From fun online ice-breakers to digital whiteboards for brainstorming, there are a raft of innovative ways charities can host a successful virtual away day
Remember when face-to-face team building and planning away days were common-place for charities?
Then COVID-19 struck.
Organisations suddenly had to pivot their staff meetings online, with many looking to organise virtual away days for the first time.
Lockdown measures have begun easing as some of us return to the workplace. More may follow throughout 2020. But many teams are still working remotely for the foreseeable future. And the threat of local lockdowns will be ever present for months, maybe even years to come.
Therefore knowing how to host a virtual away day is crucial in both the short-term and long-term.
Here we outline how charities can host away days online. We examine what key steps they can take to make them successful. We will also identify some of the tools and products they can use to help them host a great virtual away day for staff and volunteers.
Away days can be formal business-related days, as well as more relaxed team building events online.
A well-arranged virtual away day can foster as strong a sense of close working among remote workers as an in-person days. Such days can even create a stronger sense of togetherness, helping to mitigate against the sense of physical separation that can build up among remote workers. To host a successful away day organisers need to keep this in mind.
Activities should therefore reinforce this sense of togetherness and help keep teams motivated and morale up while working remotely.
Virtual away days should help remind remote workers of the strong support they have across the organisation, particularly from senior management.
Remote working can also breed a greater sense of independence in workers. This can be harnessed in a virtual away day by organising activities around leadership to demonstrate that management trust their workforce’s decision making.
Before we look at specific activities it is good to run through some of the key video-conferencing products and tools being used to run effective away days.
Zoom is among the most popular video conferencing tools to use for virtual away days. But for large teams seeing many faces on a screen at the same time can be confusing.
This is where break-out rooms come into play. These are easy to set up in Zoom. Once this function is enabled in Zoom, up to 50 rooms can be created. This makes it ideal for coordinating large teams.
These rooms can be created by the host once logged into Zoom via its website (note: not the app itself). Under the ‘meetings’ tab there is advanced break out features that can be enabled, including assigning who should go into which room before the meeting starts. The rooms can then be managed by the host via the breakout room icon.
Another virtual away day tool is Microsoft Teams, which has replaced Skype for Business. This has intuitive functions to set up meetings, and enables team members to swiftly share documents and collaborate on activities in real time. This can be used for a wide range of team building activities.
Among charities to effectively use Microsoft Teams recently is small to medium-sized charity Scunthorpe and District Mind, which uses the platform to connect staff as well as support beneficiaries.
Being faced with a screen with the faces of many co-workers can seem strange at first. Icebreaker activities are a perfect way to cut short any immediate feelings of awkwardness and have fun.
One innovative way is to use quizzes. This can be as simple as one member being chosen in advance as quiz master, who sets their own questions. There are tools to help too. Quiz breaker has developed an off-the shelf virtual quiz for teams designed to build trust. This can be personalised and players can skip questions they don’t want to answer. This tool also helps foster friendly competition, which can aid performance.
Another is to borrow innovative, fun ideas for icebreakers from outside of business, even from professional comedians themselves.
During lockdown the comedians Alex Horne, Tim Keys and Mark Watson have been taking part in a game they have created called No More Jockeys, which can be carried out via zoom.
Each player has to name a person plus a category that their choice falls under. That person and category, such as singers or people with the letter ‘y’ in their name, are then eliminated. As more tricky categories are added the game gets harder, and more fun for the members of your team on a virtual away day.
Other icebreakers can include starting a conversation about global events and news, by sending out a news story for the team to read and chat about for the initial five minutes. For more outgoing staff an open mic fundraiser could be organised, giving each member of the team a chance to perform, perhaps by reading out a joke, singing or playing a musical instrument. This can be a great way of finding out more about team members interests.
Once the ice is broken the virtual away day can focus on team building or team planning though break out sessions as well as joint events.
Miro is an important tool that can be used for planning virtual away days.
This is an online, collaborative whiteboard platform that can be used to run remote meetings, workshops and develop ideas within a team as if they were in the same room.
Meanwhile, some fun team activities that can take during the day place include using Scavify’s Virtual Scavenger Hunt App, which can involve members of the team using the app to take photos and videos of items being hunted. They can also answer questions and this has a QR code function too. There’s a leaderboard and photostream as well to foster connectivity. This is ideal for teams of 20 plus and lasts around 45-60 minutes.
Another team building activity tool to use is Let’s Roam Virtual Team Builders. This can be for teams of between five to 50 and offer fun activity rounds such as trivia, fact or fib, costume party, impersonations and ‘riddle me this’.
Traditional in-person away days can significantly boost productivity and bring teams together. With the wealth of tools and activities available these can be carried out with great success virtually too.