Combatting Employee Isolation with Virtual Team-building

Combatting Isolation with Remote Teambuilding

With multiple studies, including recent research conducted by IBM, revealing that one out of every four employees plans to quit their current job in 20211, many employers seek ways to bond their employees to their companies. Several local employers have considered virtual team building as a method for engaging disconnected employees but wonder “how do we achieve a Team or Zoom event that’s worth the time and effort?”

How employees feel

When four employers reached out to me, I said, “let’s first find out whether your employees want virtual team-building.”

In February 2020, when Buffer released a study surveying 3500 remote workers from around the world, twenty percent of them cited loneliness as their greatest challenge and another twenty percent named the lack of collaboration and communication as their biggest problem.2 Those numbers shifted when Buffer released its 2021 survey.3 While loneliness and collaboration and communication struggles ranked in the top three remote work challenges, each identified by 16% of the 2300 workers surveyed, “not being able to unplug” took first place (cited by 27% of those surveyed).

That led me to call my client’s employees and ask whether they wanted to engage with “forced bonding” with their coworkers. The employees I called said, “yes, if you can make it fun, worth my time and not artificial.” The takeaway—In a virtual environment, in which employees physically isolated feel remote, the opportunity to connect with coworkers still appeals.

 Four options

 I created four options, each designed with a different need in mind, and each designed to for a thirty-to-seventy-minute time frame.           

The manager gauntlet

One employer faced a major upheaval, with the resignation and upcoming departure of key employees. For them, I suggested the “senior manager gauntlet.” I asked that senior managers to lead off the video conference with a seven minute “briefing” on their vision for the future.

I suggested that the employees then work in breakout rooms and create “on-the-spot questions” that they could funnel to a trusted individual to allow for anonymity. Then, the conference resumed, with the managers answering those questions “live.”  

The murder mystery

Another organization wanted something fun. I suggested a murder mystery, with a manager “fake shot” on the initial screen, a supervisor arriving on the scene as a detective, and brief interviews with other managers posing as potential murders.

After the initial set up, employees were invited to pose questions to the potential murderers, and then given the opportunity to meet in breakout rooms to reach consensus on the most likely culprit.

The identified suspect engaged an employee as his/her lawyer, and the suspect and attorney then handled continued employee questioning, with a closing poll in which employees voted “guilty” or “innocent.”.

My employee/manager “user manual”

Another organization let me know that their “round the clock” shifts made real-time team-building challenging. I suggested an approach that allowed employees to build connections even as they took part when convenient.

Each individual could create a personal “user manual” identifying their goals; working hours; hours when they hoped to undisturbed for heads-down deep work; and preferred communication channel, whether text, chat, email or impromptu video calls. I suggested all employees and managers preview the YouTube created by CultureAmp CEO, in which he urged those connecting with him to “start with the big picture; move quickly; and if there’s an issue to move from written communication to a call and if the call doesn’t suffice to upgrade to a video call.4

Reality-based conversation

For the fourth employer, I suggested they subdivide their organization into working groups of thirty, each meeting and discussing important topics, with key managers present, listening and contributing. The topics included: what are your favorite and least aspects of working remotely; if you were managing the company what would you do differently; what thoughts or questions do you have about our future as a company; what have you learned from working remotely that could contribute to better communication and collaboration; what’s one recommendation you’d make to improve our workplace culture; for you, what’s the best aspect of working here and where would you like our  company to be within the year?

Although this event occurred in time, the meeting transcript both enabled those unable to attend the meeting to view what occurred, and management to later let the employees know the changed they planned based on what they heard.

Virtual team building—if the idea appeals, you have options.

1https://www.benefitnews.com/list/empoyees-are-turning-their-backs-on-employers?

2https://lp.buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2020

3https://buffer.com/2021-state-of-remote-work
4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6mRlKGupZo

If you enjoyed this article, you might find useful http://Managing Virtual Teams in a COVID-19 era; https://workplacecoachblog.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2948&action=edit and How to Create Teamwork Among Virtual Employees and Digital Nomads.

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One thought on “Combatting Employee Isolation with Virtual Team-building

  1. Lynne,

    Thank you for the creative ideas – what a fun read!

    I would like to brag a bit on my current supervisor who responded to our COVID-induced team separation by scheduling quick daily Zoom “huddles.” Just the chance to see each other’s faces, say “good morning” and touch bases has very much strengthened the team, and helped us through these difficult times.

    Hooray for good/great managers!

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