Business colleagues greeting with elbow in office

Team Building to Reconnect After a Year Apart

4 min read • May 10, 2021 • Derek Miller

Over the past year, teams have learned to adapt to the virtual office. From daily Zoom meetings to water-cooler chat in Slack channels, “connecting” has related more to Wi-Fi than company culture since 2019.

However, businesses are now starting to bring employees back in-house and need to help them reacclimate to the office. While many employees are eager to work together again, it might take time to reconnect and relearn how to collaborate in person.

As a manager, you can help this process along with team-building activities. Your team has been through a lot since the start of the pandemic, and now it’s time to move forward. Here are a few ways to help team building in 2021.

Start Small With In-Person Icebreakers

Team building doesn’t have to involve day-long retreats or corporate getaways as soon as your employees are fully vaccinated. You can start reconnecting immediately as soon as you have people in the office

Take time to adjust your meetings now that people can meet face-to-face instead of over Zoom. Enjoy the fact that no one is speaking while muted or having internet connection issues. This experience alone can help a team reconnect, but you can take the process a step further with icebreakers. 

A meeting icebreaker might seem cheesy at first, but these small, 5-minute activities can help break down communication walls and encourage personal relationships. They can make people laugh if they feel nervous about returning and wake employees up in the morning. 

A few icebreaker activities include:

  • Count to 20: Ask your team to count up to 20. If 2 people speak over each other, then the count starts over again. This activity requires communication and cooperation and can be completed in a few minutes.  
  • Host a show and tell: Allow an employee to show off a personal achievement from the past year. The “show” could be the creation of a perfect loaf of sourdough bread or the completion of a home renovation. 
  • Solve a puzzle together: Look for small puzzles that are harder than they appear. Work together to figure it out and start the morning with a small success. 
  • Tap into personality quizzes: Not all business tests need to be leadership-based. Ask your team to take a quick quiz to determine their Harry Potter house or which potato matches their personality. 

These activities break up the workday and allow employees to relax together. They are more willing to work together on friendly terms after completing these activities. 

Look for Socially-Distant Activities

Along with in-office icebreakers, you can start to bring back some of the after-work activities that contributed to your company culture. You might not be able to set up after-work happy hour at a local brewery just yet (and your state might not even allow such gatherings), but you can find new outdoor activities to build team connections. For example:

  • Restart your company sports leagues: Softball, tennis, and flag football are just a few outdoor, socially distant activities to try. 
  • Start picnic lunches: If you work near an area with green space, invite people to take their lunch breaks outside. Employees can mingle safely, especially if your break room is still closed. (This activity also boosts morale by encouraging workers to take their full lunch breaks.)  
  • Look into state parks, lakes, and beaches: Set up weekend outings for your team to connect with nature. You can lead a hike through a state park, rent kayaks with your employees, or just enjoy an outdoor beach day. 
  • Find safe sports to attend: The 2021 MLB season has started and many stadiums are open-air and implementing social distancing measures. You may be able to book an outing for your employees. 

Start with a few activities to gauge employee interest and then build on what interests people. 

Create an Employee Give Back Day

Regardless of the state of the pandemic, you can always give back to nonprofit organizations that need your help. Dedicate a day, week, or even month to supporting a specific cause that connects to your business. 

For example, you can lead a local park cleanup to beautify the area around your workplace. You can also spend a day with your team volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank. 

In-office, you can fundraise for certain causes, set walking or biking challenges to raise money for a nonprofit, or collect in-kind items like socks or feminine hygiene products. This focus lets your team rally around one cause and work to make your community a safer, healthier place. 

Use a Variety of Team-Build Steps

Team-building doesn’t happen overnight with just 1 activity. While your team might enjoy a day out, stress and tight deadlines can tear at the trust and respect these activities build. Incorporate a variety of activities and games into your culture so they become a natural part of working for your brand. This practice can help maintain morale as your employees return to in-person work.

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Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp.