Ah, the dreaded planned virtual team ‘fun’ event.
We’ve all been there, awkwardly staring at the screen with our PJs in a virtual happy hour or game night, hoping nobody asks us to turn our video on, and privately messaging our closest colleagues “do you think I will get away with dropping off and blaming it on bad internet connection?”
The ‘new normal’ means staring at one another through screens in endless meetings, forgetting to unmute after you finally figured out how to mute yourself, or even worse, staring into black rectangles for the colleagues who have shied away from the camera (yes Sharon, I am talking about you).
Anna and I started RandomDots to curate unique experiences for people outdoors, but after COVID struck, team leaders have repeatedly approached us to curate a special experience for their different team needs.
In this blog, we will share our insights on how you can host better virtual team events based on what we have researched and tested out over the last 4 months by hosting and attending over 80 virtual team events with different groups sizes and dynamics.
A Virtual Team Leader’s Checklist
Create Fun and Natural Interaction!
One way communication won’t cut it.
Despite our best intentions, human beings struggle to keep attention when being talked at, just think back to your economics professor in college.
By creating high engagement moments, you can manage your group’s energy levels throughout. This engagement can start even before the actual live event begins.
For example, hosts can invite all the attendees to bring their favorite drink to the virtual event and share it with the group to facilitate interaction with low entry barriers. It is especially important to nudge introverts to have an early low-stress contribution to set the tone as the event progresses.
Hosts can also sprinkle in questions for the group if the event calls for a presentation or monologue to keep the group in the present and focused.
Use Improv Games to Break the Ice
Simple improv games set the scene for real connection.
Improv involves thinking on your feet that usually results in lots of laughter. Everyone has a moment to play their part, and everyone must observe and build upon the actions of others in their group. Laughter is guaranteed but more importantly, engagement between ALL participants is created without being too abrasive.
Including improv doesn’t have to be an event unto itself, and we’ve played improv ahead of virtual meetings to warm everyone up with a smile on their face and get into a collaborative groove.
Here are several simple and effective improv games that can easily be adapted to be played in a virtual setting.
Our favorite ice breaker game is the Alphabet Improv Game, where a player starts a story with a word that begins with the letter “A”, and each subsequent player must follow the alphabet in continuing the story until they reach the letter “Z”. It is suitable for a large group for its simplicity and brevity.
Facilitate Anticipation and Reflection
A chat group for the team members in the event never fails to spark humour (especially when the organiser acts as a provocateur).
All human experiences are broken into 3 distinct stages:
- Anticipation (before the experience)
- Participation (during the experience)
- Reflection (after the experience)
To create an experience that has an impact, the anticipation and reflection stages matter a lot.
A simple chat group gets everyone in the mood, and breaks the ice for team members who are less familiar with one another before the experience starts. The chat also offers a chance for the team to continue the jokes and interaction after the experience has ended, often solidifying the benefits from the participation.
GIFs, pictures, and emojis will be flying in no time.
We know our colleagues in their work persona. Professional, polished, and polite.
Research suggests, to be truly productive on a tactical level we must be more open. Research by Altassian suggests that high-achieving teams exhibit more open levels of communication and relationships with team members.
Stepping outside of our daily roles enables us to build stronger, personal relationships with our team. Empathy is the key to harmonious communication and team events are the perfect safe space to encourage this.
Role playing can be incorporated into improv games or other virtual games like Werewolf. Expect a cagey opening 5 minutes but when the social norms have been established, real belly laughs will ensue.
Create Something Together
Screens, screen, screens – aren’t we all sick of them? Most virtual events these days focus on playing endless games: Pictionary, trivia, bingo – you name it.
By creating something, we find a way to share peak attention and feel like a creator rather than a consumer.
We have found that combining a creative activity into an experience creates the opportunity for intrigue. We have experimented with teams writing music and other art together, creating cocktails, coffee tasting & brewing, and cooking.
The goal is not a strict lesson or masterclass, but rather facilitating the sense of achievement we all feel from making something unusual and interesting.
Crack this and you will have earned virtual team event mastery.
Deliver a Tangible Package
Who doesn’t like the feeling of anticipating an incoming package and unpacking a little piece of love from the company you work for?
We love opening packages (just ask Jeff Bezos) but the contents must be well thought through.
During our market research, we found that 65% of team members felt that generic, careless contents actually have a negative impact on wellbeing. Interestingly, perceived cost did not have a bearing on the enjoyment when unboxing the package, but care in selecting and presenting the items matters, a lot.
We’ve been delivering physical packages (ranging from cocktail kits through to souvenirs and boarding passes) with our experiences with great results.
Add a Little Competition
Competition always peaks the attention, especially in type-A folks.
Rather than descend into a heated discussion over who has won that requires a referee to decide the outcome, focus on prizes that are a little more abstract (and fun).
Subdividing the group into teams also helps. A team can gloat their way through the next week’s group chat without a problem. Creating small teams has proven to be a great strategy to encourage participation and engagement, too.
Stuck for what kind of fun competitions are appropriate? Consider incorporating it into the activity you have already planned for the group, for example a songwriting competition if your group activity is song writing, or a cocktail making competition if the group activity is a master cocktail class.
Do What No Other Company is Doing – Take Your Team to the Destination of Their Dreams
With the restrictions on international travel, many individuals and corporate teams have had their travel plans cancelled. However, there is a way for team leaders to creatively bring the sense of foreign adventure to their teams.
Since April, companies like Airbnb Experiences have been offering virtual activities such as painting, cooking, and even interviews with Olympians. At RandomDots, we have taken a slightly different approach to virtual team events by bringing live and interactive tours complimented by food, drinks, and music to people’s homes.
Thus far, we have had the pleasure of bringing the taste, sounds and culture of San Francisco, Croatia, Brazil, Japan, Israel, and Taiwan to our guests’ homes – each experience curated with the teams’ goals in mind and incorporating all the lessons that we have learned about hosting a wholesome virtual team building experience.
Whether it is taking your team on foreign adventures or creating a special memory for your team to share with each other, we would love to share our experiences with you.
End on a high
We remember endings. In fact, there is a whole area of study known as ‘peak-end theory’.
If you are a budding psychologist read more here, if not, here is the 2-second version.
Humans are bad at remembering things, but we remember the peak of an experience, and we remember the ending. The ‘peak’ can be an extreme high or low in emotion, think of it as the most intense point.
We have all been on calls that peter out with a whimper, or worse, we throw in the dreaded double-handed wave due to awkwardness.
Ending on a high sounds easy, right? It isn’t.
Ideally people will be actively participating in a way that brings about laughter or a smile. A roaring group cheers, or a rendition of happy birthday for one of the call members are emotionally charged interactions that will let you bow out with a bang.
We have experimented with many ending methods, including the awkward “Wave Non-stop at the Screen and Smile” method, the immediate and abrupt “Click End Meeting For All Option” method, and the “Repeat Thank You Everyone x 100 Times” method. They did the job but it was always an awkward ending.
What has worked fantastic however, was ending with an improv game (coming full circle here). Instead of a more conservative improv game which you would play in the beginning of a session to get everyone warmed up, an improv game that is a bit more “risque” is appropriate when the session is nearing the end, preferably after a couple of drinks, and everyone is more ready to be open and funny.
Another great ending is with music.
We all know the importance of music in building atmosphere, and a celebratory tune at the end of a fun gathering will always leave people with the memory of a happy ending. We recommend these tunes for your team to groove and dial out to:
We hope these suggestions help you build an awesome virtual team event, if you’d like our help to wow your team, contact us here! 📧