Ready Player One: Team-building events enter virtual arena

Activities still have a "motivating" effect, although competition and cost remain a challenge.

VirtualteambuildGettyImages- Tzido
Virtual team-building took a long time to take off in 2020, "but by year-end, everyone wanted to do it," said Bruno Simoes, executive director of DMC smallWorld Experience. Photo Credit:Getty Images/Tzido

After a bumpy takeoff for the most of 2020, virtual team-building events are now becoming part of the norm as traditional event suppliers bring all-important learning opportunities to online gamification.

But this need to adjust and adapt fell not only on event buyers, but also longstanding in-person event suppliers like smallWorld Experience and Team Building Asia.

"[Virtual team-building] was the jump we had to make when we suddenly had to work from home. In our experience last year, it took a long time to take off. But by year-end, everyone wanted to do it. Many can’t finish the year without meeting and sharing. There is a real need for team-building," said Bruno Simoes, executive director of smallWorld Experience.

"We are all fed up of being in a difficult situation, and such activities have a motivating effect. The feedback we have been getting is that the start might be a little difficult for some participants, but once they get rolling they finish the event with their expectations exceeded."

There is still a real need for team-building, says smallWorld Experience. Pictured: Mission to Mars
There is still a real need for team-building, says smallWorld Experience. Pictured: Mission to Mars

Entering the virtual team-building space opened traditional suppliers up to a new world of competition, Simoes admitted. “A key factor is competition. Organising local in-person events, our local requests did not clash with suppliers from another part of the world. Now, there is competition from around the world [for the same requests].”

Traditional event organisers further face the challenge of acquiring new resources, coupled with clients’ expectations for lower prices.

Such is the case for Team Building Asia. Virtual events come with significant technological and human resource costs, shared co-founder Stuart Harris, who broke that down to platform costs, and servers have to be able to support multiple events a day (10-20 for Team Building Asia). There is also the cost of upgrading laptops, as event facilitators and managers now require “manageable” machines.

Up-skilling existing colleagues or hiring qualified technicians adds another significant layer to cost, Simoes and Harris agreed. Simoes said: “We need people to solve technical problems. In some cases we have multiple breakout rooms and need one qualified technician [to take care of each] room.”

Despite costs of running team-building events staying “pretty much the same, sometimes a little lower”, Simoes said prices are now 33% or even 50% lower than standard in-person programmes due to clients’ expectations. For Team Building Asia, prices are about 20% lower.

All that said, the good news is traditional events players have been able to tap into what they know, specifically how to incorporate learning and development opportunities, to create meaningful virtual experiences.

“If the client is looking for fun engagement, that’s easy to get good ROI on. But if we are looking at team development programmes, that’s when we get into the learning space. These are two different briefs. For team development and learning, we have to have specific outcomes and learning points and relate the activity to business change and strategy, and [allocate] more time to debriefing and discussion,” stressed Harris.

One of Team Building Asia's more popular programmes is scaling Mount Everest and back down, online via iPads provided by the event supplier.
One of Team Building Asia's more popular programmes is scaling Mount Everest and back down, online via iPads provided by the event supplier.

Notably, some of the most subscribed programmes at both smallWorld Experience and Team Building Asia have learning-centric outcomes.

Team Building Asia's most popular programme is the online version of Peak Performance, which used to be an in-person programme. The online adaptation simulates business challenges by engaging participants in the allegorical task of bringing customers to the summit Mount Everest and back down. Now, teams participate on a web-based platform, using iPads provided by Team Building Asia.

One of the best-selling programmes at smallWorld Experience is Mission to Mars, likewise centred on team development. Similar to Peak Performance, the game simulates a challenging mission that teams must collaboratively accomplish, and leaves significant room for debriefing.



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