Karen Jaw-Madson
Mar 18, 2020 · 7 min read

Nothing like a global pandemic to trigger my make “lemonade out of lemons” tendencies. Even as I hunker down with my own work, I still can’t help but think about the people I usually interact with — leaders, employees, and their teams. What lemonade comes from suddenly shifting to distributed teams? Those who already work this way by design must also cope with additional anxieties, driving employee engagement, cultivating teamwork, and avoiding miscommunications. So to help, I generated some ideas for virtual teambuilding below, including some inspiration from others. Happy to add your contributions too (with credit of course)! Together, we can maintain our sense of connectedness and engagement while “sheltering in place.”

Disclaimer: All bets are off when kids are home. No one likes forced fun, so give parents the opportunity to opt out. They have a lot to juggle, so here’s a link from Red Tricycle, “Tips & Tricks For Working From Home (With the Kids).


Work alone, together. I was reminded of this “working alone together” concept when I listened to this episode of the Beyond 6 Seconds podcast. It is often used to describe physical coworking spaces. Now that we can’t get together in person, can we still work alone — together? It seems so. Renee Smith is hosting a series of online gatherings via Eventbrite. You can host your own or simply get on Zoom or Google Hangout with a few team members. No agenda needed, just an open line to enable happenstance conversations.

Host a brainstorming session. We have a captive audience. Now’s a good time to consider posing some hard-to-solve challenges or questions that only connecting brilliant minds together can crack. You can do it live as a group, or asynchronously online (where people can contribute at their convenience). Slack and other tech platforms can enable this. Just remember to create psychological safety with an open environment and apply the “no judgments” rule so creativity can abound. Here’s more tips on great brainstorming, but you can also get more “how to” on pages 111–119 in my book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work.

Crowdsource a mindmap. Along the same lines, if you need to organize ideas or create structure around discussion topics/sub-topics, invite others to contribute to an online mindmap. I have used Zapier wrote about a few others.

Hold an Executive AMA. There are mixed feelings about company Town Hall meetings under normal circumstances. However, companies need to communicate to employees during uncertain times to ensure everyone gets important information at the same time and from the source. E-mails aren’t enough. Having leaders hold “Ask Me Anything” sessions may create an outlet and two-way communication platform as an entire organization. Share FAQs, correct misinformation, and address fears — together.

Start a culture initiative. You might ask “really?” Yes, really. What better way to sustain a great culture than to actually create more great culture? Many aspects of Design of Work Experience (DOWE), the step-by-step “how to” for culture can be done virtually, from employee user research (think consumer research but for employees), to co-design, planning, and implementation.

Don’t just take my word for it. Other research is going on now too.

If an entirely new culture project seems too daunting right now, consider the 30 Day Challenge instead. It’s super easy, anyone can do it.


Host Pecha Kucha, but online. Ever attend one before? This storytelling format is simple: “20 chosen images, each for 20 seconds. In other words, you’ve got 400 seconds to tell your story, with visuals guiding the way.” With videoconferencing platforms aplenty, this can easily be moved online to share information and (you guessed it) stories. You never know what you might learn.

Conduct Lunch and Learn webinars. Turn lunchtime into designated “learntime” by holding webinars that will impart new knowledge, provoke new thinking, and increase capabilities.

Have a fireside chat. Interviewers and interviewees need not be in the same room. Pick an interesting topic, designate these two roles, and invite an audience to join. You can even record it to share later.

Host a live podcast. Your company can be a content creator too. Popular podcasters such as Jason Calacanis of This Week In Startups & Angel are known for not only releasing audio, but also video versions of their interviews online. Do the same. It will engage employees and attract prospective employees as well.

Keep or create book & tv/movie clubs. These scratch the social connection itch for sure, but they are also great for developing knowledge. Now that there is (theoretically) more bandwidth for this, check out this list of the best CX Books by eglobalis’ Ricardo Saltz Gulko (everyone has customers!) and NOVA’s TV watch list for startup founders.


Try improv games and exercises. Nothing sparks spontaneity, creativity, out-of-thinking, and good vibes like improvisation. Doing improv together creates a shared experience, fosters trust, and brings people together. Many can also be done online. Letters to God described by Ted DesMaisons of Playful Mindfulness is a fun option to post on a slack discussion, or you can pick from an entire book and website compiled by William Hall of Improv Games.

Create a viral video. A fun project can bring a team together. There are lots of great examples of collaborative videos that went viral, but somatic movement coach Judith Lavender Dancer recently posted this one made by 42 choreographers. If 42 people can do it, so can your team.

Gather people just to connect. Stanford professor and author Tina Seelig posted about online cocktail parties happening recently. It got me thinking that the proverbial watercooler chat could also happen. Sheltering in place, working from home, quarantining can all feel lonely. No need to make it formal and set expectations (my extremely extroverted husband clams up if you put “networking” in the title, for example). Gather in small groups just to shoot the breeze and watch the possibilities unfold.

Create new channels/discussion groups by interest. Is your slack workspace or other chat platform looking a bit boring? Start a new channel or group around a shared interest like cooking, movies, or sports. They will be welcome (and positive) respites throughout the workday that might actually improve productivity.

Offer opportunities for exercise. You know that yoga instructor your company brings in for lunchtime classes? She relies that on that income. Now that we are sedentary at home, how about hiring her back to teach class online? Win-win. Thanks Brianne Kimmel for the inspiration!

Meditate as a group. A guided meditation is a great way to collectively de-stress and re-center. There are other benefits too. My C4C colleague Jesyka Simpson of Alchemy Talent not only helps leaders develop great cultures, but is also a certified meditation and mindfulness teacher. That’s what I call a two-fer!

Play conference call bingo. This one’s an oldie but goody. A company that can laugh at itself goes a long way with employees and lifts their spirits. Sure, there are certain meetings where this is inappropriate. But choose a few where people can have fun without needing to hide it.

Bring gamers together. Samantha McLaren’s recent post on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog shares a few ideas too, but my favorite is how CleverTech’s CEO Kuty Shalev “figured that playing online video games together would force employees who’d never met in person to collaborate to solve problems.” Multiplayer, complex games that could be played online seem to work well. Maybe some new gamers might come out of it too.


Hopefully at least one of these ideas makes sense for your teams. We could always use a little more morale these days. Feel free to share, add to this list, and/or contact me here. Thanks for reading!

COnscious: Innovative Ideas for Organizational Cultures

Thought leadership on people strategies that create…

Karen Jaw-Madson

Written by

Culture, Talent Optimization, Leadership, & Change Advisor, Author #CultureYourCultureBook, Founder of Future of Work platform @aNewHR, Instructor @StanfordCSP

COnscious: Innovative Ideas for Organizational Cultures

Thought leadership on people strategies that create conditions for both people and business to thrive, a publication of Co.-Design of Work Experience. #innovation #culture #employeeexperiences #changemanagement

Karen Jaw-Madson

Written by

Culture, Talent Optimization, Leadership, & Change Advisor, Author #CultureYourCultureBook, Founder of Future of Work platform @aNewHR, Instructor @StanfordCSP

COnscious: Innovative Ideas for Organizational Cultures

Thought leadership on people strategies that create conditions for both people and business to thrive, a publication of Co.-Design of Work Experience. #innovation #culture #employeeexperiences #changemanagement

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