The landscape of remote work has changed dramatically and permanently as a result of the global pandemic—so how are you adjusting? According to a report by S&P Global Market Intelligence, “As COVID-inspired practices become permanent policy, the shift to remote work will be major, and the impact to office space widespread. The survey found that the increase in remote working is a permanent change for 64% of responding organizations.”
While a majority of companies will be embracing a new way of connecting virtually, many will need help re-establishing cultures that foster connection, productivity, and clarity…which is why I’ve done a bit of the brainstorming for you. Don’t just adapt—thrive! Whether it’s the ice breakers for a team meeting, activities for small groups, ideas for celebrating holidays, or offering recognition, I’ve got you covered.
Frequent interaction and coordination within a department is critical for sustaining synergy. For groups of eight or smaller, you’ll want to implement check-ins and activities which help your employees to feel their time is valued.
- One Word: Encourage your team members to share one word of what they are feeling right now. This will help you to gauge stress and see how people are doing—and perhaps shorten the meeting accordingly.
- Highs & Lows: Invite everyone to briefly share a positive and challenging experience from the past week (personal or professional).
- Keep it Informal: Allow people the opportunity to share whatever they’d like.
- Staying Above Water: Ask everyone to put their hand at where the “water level” is for their workload. Team members with a hand above mouth and nose are indicating that they have too much work consistently.
- Question of the Day: Rotate who picks the question each week and have everyone answer the question to start the meeting.
- Great Buy: Team members can share a recent purchase (either verbally or with a photo in the chat) that’s been worth the money.
- Riddle: Similar to having a “Question of the Day”, rotate who picks a riddle each week and allow the team to figure it out.
- Best Part of Your Office: Encourage everyone to share their favorite part of their at-home office by posting a picture in the chat.
- Scar Stories: Give everyone a chance to share how they got a scar and vote for best story.
- Skill Sharing: One team member teaches about one of their hobbies or interests for five minutes.
- Heritage Moment: Have someone share a funny moment from their time of working with the company. It could be a prank or something unusual that happened that other people don’t know about. (This activity can also be done with larger groups, such as an all-hands meeting.)
- I Spy: One person picks an object in a team member’s background, the rest of the team tries to guess what it is.
- Did This Happen in 2020?: Gather a list of crazy or unusual events that people can guess did or did not happen in 2020. Keep it relatively light-hearted, because this activity is intended to spark intrigue or get laughs. Some examples (to get you started): murder hornets made it to the US, Kobe Bryant’s plane crashed, and a new planet was discovered by a high school student.
- Favorite Food: Each team member brings their favorite food or drink to enjoy during the virtual meeting.
- Non-Alcoholic Drinking Games: Prior to the meeting, pick a word that gets overused in your meetings (such as “like” or “workload”). Each time the word is used, everyone takes a drink of their favorite beverage.
- Fashion Show: Give team members two minutes to find an accessory to wear. Vote on which is most outrageous, stylish, or the biggest.
- Collection: Allow team members to show off a collection they own. It could be anything! Sports memorabilia, Harry Potter gear, sea shells, snow globes, or other trinkets from traveling.
- Meeting Bingo: It could be the generic version, or specific to what people have experienced during Covid-19 (weddings, virtual game nights, natural disasters, etc.).
- Guess Who: Identify who is who with baby photos.
- Virtual Scavenger Hunt: Without giving any hints in advance, start your meeting by sending the team a list of household items to find and bring back to their desk. Give prizes for whoever returns the fastest and whoever brought the most items back.
- Beards & Hair-dos: Showcase your craziest “look” during the shutdowns with a photo.
For many team members, one of the challenges of working from home is the lack of variety in the workweek. To add a fun way for your employees to connect with one another host a variety of events.
- Pet Day: Who doesn’t love showing off their furry friends? Set aside a day for people to share photos in the team chat of their pets.
- Bring Your Family to Work Day: During your Zoom call, have a family member introduce themselves to your team.
- Spirit Week: For each day of the workweek invite everyone to dress according to a theme. Submit photos each day and vote on who wore it best! Show some pride by wearing company swag, trot out your animal print and wildlife shirts, sport your favorite teams’ jerseys, pull out your hats for western day, and don those superhero shirts.
- Pick Up the Phone Day: If you need something or have a question, don’t IM or email that day—call. Everyone is doing it so it doesn’t feel weird. Changing the medium of communication can invigorate interpersonal relationships.
- Coworker Appreciation Day: This can be done on whatever day you choose. Inspire some positivity by inviting all team members to write notes of appreciation to a handful of their colleagues. Make collection of the notes easy by sending out a Google form for the responses. Review the comments prior to streaming them for company viewing on whatever platforms you use to connect.
Learning & Creativity-Based Activities
- Lunch and Learn: Hold monthly presentations which will be recorded but require little interaction from the participants. These can be specific to your department or the company as a whole. They can also be on topics relevant to your work or topics employees have expressed interest in learning more about.
- Virtual Paint Night: Ship team members canvases and paint supplies, then have the team hop on a virtual call. Watch Bob Ross or a YouTube painting tutorial as you paint.
