Teamwork: 5 Virtual Team Building Activities for Remote Teams in 2021

The importance of team building

Employers are constantly looking for ways to create successful work environments. In the realm of industrial organizational psychology, studies are often conducted to examine this exact issue. What makes some teams more successful than others? What makes some company cultures stronger than others? How can leaders best motivate their employees to contribute to a productive workplace? 

Much of the research in this area focuses on teamwork and group cohesiveness. Studies have found that the key to a healthy, functioning workplace often lies in the relationships between coworkers. In fact, the most successful team-building activities are often those dedicated to allowing colleagues to get to know each other better by way of promoting communication, support, and trust (Ozigbo et al., 2020). Interactive activities based on work-related tasks allow employees to practice effective communication. These activities also provide an opportunity to become more familiar with each other’s work styles. 

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Team building increases motivation

One study with 265 participants found that there is indeed a positive relationship between successful team building and the motivation level at the workplace. When team members are united with a common purpose, they develop a strong sense of camaraderie and feel a great sense of responsibility for the outcome. When this happens, they grow as a team and become more motivated as they begin to see the results of their efforts, thereby increasing productivity in the long run. In fact, many organizations have created departments specifically dedicated to creating team building activities, which are often team projects or activities outside the office that allow employees to get to know each other while discussing work-related tasks (Khan & Wajidi, 2019). 

Participating in decisions improves performance

Another study with 120 participants found that there is also a positive correlation between employee participation in decision making and workplace performance, as more than one third of employees feel that their inclusion in the decision making process is enough to motivate them to work toward high performance. When employees are encouraged to voice their opinions when it comes to making important decisions, they recognize that their input is valuable to their employers and become more motivated to contribute to the success of the company. So, when employees are encouraged to come together and make significant decisions, they develop a greater sense of loyalty, encouraging them to continue to be productive in the future (Zhi et al., 2020). 

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Mutual trust increases productivity

Another key element of effective teamwork is trust. In some ways, this goes hand-in-hand with employee involvement in decision making; when employees see their employers appreciate and integrate their suggestions, this helps to develop a mutual sense of trust. Not only does it show that employers value the opinions of their employees, but it also demonstrates the commitment of the employees themselves, who are willing to share their ideas for the sake of improving the company. In fact, according to a study with over 2,000 respondents, higher levels of trust have been found to be associated with higher workplace productivity, as employees feel encouraged to continue offering their opinions (Addison & Texeira, 2020).

Team-building and happiness

Studies have also found that there is a relationship between happiness, which tends to result from successful team building, and productivity. Mukherjee (2020) found that employees are more satisfied with their work and their contributions to the organization when they recognize the common goal and feel a sense of cohesiveness with their team members. As this finding demonstrates, employees who are encouraged to work together experience greater levels of satisfaction and therefore feel more motivated to succeed, thereby increasing their productivity. In other words, employers greatly benefit from supporting teamwork, as do the employees themselves. 

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How does team-building occur?

While the exact time period is unclear, Tuckman’s five stages of team development are often used to show the progression of how we become familiar with colleagues and move from good rapport to well-oiled machine. These stages include:

1. Forming

This represents the most fundamental phase of team building. At this point, employees are not very familiar with one another and struggle to communicate effectively. They are rather reserved, making sure that what they say will be well-received by their coworkers. 

2. Storming

At this point, employees have become more comfortable voicing their opinions. They are more likely to disagree with each other and even challenge authority once they have established their positions. 

3. Norming

By now, employees have shared their unique experiences and opinions in order to make sure that everyone’s voice has been heard. They then start to work together to form a common goal, figuring out how to best move forward. 

4. Performing

At this point, the team has begun to see the results of their team-building efforts. They have come to work comfortably as a team and know how to best go about achieving their goals. There is a rather harmonious relationship among the coworkers at this stage. 

5. Transforming

By now, the team is performing at its best. The members have worked together and have ultimately accomplished their objectives (Olusayero, 2020). 

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Which team-building activities are most effective?

For groups of employees to successfully work together as a team, activities dedicated to their growth and development should involve the four core dimensions of teamwork:

But which team-building activities are the most effective in developing those four dimensions? One study found that team training consisting of games, role-playing, and lectures significantly increased group cohesiveness (Suprapto & Verdyana, 2020). 

This brings us to the difference between team building and team bonding.

