How to organize a virtual team building event
So you want to organize a virtual team outing? We put together a quick guide to help with research, planning, and the actual event.
A few years ago there weren’t many opportunities for online team outings, but nowadays they’re everywhere. From simple online games to full-blown experiences, the options are endless depending on what people are interested in and what your budget looks like.
Since Switchboard is a 100% remote company, we definitely have a lot of experience when it comes to remote team building. Here’s how we organized our first virtual team building event for the Switchboard team.
Phase 1: Research
Like any project, we started with research. There are two parts to this: external options (i.e. what events are out there) and internal resources (how much money do you have access to).
This is how we went about the research phase:
1. Create an estimated budget
To create an estimated budget, we thought about activities we’d like to do and then looked up how much they cost. We then put those activities and their price in a spreadsheet to help us visualize the price differences.
2. Get the budget approved
After you have an idea for how much you’d like to spend, you need to make sure you can actually spend that money. When approaching the budget holder, explain how you came up with your ideal budget and why. This will help you make the case for what you’d like to do.
3. Find cool snacks and activities within the estimated budget
This is the fun part—go wild. I won’t prescribe anything more besides to make sure your coworkers are interested in whatever you choose (a simple Slack poll can help with that). There are a lot of sites like ClassBento, which we’ve used, or Airbnb that make it easy to browse ideas based on budget. Magic class? Sure! Cooking or cocktail lessons? Sounds fun! Wood burning or tie-dye? Absolutely. SnackMagic offers a variety of snacks so that everyone is happy.
- Mailing Addresses—Don’t collect addresses until the last minute. Lots of folks travel pretty regularly and you might mail a package to the wrong place. Even better, find an experience that collects your team’s addresses for you. That’s what ClassBento and SnackMagic did for us.
- Alcohol—There are two points to consider here. First, some states do not allow shipping of alcohol. At the time of writing, they are AL, AR, HI, MS, UT, and WA. Second, not everyone drinks alcohol. If considering a boozy event, make sure everyone is comfortable drinking.
Phase 2: Planning
A little bit of planning goes a long way here. Depending on the experience your team chose, you might not have to do much detailed planning (your vendor will be doing that). But there is some basic due diligence you need to cover.
1. Pick a date
Pick a date for your event and work backwards from there. Give yourself enough time to send out any surveys and collect data, talk to event organizers, schedule the event, and do any other administrative work. Some activities are only available on certain dates or might require more time to send out kits.
2. Survey coworkers
Create a Google Form to collect relevant information from coworkers. We suggest letting everyone rank their interest in each of the activities because trying to get everyone’s first pick could make planning rough.
When you have your survey ready, send it out! We made sure that people saw the survey by putting it in our team Slack channel and mentioning it in our weekly all hands meeting. Time box your survey collection to make sure no one holds up your activities.
3. Pick your activity
Once you have survey data back, you can pick the activity you want to go with. What activity got the most votes for top pick? We ended up choosing several activities and dividing into groups to accommodate different preferences. That way if someone really didn’t want to do one thing, there was something else that would probably interest them.
Here are some tips on how to make sure everyone is excited about what they’re going to do:
- Start with everyone’s first picks and see how the groups look
- Some activities have minimum and maximum class sizes so keep that in mind when grouping folks.
- Mix and match people—do you want people who work together frequently to be paired or do you want to mix things up?
- Try your hardest to make sure no one is in their last choice
4. Finalize everything
With your budget approved and events finalized, now’s the time to get those orders in! Don’t forget to keep track of receipts so finance stays happy, too.
- Keep everything short and simple—Collect only the details you need and whenever possible.
- Sweat the small details—Create a single source of truth in a Google Sheet. Anytime you send a direct message to a coworker asking a question, document the details immediately. This’ll include address changes, activity changes, a new hire, etc.
- Be wary of timezones—I’ll just leave an example for this one: When organizing our event, I was in Mountain Time, the teacher was in Pacific Time, and I had coworkers on the East Coast. For US workers, I’d recommend events around 12-2PM Mountain to accommodate a large spread in timezones.
- Surveys—If you don’t hear back from folks, send them a direct message to get the answer you need.
- Create calendar events in advance—Make sure everyone keeps the time free on their calendars and add any links they need to join the event.
Phase 3: Event
Enjoy! We had a blast making terrariums, wood burning, and tie-dying. Our only tip here is that if you can record the event, do it. Folks have last minute reasons for being out of the office, so a recording might help them participate at a later time.
Sometimes team building events can feel like a frivolous expense. But they’re worth it! Not only did we have fun during our events, but we were able to get to know each other better—which makes work more fun and makes it easier to collaborate.
If you want to have an event, don’t be daunted by the task. There are lots of great tools out there these days that automate the majority of the organizing. This makes it much easier to host events online. For just a small investment of time, you can create a great way for coworkers to strengthen bonds and become a better team. Bonus points if you host your event in a Switchboard room.