What I have learnt about virtual team building activities

It has certainly been a period of change since the pandemic. o3e went from being an industry recognised (CN Agency Awards 2020) at the beginning of March to an internationally recognised purpose driven Team Building Company in 2021.  Virtual Team Building  was been very new to us.

We have learnt a lot about online virtual and remote at home team building events over these last few months and whilst there are some specific actions that must be addressed, the established principle remains, ensure that your event is as engaging as possible for as many of your participants as possible.

Implicit or Explicit Teambuilding?

I split team building events it in to two distinct categories. Implicit team building and Explicit team building.

An Implicit team building activity is one where the actual process of being together and sharing a similar experience is all that you need, in the live World that could be as simple as having a lunch or going down the pub. I would categorise the following as implicit, Cooking, Cocktail Making, Tasting and Quizzes, many of these have their online equivalents and they do a great job of engaging the team, creating memories and camaraderie.

Explicit team building activities are the ones that have a focus. For instance,  The business wants to develop Project Management skills, or there is a need to break out of silo working (this must be very prevalent at the moment), or there is a need to renew the team’s goals. Explicit team building has more business value, as it seeks to address a business problem and begins to solve it.

I think the rise of implicit team building portals, (Amazon and AirBnB have one each!) is because the social interaction so intrinsic in office life has all but disappeared and business leaders are reaching out for quick solutions. Despite that, many may lack any deep business value.

Remote or Virtual Team Building, what’s the difference?

If you are looking for a team building activity for your team who are working from home, what do you search for? I loved the idea of calling employees “outpost worker”, working on the edge of business civilisation with only intermittent contact with the federation. We agreed that unless you are a sci fi fan it’s unlikely you will be searching for “Outpost Team Building Activities”. Therefore we decided on the following categories.

Virtual team building is the one where you explore a new world, normally via an app or a web portal. The team will normally work together to complete challenges in an Escape Room or a Murder Mystery mansion and there will be little physical actions aside from dressing up or taking a photo.

Remote team building is actually physically doing something, our own Onboard challenge where you build and artwork a skateboard within a team is a great example of this, as is Getting Ahead, working as a team to complete an artwork which becomes a child’s bed.

In our experience there has been a 50:50 split between Remote Team Building and Virtual Team Building, however I believe that most of our clients prefer remote, I suggest that’s because of the purpose driven nature of our challenges.

What we have learnt about Virtual Team Building meeting apps

We have used 4 online meeting apps that we believe are suitable for business Zoom, Teams, Webex and Hangouts.

Which one we use is driven by the requirement or the clients preference. For team building one of the essential features is the ability to put people in to teams.

Breakout Rooms – This is an amazing feature and perfect for team building, no need to know every ones’ birthday!* Click the button and the app will randomly put all the participants except for the hosts in to team rooms, you decide on how many teams and it works it all out for you. Great for discussion groups, not so great if you want specific individuals, say from the leadership group, in each of the rooms. To overcome this you need to make the ‘leadership group’ co-hosts so they can escape the team they have landed in and go to the ones they have been assigned!

Many clients want to preassign individuals to breakout rooms. Believing this is straightforward is a mistake.  Many people have been using zoom for months in their own personal friendship groups. They generally would have set this up with their personal email address. So unless your participants log in using the same email as the one that has been allocated to a breakout room pressing breakout could unfold a horror that could crack even the coolest of seasoned event organisers. Only 25% of your group  go to breakouts leaving you with the other 75% to allocate manually!

The work around for this is to make sure your audience create new accounts using the companies email or submit their registered email for their account prior to the event. With this you have to be mindful of GDPR.

You can of course forget the breakout function. It is not available on many of the other applications. You will need to set up as many additional meeting as you have teams. You will need to check your account settings to ensure that you have enough hosts or  simultaneous meetings within your account.

Multiple Hosts – Enabling another person within you team to have administration rights is useful, it takes the pressure off the organiser and enables control to pass quickly if there is an issue.