- Lego Kit: Send each team member the same kit (with a few hundred pieces). Tell everyone to make whatever they want as long as it’s not what’s on the front of the box.
- Craft Corner: Provide team members with supplies to make and decorate a specific craft (such as a picture frame for their home office) and allow them to show off their creations during your meeting.
- At-Home Cooking Challenge: Similar to some of the culinary shows you’ve probably seen, send each of your team members the same set of random ingredients and challenge them to come up with the most outrageous dish. Review photos of each and have your team vote for the craziest one!
- Book Club: Select a book that fits the interests of your team and have everyone read it chapter by chapter on their own time. Discuss insights in your meetings together.
- Drive-in Movie Night: If available in your area, rent out a drive-in movie theater for an event your workers can bring their families to. Although you’ll be in separate cars, your team members will still feel a sense of connection.
- Do You Know Your Coworker?: Create an online survey highlighting some of the unique attributes of your team members. Here’s some examples of what you could include: Who is over 6′? Who can’t make it through the morning without some caffeine? Who loves to golf?
- Wellness Program: Best done for about a month each quarter, encourage your team to participate in a competition elevating their health. Set specific guidelines for nutrition, exercise, sleep, and meditation. Participants will log their performance daily for the chance to win a raffle prize at the conclusion of the wellness program.
- Company Trivia: Similar to the “Do You Know Your Coworker?” event, you’ll want to send out a survey with a few questions regarding how long you have been in business, who your first customer was, who your competitors are, and other noteworthy company information. Discuss the results of the survey with your team, and highlight who knew the most company trivia.
- April Fool’s Day: Find, share, and watch the best pranks you can find on YouTube! Set parameters for what is appropriate and for how long the videos can be.
- Earth Day: Participate in a socially-distanced service project of picking up trash at a local park.
- Halloween: Contests are one of the best parts of this holiday. Have employees send in photos of carved pumpkins and costumes, which can later be voted on for “scariest”, “most creative”, “best DIY”, and “funniest”.
- Thanksgiving: Invite team members to share what they are grateful for or what they love about their jobs on a team Kudoboard.
- Winter Holidays: In addition to participating in a gift exchange, you could also send your people gingerbread kits which you can make together over Zoom.
Even when you are working remotely, you can still participate in activities that benefit your community. When team members have an opportunity to work together outside of their corporate roles, it’s easy to unite in accomplishing a shared vision.
- Homeless Kits: Contact your local shelter and request a list of items your team can gather and assemble into kits.
- Support Literacy: Think of the rising generation by gathering books, bags, and school supplies for impoverished school children in your area. Specific organizations like Bags of Books or the Kids in Need Foundation specialize in coordinating these efforts.
- Donate Holiday Gifts: Encourage your team members to “adopt an angel” from a Salvation Army Angel Tree.
- End Poverty Around the World: Give your team a deep sense of purpose by supporting global humanitarian and economic initiatives. Kiva connects donors with small-business owners in third-world countries. Set up your team account, give your employees gift cards to participate, and they will choose the various causes they’d like to contribute a microloan to. Once the loans are paid back, your team members can relend the money yet again.
- Donate Supplies and Appliances to Your Community: If you’re making renovations to your office (due to lockdowns or fewer people onsite), you should consider donating the supplies you no longer need to a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, and building materials to the public for a fraction of the cost.
- Make Wishes Come True: For children facing life-threatening illnesses, you can bring a smile to their face by making one of their dreams become a reality. Consider donating, fundraising, or volunteering your time with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
- Birthdays: Have the birthday boy or girl fill out responses to a few get-to-know-you questions which can be shared in a company email, newsletter, or in a monthly all-hands meeting.
- Work Anniversaries: Treasure the loyalty and service of your people by giving them gifts, swag, and public recognition when they’ve met various milestones. Don’t be afraid to ask your people what kind of gifts they are interested in!
- Life Events: When engagements, weddings, and births happen, people love being kept up to date on what’s happening in everyone’s lives. Be sure to collect and display photos from these important events.
- Spotlight: Typically best for smaller meetings, highlight one person at each meeting. Allow whoever is being spotlighted to determine what they share and how they share it.
- Awards: Most organizations take the time to publicly recognize top performers on the company level. But you should also take time to give specialty awards for innovation, mentorship, and exemplifying company values.
- Retirement: When someone has reached the end of their career and their time with you, honor their hard work and contribution by having the team sign a group card through Kudoboard.
ADAPT, CONNECT, AND THRIVE!
Creating a robust strategy for virtual team connection has never been more important than right now—but the good news is that there are plenty of resources available to help your team excel.
Jennifer Chapman is a former corporate leader of a Fortune 500 firm, with over 20 years of leadership development experience. She left the corporate hustle to become an executive leadership coach for science, engineering, and finance professionals. When she’s not helping clients polish their people skills, she’s trying to keep up with her five children and puppy. Connect with Jennifer at email@example.com or on her Facebook page Ambition Leadership.