As Zoom fatigue sweeps the nation, H&E North asks the experts if virtual team building activities can truly deliver the same impact as live outdoor events.

Ben Hull, Managing Director of corporate event management specialist Bright Vision Events

Typically, we would host over 200 physical team building events per year, both indoor and out for clients of all sizes right across the UK and beyond. However, when the pandemic took hold, these events rapidly ground to a halt. Rather than sit around and wait for things to return to normal we began to adapt and change, along with the rest of the world to prepare for the new normal.

The virtual revolution has been slowly building in the events industry for some time. Many of our events already featured a streaming element to allow those who couldn’t attend to take part remotely, but social distancing has simply expedited this need.

Staff can feel disconnected from their colleagues and may struggle with feelings of isolation. Many employers are now turning to us to help keep their staff engaged and increase their wellbeing by providing exciting virtual team building events. This gives their team the contact they may be missing and helps to recreate the office buzz, while restrictions to group gatherings are in place.

Since homes have become the new workplace, we have found there is a need, now more than ever, for employees to develop the skills found within team building activities such as communication, collaboration and camaraderie, and we have strived to make sure all our events deliver this.

Which is why, in the spirit of team building challenges, we set ourselves a big one. How do we move our most popular activities from muddy fields and conference centres directly into homes and offices? After months of development we are delighted to say that our most popular team building activities are now available in virtual formats. Participants can join in from the comfort of their own home, all that’s needed is an internet connection and a laptop, tablet, or smart phone, and we will do the rest. This means all the fun of our traditional team building activities, but now virtual!

Andy Wells, Managing Director of team building company Zing Events

Every day I speak to team leaders, heads of departments and event organisers and it is clear that they do not want to put their staff at risk – the overriding sentiment is very much ‘stay home and stay safe’. Businesses are realising they can operate as ‘normal’ during the pandemic, but what does seem to be a major factor is the wellbeing of their staff and that’s why they are using team building to help raise morale.

We have over 20 different virtual activities on offer at the moment and are adding new ones all the time. Two of our most popular formats are the virtual escape room – which sees teams trying to break out of an augmented reality room on our app while using video conferencing to confer. The other has been virtual mixology sessions, where we send out all the ingredients and our mixologist teaches online participants the trick to shaking up a quality cocktail.

‘Zoom fatigue’ is an unavoidable part of any team building activity while we can’t meet in person, but let’s face it, you’re not just listening to a business update; you are interacting with your colleagues and having fun. It’s important to pick an activity where you are physically creating something, so you’re not just looking at a screen.

Team building can be as engaging and as beneficial for staff as in-person events, but regardless of what form it takes, I think it is needed now more than ever. We are in a time where there aren’t a lot of occasions happening, so bringing everyone together in a non-business way is extremely important, many of clients quote that it has really given their teams new spirit. After all, an unengaged workforce is going to be detrimental to any business.

Grant Seaman, Managing Director of destination management company Into the Lake District

I believe Zoom serves its purpose, but also reinforces everyone’s desire to get back to live interactive events. Initially back in the first lockdown, we were inundated with enquiries for online activities to improve staff morale and help with the mental health challenges employees faced working from home, often for the first time – it was a great way to keep in touch as the water cooler moments evaporated. But the fatigue soon set in and attendance at our Zoom yoga, cookery classes and quizzes soon dropped off.

Virtual formats can be engaging but like most events, it’s all about the hosts and moderators. In our opinion, live team building is the most effective way of easing feelings of isolation, fostering a sense of belonging to the organisation and re-establishing relationships. Levels of engagement are undoubtedly higher; you can’t just switch off the camera and microphone!

Online events can’t hope to match the thrill of white-water rafting, high ropes and ghyll scrambling and nothing beats the health and wellbeing benefits of being in the great outdoors. Extend these events with a night of wild camping and you have a fully immersive experience. Live events also offer the opportunity for CSR team building activities, like repairing dry stone walls, which simply can’t be done virtually. As you can imagine, here in the Lake District, there is plenty of space so social distancing for groups of 30 really isn’t an issue.

At a time when budgets are tight, it’s easy to forget that staff are your most important asset. A great business is one that continues to invest in its team. Effective team building means more engaged employees and reduced staff turnover and it doesn’t have to be a budget buster. But as a business, can you really put a price on building trust, reducing conflict and developing communication and collaboration, all while improving mental health? As Richard Branson said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”