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Getting the band back together is a challenge in these strange times

Gina London


Many universities are continuing online lectures (stock photo)

Many universities are continuing online lectures (stock photo)

Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

Many universities are continuing online lectures (stock photo)

Suddenly, unbelievably, we've Zoom-called our mask-wearing selves into August. How are you doing? Still hard at work at the home office? Do you have some form of refreshing staycation planned? Have you already taken it? Are you now preparing to return to your actual office? And finally, are you, like I most definitely am, dreaming of a return to school for the kids?

Speaking of back to school, since many universities around the world are continuing online lecturing for the autumn term, this week, in partnership with a New York-based online teaching organisation, I will be shooting a four-part video series on how to better engage college students in the virtual classroom. I'll share tips on how to simplify and gamify content, build in plenty of fatigue-reducing pop-polls and surveys and a variety of other techniques to improve interaction. First rule, unless there's a serious bandwidth problem, is to require all webcams to be turned on. If you're going to be in the virtual classroom, you need to be in the virtual classroom.

Preparing the course outline reminded me I must order schoolbooks for my daughter Lulu to begin her first year of secondary school. Along with many of you, we are still awaiting the official word on precisely how classes will resume. But fortunately, in much the same way as many of the professional organisations I work with which sent surveys to employees to learn their preferences for possibly returning to work, Lulu's school has been regularly communicating with us about our preferences for students' return.

There may be a mixture of in-person and remote activities. However the educational blend is ultimately determined, students who may need to be kept socially distant must also be actively kept emotionally connected.

The same is true for our combined remote-working and back-to-the-office employee teams. Some companies have had production plants open throughout lockdown, with their administrative and sales teams working from home. It has been, and continues to be, a struggle to maintain team cohesiveness across the workplace divide.

Along with scheduling a refresh and reboot holiday, I suggest it's also time to schedule an engagement reboot for your team. I've written about virtual team-building events before - check out the May 17 edition - and today we'll look at getting your team together in person. Yes, you heard me. In person. Masked face to masked face. If you're feeling a bit squirrely about that proposition, that's exactly the point. Let me introduce you to team-building company Red Squirrel.

Despite the name, they don't run tree-climbing adventures. Red Squirrel specialises in leading team treasure hunts. As someone who has organised and participated in treasure hunts as a grown-up, I can attest that these kind of competitions can be fierce and fantastic.

Founder and 'chief squirrel' Anna O'Flanagan worked as a senior facilitator with both public and private enterprise for 20 years before branching out (sorry) to start Red Squirrel.

"I bring my passion, experience and energy into every bespoke treasure hunt," she said. "HR leaders and dynamic CEOs trust our ability to transform companies from a set of individuals into a more cohesive, enthusiastic and successful team."

1. Get reacquainted with your team as a community

No matter whether your team members are all working from home or a blend of home and office, an outdoor treasure hunt could provide an important reconnection.

"People are feeling incredibly disjointed," said Anna. "Some are back in the office, some are half and half, and some are still not in at all. Some people are thinking 'Do I sound neurotic if I say I'm nervous about going into the lift with somebody?'

"These private, internal conversations impact how we feel about our work situation and position within and among teams. But a treasure hunt is a great leveller. People come away reacquainted with each other and themselves."

2. Get reacquainted with your organisation's core purpose

A Red Squirrel treasure hunt can be held anywhere in Ireland - even indoors - but they typically take place in the gardens of the historic Killruddery estate in Co Wicklow, about 20km from Dublin. "There's a huge amount of land and it's very safe," said Anna.

After a briefing from the expert facilitators, teams are sent out in staggered times to start the hunt. Activities are divided into clues, puzzles and activities, with one aspect centred around the company's vision and brand.

"We were in a hospital recently, and participants had to sing their mission statement with a consenting patient to the tune of You Are My Sunshine," said Anna. "We've required architects to build a shelter to sleep two people. And a group of environmentalists had to name as many species of flora and fauna in a particular setting. They loved getting a chance to be total nerds."

3. Reacquaint yourself with your full-bodied teammates

After so many weeks of seeing only heads and shoulders of your colleagues, my favourite reason for why it might be a great time to get the gang together outside is that you'll be reminded they have feet.

With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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