As a sports company, team building plays a particularly important role in our culture. Our team is filled with individuals who crave connection with others through some form of activity. With nearly a thousand people distributed across three continents, we have become quite familiar with virtual communication, but this past year of remote working has certainly taken it to the extreme.
The reality is that continuing team building activities is a lot more challenging when most of our team is working from home. While we initially tried to replicate traditional team building activities such as post-work drinks, they didn’t necessarily allow us to achieve the same level of connectivity and team spirit when done virtually. Many of us have had that first lock-down team building TGIF of awkwardly joining fifteen of our peers on a virtual screen to share a drink at the end of the week. It doesn’t exactly encourage meaningful connections.
While many of our colleagues have easily adjusted to the life of working from home, others are struggling to maintain relationships, form new connections and feel a part of a team. New colleagues are particularly feeling the strain as they try to connect to a team they’ve never met in person. From an internal communications perspective, we continually ask ourselves, “What can we do to ensure our employees still feel connected, engaged and motivated?”. It seems like we aren’t the only ones.
So why do we spend so much time and resources into team building? Simple. It is to connect employees. Even if your team is 100% remote, they can interact and feel less isolated through virtual team building activities, which may even help boost productivity. We do this through a variety of team building initiatives:
Culturally-based virtual team building activities
Virtual coffee with the CEO
For this initiative, employees are randomly selected for or sign up to join our CEO for a virtual coffee. These sessions typically last around 30 minutes and consist of five employees with whom our CEO has an informal chat. Each person is asked to introduce themselves, tell the group something they like to do away from work, share their thoughts on a particular topic and join in on a short informal discussion before signing off. What do our employees think about this initiative? “I absolutely loved the session. It is so rare to have the chance to speak with the CEO in such an intimate setting. I’ve felt so distanced from my colleagues since working from home and this really made me feel like we are all going through the same thing together. Thank you and keep it up.” A success, I think.
Virtual lunchtime sports
Being in a sports company, many of our colleagues are qualified sports professionals themselves. As such, we reached out to a few colleagues who agreed to host weekly virtual fitness sessions for team. This includes a lunch-time yoga session, an esports group and an aerobics class with easy to do home fitness activities. It’s a way for employees to feel empowered by sharing their talents and encourages group interaction in a safe and healthy way. Don’t get the impression that these sessions are in any way beginner, we really have some hard task masters in our team who are passionate about making others sweat their way to a healthy life.
Virtual team building challenge
Together with our colleagues at B2Fit and partner 7Peaks, our team put together a 5-week virtual fitness and employee engagement challenge. Employees downloaded an app, completed a digital health check and committed to five weeks of focusing on their health, wellness and fitness. Each individual was given a daily goal and were added to groups based on their favourite sport. Over 300 employees joined the campaign and completed various challenges related to endurance, physical strength, willpower and commitment. The theme of each week was formed around our corporate values and weekly prizes for posts, photos, engagements, highest exercise points and mental health were awarded. At the end of the campaign, a virtual awards ceremony saw five winning individuals from around the world and one overall winning team. This campaign was a great success and brought us closer as a team. We will be looking at implementing it as an annual fitness challenge going forward. For more information on this product, take a look at B2Fit.
Developmental-based virtual team building activities
Similar to a learning circle, our Internal Masterclasses take a slightly more formal approach where employees are invited to sign up for a virtual thought leadership session. Any employee who has an interesting topic to share does a short presentation before opening it up to a Q&A session. The format depends on the preference of the host. This initiative empowers our employees by enabling them to share their expert knowledge and get further insights and feedback from their peers. A unique way for companies to motivate employees to expand their knowledge base while working remotely.
AMA (ask me anything)
Our innovation team put together a format where leaders from our partner companies present a topic to our employees encouraging a two-way dialogue. Running for over a year, these bi-monthly sessions have received great support and encourage knowledge sharing across countries and departments. All employees are invited to attend and for those who are unable, recordings are posted onto our Intranet and added to our digital learning library on MS Stream. Having a guest who is a well-respected expert in their particular field offers employees the opportunity to receive fresh insights from the outside world. In our experience, AMA’s allow each voice to be heard.
The initial lack of contact between peers resulted in the establishment of an internal podcast. In the format of a video interview, various guests are interviewed in 15 -20 minute ‘bite’ sized episodes. The topics of these sessions range from tips from studying sports marketing to challenges experienced in the field during COVID-19. Guests range from internal colleagues to external specialists in certain areas. The informal discussion provides for an interesting watch and usually ends off with sports related comical question from the interviewer. Easy to put together and a good contribution to internal thought leadership.
Information-based virtual team building activities
Monthly Management Update
To ensure employees from around the world are kept up to date with the latest news, our CEO and Head of Strategic Communications hold a formal monthly virtual video update. Employees from around the world are invited to watch the discussion and encouraged to ask questions through a Q&A function. For colleagues not able to access the live session, a recording is provided. The session receives a large live audience every month and is a valued update by employees around the company, particularly those who are not necessarily in the ‘know’ of the various corporate news.
Virtual CEO Roadshow
Our annual in-person CEO Roadshow is currently grounded due to the changing global situation, so we decided to take this virtual. Initially it was a bit of a challenge putting our concept on paper, but after much perseverance, we got it right! We decided to schedule individual sessions with the various countries to ensure we didn’t experience time difference conflicts. A pre-survey was sent to attendees to give us an insight into their expectations from the session. We also provided them with a choice of break out session topics. The format saw an initial welcome and strategy presentation by the CEO, followed by a local office panel update. Each office was then encouraged to suggest a social activity and each individual then participated in the breakout session of their choice. Happy to report that the feedback received from the CEO and attendees was phenomenal. A suggestion – hold a pilot to test the format before implementing company-wide.
Launching a new platform or sharing information can be a difficult to implement without in-person interaction. A solution to this was to invite employees to attend an online event through one of our digital platforms, where they are privy to information on a particular topic, newly implemented policy or can simply participate in a thought leadership exchange. An example of this is a recent event hosted by our inhouse Compliance team, who launched a new platform and anonymous Speak Up line virtually. Our graphics team put together engaging videos and we scheduled a live virtual panel discussion with an industry expert as the moderator. A discussion was held by various team experts and also consisted of a virtual Q&A, using MS Teams.
Final notes on establishing virtual team building initiatives
It is worth ensuring virtual team building activities have an identified purpose, that allocation of responsibility is to the correct department, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to try something new. While many of the above initiatives have been successful, others weren’t. While we may be experts in connecting with our employees, the ‘new different’ that is our current workscape is proving that we have to step out of the box and try new ways of doing things until we find one that truly works for us. After all, we are #AllAboutUs.