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The Road to Hybrid Team Cohesion Lies in ... Video Games?

July 21, 2022 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Finding alignment and cohesion within a hybrid or remote workforce can be challenging. Unlike the face-to-face nature of the physical office where employees can come together for team-building activities, remote and hybrid teams may have different schedules and separate cultures.

Many companies have tried introducing virtual team-building exercises to help bridge the gap and bring everyone together on occasion, but the results have been mixed at best. Some have reported that they weren't able to replicate the same camaraderie and bonding experiences they had in an in-office environment. 

One solution that unsurprisingly doesn't come up much is video games. So, how does it work, and can video games really hold the key to successful hybrid and remote team work? 

Team-Building with Remote Workers

With the growing popularity and adoption of remote and hybrid work models, some leaders have voiced concerns about a potential loss of the company culture. Get-togethers with coworkers, in or out of the office, have long been part of the work life, from companywide dinner outings and impromptu happy hours, to paintball, escape rooms and community-service activities. All of these activities have been instrumental in connecting team members and building office relationships.

Doing so in a remote or hybrid work environment, however, proves challenging — if not impossible. While remote and hybrid environments are great at enabling digital collaborations, they struggle to achieve efficient work culture and team cohesion.

“When it comes to handling their constantly shifting work settings, leaders have a lot on their plates," said Lachlan de Crespigny, co-CEO of Miami-based company Revelo. "Because of this, it is simple to take team-building off the list of things to do."

Certainly, most companies have tried numerous activities to improve remote team-bonding, like the ones present in the Slack social and fun apps category, but these simply don't come close to the experience of a physical workplace. In addition to navigating different work schedules, leaders also must overcome time zone variations and employee preferences. 

It's hardly surprising, then, that 52% of remote employees feel less connected to their colleagues since their companies shifted to remote work, according to Buffer's 2022 State of Remote Work Report. But the onus may not all be on lack of trying by leadership teams. Employees working remotely have reported having to attend a higher number of meetings compared to when they were working from the office, so they may not be as willing to get involved in virtual activities outside of their expanding work hours.

Related Article: Always On, Too Many Meetings: Is This the Future of Hybrid?

The Role of Video Games in Building a Cohesive Team

If games are synonymous with fun, video games certainly take the cake for many Americans. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2020 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry, 64% of adults in the U.S. play video games on a regular basis, and a Statista survey conducted in December 2021 shows 65% of U.S. adults played video games on at least one platform.

There's no doubt that gaming, regardless of the type of game, has become commonplace. A video game’s immersive and interactive nature helps it cross boundaries, create relationships and promote conversations for people in different diverse environments.

“Video games are a great tool to help improve team cohesion, especially in a remote work model. When your team is spread out, playing games online is a great way to have team-building exercises," said Daivat Dholakia, VP of product and growth at Los Angeles-based software company Essenvia.

The right video games can help teach the importance of collaboration to achieve specific goals, generate feelings of camaraderie, reveal coworkers strengths and skillsets, engage employees and, perhaps even more important, allow workers to de-stress and have fun while on the proverbial clock. All of these aspects combined support greater performance, motivation and productivity. 

Related Article: Building and Leading Collaborative Teams

Is Animal Crossing the Answer?

There are several benefits to introducing video games into the workplace. Developing bonds between team members is critical to achieving a collaborative, productive and driven workforce, and according to de Crespigny, playing video games as a team is one way to achieve that.

Adopting video gaming as a team-bonding activity can offer the following benefits:

  • Enhanced team cohesion and engagement: Video games demand attention, team collaboration, creative thinking and communication. When employees play video games together, even across the globe, they become more engaged and connect more easily with other team members.
  • Reduced employee stress: In recent years, remote and hybrid employees have become increasingly concerned about their health and well-being. Data shows the blurring of the lines between home and office is increasing the risk of burnout. Immersive and engaging activities like video games have been shown to be effective at promoting recovery and reducing stress.
  • Improved productivity: Besides helping employees cope with burnout, playing games as a team-building activity can help re-engage workers and boost productivity. "There are plenty of video game options that will force your team to work together in order to advance through the game, teaching them important skills that they can apply to their work projects,” said Dholakia.

While playing video games can potentially benefit remote and hybrid workers, it certainly isn't for everyone, and leaders should continue to offer other activities. Despite their popularity, not every employee enjoys video games. Neglecting to take that into consideration can lead to frustration and isolation among certain groups.

Related Article: How Gamification, VR and AR Boost Employee Engagement

Where to Start?

Before jumping into the world of video games, leaders need to carefully think through their strategy to identify the games that will have the ability to address the issues at play and, ultimately, improve team cohesion.

Christian Velitchkov, co-founder and COO of SEO company Twiz, suggests digital board games or mission-critical command games such as Spaceteam where the game players communicate with each other through voice commands.

For employees who prefer other types of games, de Crespigny recommends engaging in online team-building games such as GameMonk, ChessBot and Water Cooler Trivia, available on Slack’s social and fun apps.

In the end, there are a multitude of options out there. Identifying which will work best for your workforce and goals is key to reaping the full benefits of video games as a bonding exercise.

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