Connecting smartphones/tablets – Many of the team building virtual challenges are app based, they only work on a smartphone or tablet. This is because they have been designed to be used as a face to face tool outside or in a conference room where speed and control are essential. For a virtual team building event you will need to be able to display your team building challenge app screen on to your computer screen to share with team mates. This works simply with Webex and Zoom when you have an iPhone/ipad and Mac combination as the function is built in to the meeting app. It is much more of a challenge with Android and Windows as the meeting applications have not developed an out of box solution.

Connecting Android to windows needs either 3rd party software like TeamViewer or the android device will need to join the meeting separately allowing the screen to be shared once the device is in the correct breakout.

Is anyone there? – Muted, video off, is anyone actually taking part? On a large event, where interaction is difficult, (Pop for Purpose is a good example) we can have 500 people taking part in one go. Some participants turn off everything, so that they can’t be seen or heard. It’s worth noting the percentage, we reckon it’s about 15%, and there may be lots of reasons for this. As you can record the session you can see who they are survey them and find out why. The activity may just not be their bag baby! It will make for better decision making going forward.

Lights, Camera, Action – There is a lot of stuff on the internet on what’s the best at home video conferencing set up, so we won’t dwell on that , however lighting and camera position are important.

  • Lighting should be at 12 o’clock or 10 o’clock, try both and see!
  • Camera should be at head height, use books or get a Stood or similar eco laptop holder. Also bear in mind where your camera is and look at it when talking, you can look at everyone else when you have finished speaking.
  • Backgrounds – most of the online meeting apps have an opportunity to change the background, we suggest you use it. Create a bespoke background that meets your communication objectives or the theme of the team building challenge.


One of the significant features of Virtual or Remote team building has been that participants have got to meet the families of their colleagues. It is possible to engage the ‘extended team’ by using activities that makes it easy to include them. The remote team building activities are best for this. Something that includes artwork; onboard or getting ahead offer a great opportunity to get the family around the table; or Pop with purpose where everyone gets a chance to show their moves. Capturing these moments on film creating great memories in this difficult time.

Purpose through Virtual Team Building

During this difficult time the addition of Remote and Virtual Teambuilding to our portfolio has enabled us and our clients to continue our purpose. The charities that we have been able to support with food parcels for families in desperate need, sports equipment for children trapped at home, bikes to enable essential journeys and hospital kits for people going on for cancer treatment and beds to address the 1000s of children in the UK who don’t have one.

Whether you are considering a live team building challenge later in 2021 or one online, putting a Charity purpose behind it will increase your levels of engagement, with the participants at the time, but also ongoing with the business. Business surveys over the past 30 years continually shown a correlation between community purpose and job satisfaction.

In this time of change a business that develops its purpose around mutuality – the inclusion of all stakeholders environment, community, employees and shareholders – is the business fit for the future.

In Summary

I believe that team building activities have had  a renaissance, there is a recognition from business leaders that social interaction through team building events, whether implicit or explicit, has real value. I also believe the heady days of no expense spared away days will slowly fade to distant and fond memories, we certainly won’t be including helicopters or tanks in any events ever, and a more focused purpose driven set of team building activities will emerge to create a better future for everyone.

About the Author

Peter Lindsay is the founder and CEO of o3e Limited, the UK’s leading Purpose Driven Team Building Company. O3e will be 10 years old later this year and is driven by the desire to make every team building activity have a social purpose.

Prior to founding o3e Peter worked for MotivAction as an Account Director and helped businesses including Mars, Orange, Deloitte, KPMG and Merlin Entertainments engage their people and customers.

Peter’s other roles have included Sales Management in business as diverse as Office Equipment and Manned Guarding and he even ran a nightclub in the 80’s.

O3e recently passed the £1million of donations and even during lockdown o3e and its clients managed to donate nearly £100,000 of equipment and essentials to families and charities in need. Every item through purpose driven team building challenges.

At the end of 2020, o3e achieved BCorp certification – Business as a force for good. A feat less than 400 companies in the UK have achieved.

*For many years now when teams have not been prearranged we have lined the participants up around the room in Birthday order and then given them a number to remember which becomes their team!

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