How We Plan Engaging Virtual Team Events

January 27, 2022

I recently read the results of an on-boarding survey from a group of new hires. It revealed that the most valuable part of the first two weeks at the company was the people: having to work with a dynamic, passionate team on some tough problems. It was unanimous.

The problem: connections with team-mates

However, to no surprise, a hybrid remote work structure has been challenging at fostering these connections. Having impromptu conversations with colleagues about work or any other topic has been difficult behind a screen, such that team members wait for the “right opportunity” to discuss topics that will push their work forward or help them feel closer to their team. 

Any remote structure makes it difficult to connect, because these types of interactions now need to be intentional. Companies have had to resort to online events, but it’s difficult to plan a great online event – Zoom awkwardness anyone?

Here at GBatteries, we've experimented with various options and continue to do so. When done right, such events improve productivity and communication and most importantly, help team members get the face time with their colleagues to help grow their sense of belonging.

We’ve hosted dozens of virtual company events like lunch and learns, happy half hours, meet and eats, company meetups, and more. Some were awkward, some not. We’re continuously evolving our process and wanted to share our approach and what we learned - we've summarized our current model into a multi-step process, detailed below.

1. Start with why: Determine the event’s goals

Planning events for your team can actually be exciting, and yes, it's possible to make them fun. It may be obvious, but the most critical step is to understand why you are having the event so the team may understand why it is worth attending. We start by breaking down the event’s purpose into tangible goals that you can accomplish during the session. This helps to make the event planning process clear and straightforward. (Note: It is also useful to share these goals with your team so they may further understand the purpose and value of the event).

Example – Behind our Winter Company Meetup:

The beginning of 2021 was a turning point for GBatteries. It was clear that every team member felt symptoms of exhaustion associated with the transition of remote work.

So, we decided to talk about it. We setup an improved 1-on-1 system, weekly company sync-ups with anonymous Q&As (we use Slido), and started the tradition of a quarterly State of Health Survey (SOHS) (click to view template).

Setting up these feedback channels enabled our team to better understand the source of the exhaustion which led us to create our most anticipated events: company meetups.

Our Q3 SOHS revealed that team members wanted more opportunities to deepen their relationships with their team members. Therefore, we made that concern the purpose of our winter event where the goals were to:

(1) learn more about each other, (2) experience “down time” with the team and (3) get the team excited for their new year together.

2. Finding the right activities for your event

Finding activities to address the goals of the event can be a bit overwhelming. To simplify this process, treat your event’s goals as a checklist and research specific activities to help accomplish a goal of the event, then repeat. (Note: Researching goal-specific activities can be as simple as performing a Google search of “company activities to [insert a goal from Step 1 here]”).

Example – Behind our Winter Company Meetup:

Two days before the event, we made the tough decision to transition our meetup from in-person to fully remote due to the drastic rise in new COVID-19 cases in our area. With the event’s purpose of gathering the team together, our event planning team became anxious on whether “it” can happen while being fully remote.

We scrambled to re-plan, and decided to cut our meetup to half a day with the rest as time off.

Here's how we approached the virtual event with our 3 goals in mind:

  1. Get-to-know-you: With the help from HubSpot and Snack Nation, we had many options to choose from. We considered Icebreaker Games and 2 Truths and a Lie, but we wanted something more insightful so we decided on Personality Tests. Between the Enneagram Test and the Myers-Briggs Test, we ultimately chose the latter. We knew this aligned with our desire to tell our team more about them, their colleagues, and how well they work together based on their personality such that the activity was allocated time to do the test with a workshop following it.
  2. Team “down time”: With 25+ RSVP’ed to the event, we wanted to choose a game that would help us separate the teams to make it easier to have individual face time an intimate, small group of people. Coincidentally,the Myers-Briggs Test with 16 Personalities breaks down the 16 personalities into 4 groups. Therefore, we used those pre-set personality groups to break down our team into 4. Because of this opportunity, we also wanted to introduce competition between the 4 groups to potentially analyze the team differences so went with an online escape room, MobileEscapes. Since most virtual competition games overlapped with the games that we play for our Happy Half Hours, we chose an escape room to introduce both non-work-related down time.
  3. Build excitement: We noticed over the year that the events with the most participation are battery-related Lunch and Learns. With this in mind, we found an expert speaker to talk about the future of the battery industry and our company’s place in it.

All in all, there are hundreds of different types of activities you can add to the itinerary to accomplish the goals of the event. Here are some other resources we’ve used in the past few years:

3. Inviting the team

Since we were in a time crunch, our Culture team worked closely throughout every single step to finalize the activities promptly.

We had multiple activities with different meetup rooms, it was crucial to share the entire itinerary beforehand with all the activity-related information such as: time, title, host, location (ie. hyperlink), description.

To maintain engagement from your team, we've found it's important for virtual events to mix structured activities with unstructured activities.

Example – Behind our Winter Company Meetup:

Our invite process was critical to communicate the details of the event. What worked best for our team was to send an event invite through e-mail that included the summary of the event, the purpose, the goals, the itinerary, and a feedback channel.

Below is the e-mail we sent to our team for the event:

4. Gathering feedback to improve for next time

Feedback is key. After your first event, some things may go right, some things may go wrong – and the best people to tell you that is your team. Creating a channel where your team can provide anonymous feedback on how the event went can help you iterate your process and ideas for next time while continuously showing your team that you are proactive about achieving success in future events.

Example – Behind our Winter Company Meetup:

We include a feedback channel through a short survey (click to see an example survey we use) for our team to fill out after the event. We run on O365 so we use Microsoft Forms, but SurveyMonkey or Wufoo are great as well.

5. Bonus: Did someone say food? Add goodies to the event

If your budget allows, adding goodies to the event is a great way to get your team excited about it. Goodies can be physical gifts (ie. personalized gifts through Vistaprint or Gemnote), gift cards (ie. physical ones from a local convenience store or online ones with cash back through Rakuten), or vouchers (ie. meals or rides through Uber or Doordash) that can complement your efforts of accomplishing the goals of your event.

Example – Behind our Winter Company Meetup:

Lunch time in the breakroom is our team’s favourite “past time” since the transition to hybrid-remote work. We decided to give meal coupons through UberEats to keep our team from needing to worry about making lunch during our meetup. Using Ubers platform made it easy to create unique codes for each team member that they could use during our event, and the team loved enjoying their favorite meals at home with their peers.

Virtual events aren't perfect

Since the implementation of virtual company events, our team has increased their sense of belonging with each other such that teams have increased prompt collaboration, teams have more facetime with all their colleagues, and 1-on-1s and internal state of health surveys have become richer in openness and transparency.

In our experience, having virtual company events can be a great way to address friction and pain points across the organization surrounding motivation, trust, communication, and more – but it is not a “be all, end all” solution. Try complimenting current solutions to your team’s concerns with these events to see if can reap great results.

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