As staff and clients feel increasingly isolated working from home, connectivity and investing in team building is more important than ever to help to keep a disparate workforce connected and motivated.

In a time of fear and panic, it can be understandable that brands are looking to cut back on their costs and an inevitable area that takes a hit is the team building budget. However, if your brand can ride out the storm currently underway, Emma Kowalski, Event Coordinator at corporate event provider Xtreme Events, suggests there may be no better time to invest in your business.

“Employers should certainly be looking at arranging corporate team building right now for the autumn, with prices starting to drop. Companies such as ours are more than happy to negotiate prices at such a difficult time, therefore increasing the chances they can get themselves a good deal.

“Many businesses might prefer to wait for normality to return, but as business starts to pick up, the special offers will largely have ended. You can often just put down a deposit, meaning you’re not heavily financially invested, yet you can agree a discounted rate to be paid later in the year. Think of it as an investment into the future of you company.

“Team building activities are a great way to get members of the company to mingle with people they don’t often speak to, whether that’s different levels of seniority or from other departments, as they remotely work within their respective teams. Beyond this, it also helps to increase productivity and pushes people to tackle problems and find solutions as a group. It’s also an interesting education for managers to monitor how different people tackle tasks requiring creativity and an innovative mindset.”

At this time of uncertainty, Tracey MacLennan, Head of Organisational Effectiveness at learning and development consultant Insights, feels it is more important than ever that teams pull together and build these strong working relationships when home workers might feel particularly isolated and demotivated: “When team members work effectively towards a common goal, they can withstand many twists and turns, adapting and responding to a changing set of circumstances with agility. Conversely the cracks may start to appear in a team that lacks a collaborative and trusting approach.

“As budgets are tightened during the COVID-19 outbreak, it may be tempting to strip team development from your spend, however a solid team will be your key to thriving in these challenging times. Now more than ever before, your teams must be well equipped to connect, adapt and respond with agility and compassion.

“When we think of team building, we often imagine assault courses, ‘trust falls’ and face-to-face workshops, but in this new virtual workplace we need to switch our thinking. In direct response to the ongoing situation, we have successfully switched many of our face-to-face workshops to virtual delivery sessions. Forward-thinking teams from around the world are still coming together online to learn how to function collectively in this disrupted world.”

So what could team building exercises of the future look like if we’re all working remotely for extended periods? Glenn Gillis, CEO of augmented reality business Sea Monster, believes current technology already allows for so much, and these working shifts could prove a catalyst for new and exciting virtual team building opportunities: “Imagine a power 40-minute online session, that starts with a digital Jenga-like puzzle, projected into your home office using augmented reality (AR). The catch is you need seven of your colleagues to be able to solve the challenge. After 10 minutes of chaos, a facilitator (or their digital avatar) unpacks the experience and gives feedback, principles of how to use Zoom or some such virtual conferencing software to collaborate more effectively and how to find new ways of work on these new channels. The session finishes with a digital escape-room activity to lock in some of the new learnings.

“There are so many things we need to take from the real-world into our new ways of work, but there are also some we need to leave behind. With digital collaboration we can get a much more nuanced and measurable approach to skills development. This isn’t just e-learning, but rather an approach that unlocks the full potential of digital. We’ve had online communication platforms for years now, but as the last few weeks have shown us, we haven’t really fi gured out how to use these for much more than a one-way presentation. People keep interrupting each other, given the lack of body language feedback, and we need to fi gure out new modes for collaboration.”

While it’s easy to get carried away with technological possibilities, Colin Murray, Director of leadership development consultants AndPartnership believes that business leaders should be focused on using virtual connectivity to build human relationships that count, recognising the importance of establishing a positive practice of mental health and physical wellbeing: “Every leader has a part to play in developing a strong level of resilience in their team. Take advantage of any available ‘slow-time’ to reach out to your team. Make yourself available to them and show an interest in how they are feeling. They might have started remote working for the first time so may feel disconnected, unmotivated and uncertain.

“By enhancing relationships across your team using digital spaces, you can foster social cohesion, a sense of community and a stronger support network – and by role modelling these behaviours, your team will respond in kind. By pulling together and finding new ways to interact and grow, your team can come through this as a stronger unit, with deeper connections and a renewed sense of vigour and drive.”