- Virtual work hangouts often fail to generate interest or employee connections.
- As the workforce becomes increasingly distributed, keeping employees engaged has never been more essential.
- Planning virtual work hangouts with purpose and intention makes them more effective and inspiring.
Although vaccinations have helped us reconnect with our colleagues and loved ones, the risks of Covid-19 are still lingering with the outbreak of new variants.
In fact, studies covering the impact of remote working on distributed employees shows that many professionals have struggled to keep up connections with their colleagues, which has led to disengagement and feelings of isolation.
According to research from Microsoft, the number of people posting chats in Teams channels consisting of groups of colleagues fell by 5% between April 2020 and February 2021.
Making long-lasting connections are not only essential to nurturing a healthy workforce, but socializing can make a significant difference in the mental health of employees.
Luckily, technology has transformed in a way where it’s simple to continue building on those relationships that have become increasingly difficult to maintain throughout the pandemic.
Virtual hangouts emerged from the woodwork as a way for family members to spend birthdays together, and workers to continue participating in chats and exercises that bonded them when they were still in the office five days a week.
The concept of Zoom happy hours is well intertwined into our lingo at this rate, as is the collective groan following the announcement of yet another one of these awkward events.
Without the right planning, many of these virtual office parties end up falling flat, and leave employees squirming from the cringe worthiness they just experienced.
Improving Uninspired Virtual Hangs
Are you finding that less and less people are RSVPing to your company’s virtual hangout?
What are some reasons for this?
An exasperated employee who wrote to Wired magazine on this topic says a lot about low participation rates for virtual work hangouts:
At the beginning of the pandemic, people were in dire need of social support, so attending a virtual work happy hour seemed fun.
However, one of the biggest issues with traditional virtual work hangouts is the disproportion of who will actually participate in conversation.
This results in one of the most glaring flaws in the ever popular virtual happy hour — only the most outgoing will get a chance to be part of the fun.
Keeping in mind an event that will help workers feel included in the culture will be crucial.
Sure, it’s tricky to find an activity that is enticing to everyone, but experimenting with a variety of hangouts can help leaders tap into what workers find the most fulfilling, as well as which are helping them click with colleagues.
So, what are some ways to improve virtual team building so that workers can continue to click with one another?
In order for a virtual hangout for work to be successful, leaders should ensure these events are:
- Inclusive to all
- Engaging and fun
- Fun for those both extroverted and introverted
- Accessible by the technology workers currently have
The key to making sure workers don’t sigh at the thought of a virtual hangout is to find something that appeals to most.
After all, a virtual hang isn’t something to be dreaded — business leaders need to make these events actually enticing and exciting for their workers.
Virtual Hangouts That Aren’t Stale
When planning a virtual hangout for workers, remember the purpose of these events: to mimic the social aspect of being in the office.
Workers don’t just mindlessly sit around with a boozy drink in hand when socializing.
Connections run much deeper than this.
Virtual hangouts are not created equally, so when planning one out, leaders should know what their end goal is. This may include:
- Strengthening connections between colleagues
- Helping workers destress
- Improving employee collaboration
- Encouraging workers to get to know one another
- Identifying issues within the company’s culture
Understanding why these events are necessary is the first step in hosting a virtual hangout that is fun, engaging, and leaves workers excited for the next one.
Leaders should approach this strategy by experimenting and touching on a variety of interests and hobbies.
Here are a few examples of virtual work hangouts to get you started that can be adjusted and modified to suit your workers best.
1. Cook together
- There are numerous companies that host virtual cooking classes for people from all experience levels.
- If a cooking class is too expensive, choose a single recipe for everyone to make. This can encourage workers to focus on team-building, communication skills, and build deeper connections.
2. Play a game
- Although ice breakers are often the go-to for many companies to get connections flowing in the workplace, there are games that can actually make a meaningful impact on work culture.
- For instance, one of the most popular games to have emerged during the pandemic has been the social deduction game Among Us. Focused on identifying who is just an astronaut, and who is in disguise, players crack codes and communicate with one another to unmask the imposter.
- This is just the tip of the iceberg. Countless team-building games have gone virtual since the onset of the pandemic, from strategy games to murder mysteries.
3. Host a meditation session
- A Pew Research Center survey shows that one-third of Americans have faced high levels of stress throughout the pandemic, while a 2013 study from the Center of Mind and Brain at UC Davis showed that meditation can reduce stress and decrease cortisol levels in the brain and body.
- Companies can host yoga or meditation sessions, which can have a direct impact on workers’ mental health. This shows workers that the organization cares for their wellbeing, and also allows both extroverted and introverted colleagues to connect with one another.
4. Movie watchalong parties
- If you’re looking for something fun and light-hearted, a movie watching party can’t be beat.
- Start by conducting an employee-wide survey of which movie to watch, or choose one based on the season, and encourage workers to bring their favorite movie theater snacks.
- Although watching a movie in silence may seem redundant to building workplace relationships, research from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill shows that shared laughter is linked to people’s feeling of closeness and social support.
5. Chat roulette
- Leaders looking for their workers to make a direct connection have experimented with chat roulette events.
- Employees will be randomly paired, ideally with someone they may not regularly interact with, and can get to know one another.
- Encouraging workers to break down barriers and learn more about one another is crucial to maintain relationships, particularly for distributed workforces.
6. Host open discussions about current topics
- During times of distress, which will undoubtedly define the past few years, it can help to have open discussion with colleagues.
- Whether it’s a natural disaster, political or social unrest, creating a space that opens up communication and helps workers feel more connected with their colleagues and create an overall better sense of purpose.
- This is especially important for employees from marginalized communities, such as people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, those who are mentally or physically disabled, and can do wonders for engagement.
7. Clubs for different interests and activities
- Allow workers to host their own unique events for their personal hobbies or interests, which opens a world of possibilities for others.
- This can range from fantasy football leagues, sewing clubs, running clubs, volunteering, and much more.
- For instance, many people have taken their book clubs online throughout the pandemic, and the same can certainly be done within the workplace.
Deciding a specific purpose before planning a virtual hangout makes it so workers can attend these online meetings based on their own preferences.
Some workers may feel isolated during this time and wish to strengthen their bond with team members, or perhaps an employee wants a chance to destress after a long work week.
Whatever it may be, tapping into a diverse array of team-building exercises that focus on improving the overall employee experience will be critical.
Addressing The Distributed Workforce Disconnect
Employee engagement has never been more important than it is at this moment.
The global workforce is currently experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis and the Great Resignation, and business leaders are as much at a loss as their employees.
If the past two years have taught the world anything, it’s that the workplace will never be the same and having a colleague in a different time zone will be the norm.
In order to navigate these unchartered waters, employers need to shift their focus on creating a distributed work environment that keeps workers engaged, connected, and satisfied.
Virtual work hangouts have played a significant role in maintaining a sense of camaraderie, but time has proven there is much room for improvement.
That’s why leaders should broaden their horizons when planning these events, and identify the true sense of purpose in hosting a virtual hangout.
Aimlessly adding a virtual happy hour to the work calendar won’t fly anymore.
The global workforce is experiencing turbulence, and having a moment to nurture meaningful relationships with colleagues will be critical in getting through this period of time.