How Leaders Can Use Virtual Teambuilding Activities to Boost Company Morale

How one Canada-based event executive is adapting his leadership techniques amid COVID-19 restrictions to ensure employees working from home continue to feel engaged and included.

2020 March25
Illustration: Aaliyah McNeal/BizBash

While event and meeting professionals across North America are being forced to trade in their cubicles for a home office due to governmental "stay at home" orders, team leaders are modifying management tactics to ensure employees feel engaged and included while working remotely.

Take, for example, Jason Katz, founder and president of Montreal-based Atmosphere Event Communications. Like many other business leaders in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Katz—who helms a team of 10-plus internal and external employees, all now working from home—has tweaked his methods to cultivate team unity amid social distancing.

“Since the spread of COVID-19, I felt it has been more important than ever to get our team, colleagues, clients, employees, and competitors aligned and in constant communication," Katz explains to BizBash. "Everybody is dealing with so much change in such a short amount of time. And some of my homework has been trying to comfort our team and equip ourselves in this new environment—in addition to learning how to better lead us through it and figuring out what my role is now."

In addition to building virtual bridges (think: daily 9 a.m. company-wide online meetings) conducive to open communication between team members, Katz also looked for ways to keep company morale up and creativity levels high with out-of-the-box teambuilding sessions—through computer screens, of course—that could also be applied to customer events. "Beyond Zoom meetings, I felt it was important to both lighten the mood and find new tactics to use for virtual meetings as we find our industry and customers facing major challenges to communicate with their audiences," says Katz.

Enter: Jess Malz, an experiential learning expert and founder of learning design agency INBO, who was sought out by Katz to incorporate virtual teambuilding activities into Atmosphere Event Communications' daily online meetings. First activity on the agenda? Each team member was tasked with drawing a sketch of a co-worker using visual collaboration tool Mural.

"Right now, creating a sense of belonging and connection is really important," explains Malz. "We need to find engaging ways to create that remotely. ... So I thought [Mural] would be fun for a team, especially in a time like this."

Katz adds, "The experience was light and fun and took no longer than 15 minutes; it was a great group energizer. We were all online, joking with each other, laughing, and bringing the camaraderie—everything that you'd see in a teambuilding program. It allowed my team to see the possibilities when you break down the fourth wall, as well as the opportunity to experience what can be done online so that we can get creative on projects and bring that to the events we're bringing into the virtual space right now."

Taking the virtual stage this week on Katz's companywide online meeting is a magician (yes, you read that correctly). "We're just looking to play in the virtual sandbox with [entertainment] that would normally be used in a physical environment," he says, noting the importance of collaborating with other event-industry specialists and entertainment companies currently looking to bring their work online until governmental restrictions are lifted.

Looking for inspiration for your own virtual team meetings? Keep scrolling to get creative gears turning with three digital ideas from online tools Mural, Hyper Island, and Liberating Structures.

3 Virtual Teambuilding Activities for Small, Medium, and Large Groups

"Virtual warm-ups are a perfect way to get to know colleagues better, strengthen team dynamics, improve communication, and boost creative thinking," says Malz. Here, she shares ideas to spark inspiration for your team's next digital meeting—each of which is offered through INBO. 

  1. Sketch Your Neighbor (2 to 50 people)
    "Start off your session in a creative and interactive way by having your team sketch each other," suggests Malz of this Mural tool. "For the majority of people who say they can’t draw, this activity creates a level of vulnerability that positively reinforces group dynamics and builds a more open environment. Tip: Divide into breakout groups of eight."

  2. Dance, Dance, Dance (50 to 100 people)
    "In this short and physically active energizer [from Hyper Island], participants dance playfully in small teams (or in the whole group). Periodically, the music changes and members take turns leading a dance move for everyone to mimic. The aim is to generate fun energy and playfulness in a group, often as a counter-balance to more serious group work. Tip: In Zoom, have the host share computer sound so everyone is listening to the same song."

  3. Impromptu Networking (100-plus people)
    "Liberating Structures offers a selection of exercises for facilitating meetings and conversations. Impromptu Networking is a great warm-up to establish engagement at the beginning of a working session. Do three rounds with a different open question per round. Example: 'What big challenge do you bring to this session? What do you hope to get from and give this team?' Tip: Use Zoom breakout rooms to randomly pair people."
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