which activities might work best with your team.

Virtual Team Building Exercises

Let's look at some team-building exercises that you can use with your remote team. These have been designed to improve communication, build trust, develop listening skills, and help your people to understand one another better.

Exercise 1: Videoconferencing Discussion

In this study, Margaret Oertig and her colleagues found that face-to-face contact is an important part of effective team development. But, when this is no longer an option, remote teams can use videoconferencing software to bridge the gap.

So, a good place to start is by hosting a videoconferencing discussion with your team.

Uses

This team-building activity comes from the Virtual Team Intelligence website, and it encourages your team members to share their opinions about the effectiveness of video calls. This session should help your team to develop their own set of videoconferencing rules and introduce them to some of the virtual communication and collaboration platforms that they'll need to use to work effectively together.

People and Materials

  • Any number of people.
  • Videoconferencing and online collaboration tools.
  • Internet access.

Time

  • The video that you will ask participants to watch is less than four minutes.
  • The discussion can take as long as you want it to.

Instructions

  • Start by opening an online meeting room or a video group chat using your preferred platform.
  • Ask your team members to watch the video "How (Not) to do Video Calls: Virtual Teams Management Advice." It provides lots of suggestions on how to build trust within your virtual team, including how to make your videoconference more dynamic, using body language for effective video communication, and the importance of making eye contact with team members.
  • When you've finished watching the video, discuss what your team could do to make your remote meetings work for everyone. This might include settling on a particular platform (Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and so on), choosing a meeting facilitator, and agreeing on whether or not you'll all be visible on camera. You could even ask people to brainstorm ideas using online collaboration platforms such as Jamboard, Microsoft Whiteboard or Mural. Then ask people to vote on the ideas that they like best. 

Advice for the Facilitator

Discuss how to build trust during a videoconference. Your goal is to encourage your people to use videoconferencing routinely, so that they can communicate more openly and effectively with one another.

Activity 2: Twaiku

This game comes from the book, "50 Digital Team Building Games," by John Chen. In this activity, the team members write a haiku (or "twaiku") poem using Twitter. In other words, they'll be limited to 140 characters.

Uses

This activity encourages members of your team to work together, communicate effectively, and get creative.

People and Materials

  • Any number of people. Preferably several groups, each with two or more team members.
  • Access to Twitter.

Time

  • 10-20 minutes.

Instructions

  • Set up your own unique hashtag (you might call it #twaiku and add your company name on the end) so that participants can keep track of one another's tweets.
  • Split people up into smaller groups using your remote meeting package, and ask them to create a haiku. A haiku is a traditional Japanese poem. English-language haikus comprise three lines and 17 syllables, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.
  • Haikus are traditionally written about nature, but you can suggest other topics such as teamwork, motivation, creativity, or leadership.

Advice for the Facilitator

Once everyone has finished, read through the twaikus. Ask team members how they found writing poems in groups. Was it difficult or inspiring? Did they think it improved their creativity? Find out what they thought about the other twaikus, and which one they thought was best and why. Ask them for their ideas about how they could apply what they have learned to their work.

Activity 3: Blind Origami

This is a fun and creative activity from the "Big Book of Virtual Teambuilding Games" by Mary Scannell, Michael Abrams and Mike Mulvihill.

Uses

The purpose of this activity is to highlight the importance of listening and asking for feedback.

People and Materials

  • Any number of people, in virtual pairs.
  • Phone (without video) or messaging app.
  • A sheet of Letter or A4 size paper for each person.

Time

  • Twenty five to 30 minutes.

Instructions

  • To start, ensure that all participants have a sheet of Letter or A4 size paper.
  • Email one person from each pair a set of origami instructions.
  • The person with the instructions (the instructor) should guide their partner (the receiver) through the steps to create an origami structure via videoconferencing software (but with the camera turned off). 
  • The receiver can ask questions, request clarification, and offer feedback during the call.
  • When each group has finished, both participants can turn their cameras back on to see whether the receiver got the origami structure right.

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Advice for the Facilitator

Ask the partners to switch roles and repeat the exercise with a different design. Once the second exercise has been done, ask them how accurate each structure was. How difficult was it to listen and follow verbal instructions? How good was the feedback provided?

Use the answers to these questions to identify areas where each pair could improve their listening and feedback skills.

Tip:

You can find simple origami instructions with easy-to-follow illustrations and free downloadable PDFs at Origamiway.com.

Tips for Remote Team Building Activities

When setting up your virtual team-building exercises, consider the following:

  • How much time do you have for each activity?
  • Will these exercises be a one-off event or will they happen regularly? For example, will you make enough progress in one session, or do you want to work on building relationships in the long term?
  • Does everyone in your team have all the technology they need to participate?
  • How will people's countries, cultures and personalities affect their experience, and how can you address their individual needs? For example, some people may be introverts and struggle to "open up" during team discussions. Others may be extroverts and tend to take over.
  • Some people on your team might already know one another, while others may not have met. So, it's important to introduce everyone, so that each person has a "voice." Where people don't know one another, consider using Virtual Ice Breakers to get started.

Key Points

Virtual team-building exercises are great for improving communication, building trust, increasing creativity, reducing conflict, and helping your team members to understand one another better. They're also a great way for everyone to get used to remote meetings and videoconferencing software.

Holding these exercises regularly gives your team members fun ways to interact and get to know one another, and it encourages them to connect and to collaborate, which benefits your team and the organization as a whole.

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