Companies can still create strong team bonds by using technology to implement team building activities that foster company values, trust, and friendship among co-workers.
Apps and technology are readily available for gaming and entertainment, education, music, finance, health and fitness, productivity, and several other categories, covering all aspects of our lives. Companies can successfully build staff camaraderie by using these tools to strengthen and reinforce bonds with new and tenured employees. Virtual activities may be the key to shaping company culture and restoring a sense of community while we work through the new reality of co-location work and hybrid work models.
In the third year of the pandemic, companies and employees have adjusted their work life to accommodate health and safety protocols and changing family needs. Some employees work at the company office or a project site, while others work from home, and some from both locations in a hybrid work model. Teamwork and team bonds are definitely stronger amongst those who have worked together prior to the pandemic, allowing them to interact even while not in the office. But we cannot leave the newer employees, those onboarded during the pandemic, behind or alone during this time.
The office community, environment, and rituals are not the same as they once were. We used to brew coffee and share donuts together in the breakroom. We used to go out to lunch and grab people from their desks to join us. After-work happy hours were regular events. Team meetings involved small talk before the meeting began. Now it’s harder to socialize and find your work bestie. Many new graduates have joined the AEC workforce and have not been able to foster a team bond with their co-workers because of the pandemic. This creates new challenges. Despite the pandemic hardships, we are all willing to try to learn new ways to communicate and develop lasting relationships with our peers and managers. Waving to fellow co-workers and stopping by to chat has been replaced with video chats, instant messages, and emojis. Creating relationships in this environment has become akin to the pen-pals of generations past. It works, but it’s slow. So, let’s speed things up.
Companies can still create strong team bonds by implementing team building activities that foster company values, trust, and friendship among co-workers. Apps, technology, and creative use of in-person time together will fill the synapse gaps in the workforce.
Virtual interactive games, such as trivia, casino nights, charades, escape room/puzzles, and more, encourage collaboration and fun conversation. Staff will learn about each other’s interests and perspectives. These personal anecdotes build trust and familiarity and will encourage transparent conversations and communication within the work environment. Companies can plan monthly events, where employees can compete individually or in teams for bragging rights. Kahoot! is an example of a trivia app and website that cultivates engagement and competition, and energizes employees. This platform has a library of premade questions, or you can create your own (perhaps using company project names, details, or industry key words). Based on people’s answers, a community is cultivated by opportunities to learn from each other and display strength and knowledge in different subject areas. Several companies have already integrated trivia in their virtual office parties. It’s a fun way to see what employees are passionate about, such as topics on ‘80s music and fantasy movie genres, and can bring back a sense of normalcy.
Another option is using virtual reality workspaces to provide a space for work-from-home and onsite employees to be together in a simulated community. Employees miss the feeling of being part of the work community and this option takes a step toward solving that. Virtual reality workspaces like Gather, WorkAdventure, and Rambly offer companies a virtual space for the office and individual workspaces. Companies can make and edit floor workspaces to look like their existing work office or be more creative with it. Like video games, employees can edit their character’s skin color, clothes, and accessories. Desk spaces can also be customized by employees. Employees can move their characters to the meeting room and talk with their co-workers.
While more on the expensive side, VR headsets are an option for team building. Employees can meet and discuss in a VR setting, such as Zoom or VR Chat. Meetings can finally feel like meetings again. The VR headset detects hand movements and spatial sounds. You can move your character where you’d like. Depending on the program used, presentations can be shown. Just like VR workspaces, employees can edit their characters in VR to better represent them. Your co-workers can choose VR models that look like them or their favorite cartoon character. While it may take more time to learn how to integrate VR in the workspace, even trying it as a company may strengthen the team bond. If it fails, at least there is a story to tell.
Apps and technology can also be used in physical activities, even if participants are not together. Traditionally, companies have done physical activity competitions. Smartphones and smart-watches with apps can record steps taken, miles biked/swam, and measure a wide range of physical activity. Employees download their data and upload it to a shared/cloud dataset. This fosters fitness goals and spirited competition, and allows staff to encourage each other to break through milestones. It becomes a joint topic of conversation in virtual meetups amongst staff.
Apps and technology aside, food and drink is always a common denominator for most people’s interests. Over a team video call, companies can host chocolate or wine tastings, or other food and drink interactive events. Companies can contact professional host firms to facilitate these events to provide background or thematic information about the tasting. We are all longing for the days of happy-hours, office-escape lunches, and dinners. Bringing food and drink into after-hours virtual events will satiate our palate and give another bonding opportunity to staff.
Fantasy sports is an option companies can engage in to promote a sense of community. Companies can create fantasy baseball, basketball, or football leagues to compete against each other. ESPN Fantasy games is an example of a free fantasy sports program that we use. Each employee drafts their own team, makes occasional changes, negotiates trades, and adds players. Points are distributed based on real time data of a player’s real game performance. Companies can determine their own rules for their fantasy games such as the schedule, scoring method, and team roster size.
There were times during the pandemic where staff had to come to the office to pick up something, to produce something, to get away from home for a bit. Those staff were often welcomed by deserted cubicles, half-lit rooms, and an eerie silence, even if more than a handful of people were lurking in other areas. Now, it’s important to encourage conversation. Perhaps an outdoor patio table lunch or hang out during breaks. Say “hi” to that new employee, catch up with ones you have not seen or heard from in another department. Live interaction is a valuable premium we should not ignore if presented the opportunity.
As you can see, there are plenty of options to increase the bonds and camaraderie between co-workers. These techniques may prove useful during the transitionary time while some staff are still apprehensive to gather and while some offices open sooner or later compared to others. Through consistent efforts and thinking outside of the box, we can find ways to engage that are as powerful or more powerful than their in-office counterparts.
Angelique Silvestre is an engineer at CWE. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.