One study conducted in 2019 found that deliberately planned team building events are far more valuable than time set aside for bonding, the latter of which hardly ever has to do with work itself. While it can be fun to have dinner or go bowling with your coworkers, activities such as these, when marketed as “team bonding,” often make employees feel as though their time is not valuable.

Instead, successful team building events are those with clear, work-related goals so that the employees understand that their participation will not be a waste of their time. This way, employees are encouraged to work together and recognize that their work contributes to the success of the company. While team bonding events may be fun and help to boost employee morale, they don’t result in long-term benefits (Land, 2019). 

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Suggestions for virtual team building activities

1. Simulate a meeting

If you work for a company that often meets with clients, have your employees work together to simulate what one such meeting may look like. Each employee can have a chance to serve as the customer so that everyone can experience both sides of the table, so to speak. This will allow everyone to communicate and may leave some room for a bit of humor, too. 

2. Assign group projects

If employees are encouraged to work together to complete a task, they will inevitably come to understand each other better. If roles are delegated within the group, as well, each person will be able to act according to their strengths. Essentially, since everyone will be able to contribute, they will likely all feel a greater sense of responsibility and accomplishment once the project is completed.

3. Ask for feedback

Even if you create an anonymous suggestion box or ask for each employee to send you an email, it’s important to make sure that your employees look forward to coming to work. Constructive feedback is always helpful, whether it’s a small suggestion regarding the workplace or a thought concerning daily occurrences. If your employees feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns, you can help to foster a healthier work environment.

4. Schedule a day for everyone to share their ideas

As we now know, employees are more likely to feel motivated and work productively when they are involved in decision making. So, if time is set aside for everyone to present their ideas to the group, they will be able to receive feedback from their coworkers and potentially contribute to the company’s future projects. 

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5. Take a course or training together

The LIFE Intelligence app is a 9-topic leadership training app that can help develop employees individually and be used as a team-building exercise. LIFE provides short snippet reading and reflection lessons across emotional intelligence, self awareness, goal setting, time management, decision-making, stress management, communication, conflict resolution, and leadership.

Used as a team-building exercise, this training can not only improve each individual team member. Its impact can be amplified by the fact that all members of the team can share common problem-solving and conflict resolution strategies, to best communicate and support one another. As one review states:

"One thing that makes LIFE so useful is its ability to show how, despite us all being unique, we encounter similar issues and need ways to deal appropriately. Used on entire teams, everyone can obtain the same knowledge and learn to treat each other with respect." 

-- Brianna, Engineer

For example, teammates can open up about the stressors of the job in Mission 1. Vulnerability precedes trust, so opening up about stressors can improve trust. In Mission 3, they can discuss the values of the team and company, and how those values align with their personal and workplace goals. In Mission 9, they can understand varying communication styles and how to be mindful of diverse voices.

In this way, LIFE can improve multiple facets of team-building: trust, communication, empathy, decision-making, with active participation. Try the app today to help create cohesive and collaborative team.

Abby Stark
January 27, 2021


Addison, J. T. & Teixeira, P. (2020). Trust and workplace performance. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 58(4), 874-903.

Khan, M. R. & Wajidi, A. (2019). Role of leadership and team building in employee motivation at the workplace. Global Management Journal for Academic & Corporate Studies, 9(1), 39-49.

Land, S. K. (2019). The importance of deliberate team building: A project-focused competence-based approach. IEEE Engineering Management Review, 47(2), 18-22. 10.1109/EMR.2019.2915600

Mukherjee, D. (2020). Team happiness: A moderator of workplace productivity in upstream petroleum industry. PalArch's Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, 17(6), 9307-9310.

Olusayero, C. M. (2020). Team participation in decision making and employee productivity of private hospitals in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. International Journal of Management Sciences, 8(1), 1-20. 

Ozigbo, A. M., Idegbesor, M., Ngige, C. D., & Nwakoby, N. P. (2020). Team building and performance in organizations: An exploration of issues. International Journal of Management and Entrepreneurship, 2(1), 184-199. 

Suprapto, M. H. & Verdyana, E. (2020). Unity in the workplace: The effectiveness of teamwork training. Review of Behavioral Aspect in Organizations and Society, 2(1), 15-24.

Zhi, Z., Abba, N. B., & Hamid, A. A. (2020). Employee participation in organizational decision making as a motivational factor for building high performance work system in an organization. International Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies, 7(5), 111-116. 

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