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Team Building in the Era of COVID-19

Team Building in the Era of COVID-19

02 March 2021

Novel coronavirus has fundamentally changed office life in ways large and small. More than a few of us are still working from home, and those that have returned to an office environment have largely done so under entirely new rules governing physical distance, hygiene, and personal interactions. Some of these changes—especially the increased prevalence of remote work—are likely to outlast the pandemic and necessitate alterations to other aspects of office culture. One of the most difficult adaptations has been teambuilding exercises. Though they’re clearly necessary for developing a coherent office culture, most proven and well-worn strategies require face-to-face interaction that can’t be duplicated virtually. Some new teambuilding strategies that are more suited to virtual or socially distanced interaction are emerging, though.

Playing to Work

This first suggestion is sort of a cheat because it isn’t a new idea as much as an old one that’s easily adapted to virtual or socially distanced offices. That said, playing games—suitable board games, trivia challenges or quizzes, puzzle games, etc—is a wonderful teambuilding exercise because it prompts cooperation (or friendly competition) in an enjoyable context. Games are also excellent ways to build creative thinking and improve employees’ neuroplasticity, which leads to improved cognitive function and less “brain fog”. But it’s important to choose the right kinds of games, both for the temperament of your office and the manner in which you primarily interact.

Trivia games and quiz challenges are well suited to both office environments we’re discussing, and they tend to work with larger groups and/or those with diverse skill sets. There are no complex rules to understand, but that simplicity tends to drive participation—game shows are popular for a reason. In a teambuilding context, these sorts of games are also useful for their inclusionary nature; if a handful of employees tend to dominate meetings or office social functions, trivia challenges can give quieter or more reserved individuals a chance to participate without being drowned out.

Games or challenges that are centered on solving puzzles can have much the same effect, though they tend to work better in smaller offices. This could be as literal as setting aside an hour for your team to work collaboratively on assembling a jigsaw puzzle (we recommend a low piece count for this approach), or you could present your team with logic problems or philosophical conundrums to discuss. The prisoner’s dilemma is an especially useful example of the latter because it has clear business implications and can help your team learn about one another’s thought processes.

Socializing Safely

If your team has transitioned from an office to working from home, then some of your employees probably miss the opportunities for socialization that used to dot their workdays. We can’t peek over the tops of our cubicle walls to talk about football or TV shows with neighbors, there’s no more chatter over coffee breaks or smoke breaks (where those are allowed), and lunchroom discussions are nonexistent. You can give at least some semblance of these social moments back to your team by conducting virtual versions. Hold a team call one day per week where everyone eats lunch together, maybe. Or have shorter, more regular opportunities for people to converse socially over coffee. As long as your team members get a chance to interact without focusing on business, you’ll be helping them build rapport.

In the right offices, this could extend to something like a book or movie club. Many organizations, including the branches of the US military, have noted how the shared experience of reading the same books helps to quickly build a strong, unified culture. Importantly, these lists can also be tailored to influence the kind of culture that they promote. For example, many executives still read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” for some of the more ruthless lessons they can carry into stressful dealings. An office reading list can be similarly targeted toward building up a specific aspect of team culture like cooperation or creative problem solving without being boring or obtuse.

Clearly, these are only two suggestions. Teambuilding during a pandemic isn’t an easy endeavor, and ultimately there are no right or wrong answers. Whatever you can do to foster a sense of teamwork among your employees is ideal—but these may give you someplace to start.

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