Team bonding is created through formal and informal interactions. When teams work virtually their interactions are dominated by formal meetings, so how do they build in the informal ‘water cooler’ chat? A promising idea is virtual socializing, trialled by both Dell and Deloitte.
Bonding between team members is generated through formal interactions, such as project team meetings, as well as informal moments, such as corridor bumps. The challenge for team members who are not co-located (virtual teams) is that their interactions are much more heavily weighted towards the formal than the informal.
What’s the alternative? And does it really matter?
Dell and Deloitte Australia have both independently experimented with the idea of virtual socialising – by which a “meal” is shared with virtual team members around a Video Conference meeting time with no agenda. Deloitte spoke with members of both teams to identify the pros and cons of this novel approach to socialising. Unexpectedly, Deloitte found that virtual socialising indirectly supports flexible work practices more broadly, helping team members to think of flexible ways to engage with each other and mainstreaming flexibility.
This case study aimed to understand the relatively new concept of virtual socialising including the practical elements of a VC “lunch” for teams working in different locations. For Dell the aim was to create connectivity across teams located around the world and in different time zones. For Deloitte the aim was to create connectivity across team members located in different offices (Sydney, Melbourne) and different companies (Client, Deloitte).
Interviews were conducted with the lead in Dell who initiated the virtual socialising event with his team and three consultants (ranging from Partner to senior consultant) from Deloitte Australia who participated in a virtual socialising event.
The Virtual Socialisation events centred around food (lunch or breakfast, depending on the time zone) and using Video Conferencing facilities to enable work participants to talk together in an unstructured way. Interviews with the participants identified four key learnings:
As work becomes more global, virtual teams and teleworking become more usual, the need for organisations to rethink how they engage their employees becomes more important. The experiences of Dell and Deloitte Australia suggest that virtual socialising can provide a fresh way to engage with a geographically dispersed and/or flexible workforce. Virtual socialising therefore serves as an excellent substitute for the informal networking sessions that are enjoyed by centralised teams, within the constrains identified in this case study.
For those considering a virtual socialising session, participants had the following recommendations: