Creating a team-building experience for remote workers
Many of the more traditional methods of promoting teams and teambuilding fall under what I would class as short-form. As they are either short in terms of the length of the experience or their benefits are short-term, or both.
This is not to say then that this is a bad thing. On their own, they lack any real depth or long-term benefit. But if these short-term experiences are done regularly, let’s say once daily or weekly, then these activities can become cumulative and will eventually contribute to team cohesion and collaboration.
For remote teams, some of the easiest methods are to simply schedule daily catch-ups, creating virtual water-cooler moments where colleagues can chat and see how everyone is doing. There is no overt use of a game mechanics here, but simply the behavioural psychology of facilitating and filling the need for a sense of belonging. Often it may just require managers permission or involvement to get people to interact casually online through a group chat.
If you wish to add more gaming to these, then utilising games that focus heavily on mechanics like team collaboration, mystery, surprise, curiosity and challenges are your best bet for short and sweet experiences. Using video conferencing software for things like a pub quiz, or Pictionary, Lip Dub, fun facts matching or any variation of what can commonly be considered to be a party game.
Many of these are designed to last 60 to 90 minutes at most. Which makes them perfect for quick sessions where colleagues can get together and have a bit of fun. But as I mentioned, for these to have any benefit what so ever, they need to be regular and consistent. They are high on fun and entertainment value but lack any depth in terms of social interactions beyond the moment in which they take place. Also, they have nothing to do with the work that the teams are doing, which on one side is good, as taking a break is healthy, but if your aim is to promote professional collaboration then you may need to consider something else.
The benefit of long-form experiences is that they can be designed to be self-directed and be highly customised to the team and individuals who participate in them.
One of the best long-form experiences, especially for remote workers is an online ARG or Alternate Reality Game. ARG’s are lengthy narrative-based experiences where players must work together to solve puzzles, questions and challenges that are spread across the internet, or intranet and which are relayed through trans-media features. And often ARG’s have a single final epic goal that needs to be achieved.
With ARG’s, often the players aren’t aware that they have entered a game, which makes this type of experience perfect for incorporating projects or other work-related things. Meaning team members could be doing their work and playing the game at the same time if it is well designed that is.
And this is the issue with ARG’s in this manner, they do require a large amount of work to achieve the right level of engagement from players. The experience can be tailored to a player’s skills, abilities and experience within the organisation. Though it must be said that ARG’s can be short as well, some can last for a few days to a week, or several weeks, or even months. Depending on what is needed.
ARG’s or variations of them, do offer greater depth than traditional teambuilding experiences, but they can be incredibly complex and difficult to develop if you want them to be good and enjoyable for your players. A danger is that if they are too engaging and not work-related, then there is a very real possibility that people will be playing the game more than doing their actual work. It may even eat into their leisure time if they become obsessed with solving the overall mystery goal.
One advantage is that there is a level of spontaneity that causes curiosity and facilitates a need for belonging and interaction. As the game isn’t obvious to start with, colleagues may stumble upon the opening puzzle and start discussing this in their spare time, sharing ideas and solutions at random points in the day, sparking conversations and more.
The third alternative to facilitating group interaction and collaboration is to use premade and pre-existing virtual spaces that are designed to engage and promote teamwork. Some are free and some are pay-to-play. In general, it should be easy enough to have everyone on a team create an account for a game they all know or want to learn. They can then come together at agreed times and take part in some kind of quest, mission or team objective.
Pick games that focus heavily on team cooperation. For example, any MMORPG like World of Warcraft for the more fantasy-oriented. Or an FPS like Overwatch for the sci-fi action-oriented. Or perhaps for those that wish to quietly build and farm together then games like Minecraft or ECO are good choices. Or if you want to go in-depth into narrative experience then there are even online alternatives for Dungeons & Dragons with Roll20.net and DnDBeyond.com.
All of these, and other games, can be a lot of fun, but much like with the short-form experiences, the issues that arise are that traditionally they would need to be played outside of working hours. You could set aside an hour or so during working hours for a team to play these to promote the team feeling. But some may take umbrage if they are required to play these outside of working hours when they want to relax.