Teambuilding exercises and other forms of forced workplace “fun” have been cringeworthy fodder for sitcoms and movies about office life for decades. What is intended to bring staff together and boost morale often has the opposite effect, which was the case when these were in-person activities. But shifting them to an online format only amplifies the awkwardness that so many of these activities inspire.
At the same time, the need for team bonding and morale-boosting is perhaps higher than ever amid the forced remote work and overall uncertainty of the pandemic. This undeniably puts employers and HR teams in a tough spot.
Importance of Building Team Cohesion
“Amid the pandemic, companies are increasingly in need of ways to keep their teams focused and maintain a sense of cohesion; as of March, many will have spent almost a whole year working remotely,” writes Zaria Gorvett in an article for BBC Work Life. “So as everything else has moved online, including hiking trips and haircuts, team building has followed suit.” This, though, has created new problems, she says.
In the past, these types of activities might have involved time off from work or some form of getaway. Now, though, they tend to simply involve more screen time, something that many are growing understandably weary of.
“As millions battle Zoom fatigue and—oddly—even longer working hours than before, virtual team building is arguably even more agonizing [sic] than the real thing. It’s also inherently flawed,” Gorvett writes.
Achieving Success with Teambuilding
Virtual teambuilding is flawed because, as research has suggested, two key factors are essential for the success of teambuilding activities: a change in environment and employees’ belief that the company genuinely cares about their well-being. This second factor depends to a large extent on the ability to provide specialized attention to participants. Both of these factors are virtually impossible to achieve in a videoconference setting.
While it’s hard to argue that a generic conference call teambuilding activity will achieve the twin goals of developing camaraderie and boosting morale, opinion is more divided on whether such a virtual format can ever be a successful replacement for the in-person version. In order to succeed, organizers will need to find creative ways to imbue as much real-world feel as possible into the virtual environment.