Combat employee isolation with remote team building. Here’s how.

With multiple studies, including recent research conducted by IBM, revealing that one out of every four employees plans to quit their current job in 2021, many employers seek ways to bond their employees to their companies. Several local employers have considered virtual team-building as a method for engaging disconnected employees but wonder: “How do we achieve a Team or Zoom event that’s worth the time and effort?”

How employees feel

When four local employers reached out to me, I said, “let’s first find out whether your employees want virtual team-building.”

In February 2020, when Buffer released a study surveying 3,500 remote workers from around the world, 20% of them cited loneliness as their greatest challenge and another 20% named the lack of collaboration and communication as their biggest problem. Those numbers shifted when Buffer released its 2021 survey. While loneliness and collaboration and communication struggles ranked in the top three remote work challenges, each identified by 16% of the 2,300 workers surveyed, “not being able to unplug” took first place (cited by 27% of those surveyed).

That led me to call my client’s employees and ask whether they wanted to engage in “forced bonding” with their coworkers. The employees I called said, “yes, if you can make it fun, worth my time and not artificial.” The takeaway — in a virtual environment, in which employees physically isolated feel remote, the opportunity to connect with coworkers still appeals.

4 options

I created four options, each designed with a different need in mind, and each designed to for a 30- to 70-minute time frame.

The manager gauntlet: One employer faced a major upheaval, with the resignation and upcoming departure of key employees. For them, I suggested the “senior manager gauntlet.” I asked that senior managers to lead off the video conference with a seven minute “briefing” on their vision for the future.


I suggested that the employees then work in breakout rooms and create “on-the-spot questions” that they could funnel to a trusted individual to allow for anonymity. Then, the conference resumed, with the managers answering those questions “live.”

The murder mystery: Another organization wanted something fun. I suggested a murder mystery, with a manager “fake shot” on the initial screen, a supervisor arriving on the scene as a detective, and brief interviews with other managers posing as potential murderers.

After the initial set up, employees were invited to pose questions to the potential murderers, and then given the opportunity to meet in breakout rooms to reach consensus on the most likely culprit.

The identified suspect engaged an employee as his/her lawyer, and the suspect and attorney then handled continued employee questioning, with a closing poll in which employees voted “guilty” or “innocent.”

My employee/manager “user manual”: Another organization let me know that their “round the clock” shifts made real-time team-building challenging. I suggested an approach that allowed employees to build connections even as they took part when convenient.

Each individual could create a personal “user manual” identifying their goals: working hours; hours when they hoped to undisturbed for heads-down deep work; and preferred communication channel, whether text, chat, email or impromptu video calls. I suggested all employees and managers watch a short YouTube video created by CultureAmp CEO Didier Elzinga. Highlights from the user guide he created for himself include: urging those connecting with him to start with the big picture; moving quickly; and addressing issues by “escalating to bandwidth” — moving from written communication to a call to a video call or an in person meeting, if necessary.

Reality-based conversation: For the fourth employer, I suggested they subdivide their organization into working groups of 30, each meeting and discussing important topics, with key managers present, listening and contributing.

The topics included: What are your favorite and least aspects of working remotely?; If you were managing the company, what would you do differently?; What thoughts or questions do you have about our future as a company?; What have you learned from working remotely that could contribute to better communication and collaboration?; What’s one recommendation you’d make to improve our workplace culture?; For you, what’s the best aspect of working here and where would you like our company to be within the year?

Although this event occurred in real time, the meeting transcript both enabled those unable to attend the meeting to view what occurred, and management to later let the employees know the changed they planned based on what they heard.

Virtual team building—if the idea appeals, you have options.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.