Even before the pandemic hit and forced the majority of us to work remotely, virtual teams were on the rise. A 2017 report from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 60 percent of companies were shifting towards telecommuting, and since March 2020, the number of people working from home in the UK has been steadily increasing.

While remote working has been shown to increase productivity, this shift comes with special challenges: how can you maintain both professional and social relationships when no one is in the same place? Read on to learn more about what makes an effective virtual team, the benefits that come with a remote workforce, and team building activities you can do remotely.

What is a virtual team?

A virtual team, as you might have gathered, is a group of coworkers who carry out their daily tasks remotely and don’t interact with each other in person. That typically means a day of phone calls, Teams or Zoom video chats, instant messaging and managing tasks digitally. Even if your team wasn’t working remotely at all before the pandemic, chances are you were already using several if not all of these tools, but if your team is fully virtual, they are all now necessities.

How should I manage my virtual team?

Communication is key. Unlike an office-based work environment, collaboration isn’t as simple as getting up from your desk an walking over to your coworker to propose a project. Instead, you and your team will need a suite of tools and programs to help replicate those interactions. Below is a list of just a few of the many available, with stars next to the ones we use here at Avado.

Instant messaging: Flock, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams*, Slack

Workflow management: Click Up, Asana*, Monday, Trello

Project management: Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Jira, Smartsheet

Video conferencing: Google Meet, Zoom*, Cisco Webex, Skype

Collaboration: Invision, Marvel, Adobe XD

Whatever programs you choose, make sure everyone fully understands their functionality and is making the most of all they have to offer. That might mean extra meetings with the IT team, or re-watching the instructional videos that come along with each piece of software.

Then, make sure all of your team’s shared goals are super clear. Everyone needs to know what they’re working towards, and should be working towards those goals together even though they aren’t literally in the same space. That might mean frequent check-ins and stand-ups as well as weekly team meetings that bring everyone together to discuss what they’re working on. It’s a balance of keeping everyone accountable for their work without making them feel like they’re under too much pressure or being constantly supervised.

Why are the benefits of virtual team building?

People working from home often show more productivity and efficiency. You’ll also likely reduce your spending on things like physical infrastructure, and utility and maintenance costs. You can also hire from a broader, more global talent pool since you’re no longer limited by location.

In terms of the benefits for your teams, working from home can actually improve overall wellbeing, and work/life balance. They could be saving up to an hour commuting, which means more time to spend with their families, exercising, relaxing or working on a hobby. All of these things can lead to a happier group of people who are more productive when they are working, and who lead fuller lives outside of work.

But, you need to put a little extra effort into fostering that sense of community that comes with a shared, collaborative space. If you can do that, you’ll be able to maintain that sense of belonging and support for your employees, and make sure everyone is able to effectively communicate with each other.

What are some effective virtual team building activities?

Along with the tools we mentioned above to keep your day-to-day operations on track, it’s also important to keep people connected socially. Building a sense of rapport is important for your team’s collective success, and for each person’s mental health, too. In the past, when we all weren’t working from home, that might have meant regular social activities like dinners, drinks, parties, outdoor activities and volunteering. But now, since we can’t currently gather, it’s time to get creative with those social activities and look for virtual alternatives.

Whichever of the below activities you choose, each one should encourage informal conversation. You should also try to get everyone on video and talking to foster more engagement, and better replicate that in-person atmosphere.

Team-wide informal chat

Unlike your usual Slack or Teams messaging set up, create a separate chat or chat room for people to talk about more personal things. This will give a dedicated space for sharing things like weekend or evening plans, personal milestones, and book and TV recommendations.

Game afternoons or nights

Every Friday afternoon, Avado has what’s called Social Quiztancing, where everyone is invited to participate in a Teams-based quiz. There are lots of online tools to help you do the same for your team, or play just about any game. Jackbox is a great platform that has as bunch of virtual games, and Tabletopia offers up digital versions of all your favourite board games. Whatever you choose, make sure to announce the winners company-wide after each game.

Virtual coffee meet ups

At Avado, you can sign up for Coffee Roulette, and you get randomly matched to someone else in the company to have a half-hour “get to know you” chat with. This is a great way to not only meet someone new, but also better understand parts of your company you might not be involved in. You can absolutely do these with more than two people, but keep it small so everyone has a chance to chat.

Ice-breaker activities

These can be great to kick meetings off with, and can include things like two truths and a lie, where each person has to say three things about themselves and everyone else guesses which is the lie. Another fun activity is a birth map, where you create a shared Google Map, ask everyone to mark their place of birth, and then share a story about that place.

Team movie nights or book clubs

Netflix Party, Syncplay and Kast can all help facilitate team movie nights and sync up whatever movie you want to watch as a team. You can keep these nights lighter with comedies or classic favourites, or use them as an opportunity to talk about wider issues and watch a documentary. For book clubs, rotate through your team to pick your monthly book, and give your team an hour once a week to discuss. Again, you can keep it light or go for something about current social issues.

About Avado

For more than 20 years, Avado have been providing professional training and qualifications that transform businesses. Last month, we relaunched our Marketing Academy with a new webinar series that will help your organisation evaluate its own digital maturity, and introduced you to our new taster classes, Labs and Workshops. Check it all out now!