Working as part of a team, it’s important to keep in good spirits, practice healthy work cadences, and maintain open collaborative channels with our coworkers. All these things are part of building a healthy work environment that empowers us to provide high-quality products for our clients. Internally, we like to exchange ideas and strategies that are helpful in staying focused and creative. For years, we have been doing what we call “Brain Calisthenics” as a way to facilitate a productive work environment and share some laughs.
These 10- to 15-minute exercises usually happen in the mid-afternoon and they are typically interactive games that involve physical movement or accessing the dustier corners of our brains, or both! Working from home, we’ve had to get creative and come up with a few video-chat-friendly games to play as a team. Below is a list of the Top 5 virtual activities that I’ve found to be the most successful.
Scavenger hunts have been popular with teachers in need of something interactive to do with their virtual students. They’re one of the easiest activities to pull together over video chat and a perfect example of a brain calisthenic. I gathered a list of semi-common household items — plus a few quarantine-specific items, like hand sanitizer, just to make things a bit more difficult — and assigned a point value to each one, most items being worth 1 point. There were also bonus points given for if you could introduce us to someone who you’re quarantined with, so we could finally meet the faces behind the stories we’d heard over coffee breaks and lunches. Whoever had the most points at the end of 3 minutes won!
Everyone will need paper and a pen/pencil for this exercise! The object is to draw an item nearby without looking at your paper. Everyone gets a minute to draw whatever item they chose and then when the minute is up, we all take turns showing off our drawings and allowing everyone to guess what the item was. As you may expect, the drawings almost always turn out crazy-looking so there are bound to be a few laughs as people guess items that are way off-mark.
Part of any office environment is the Monday chatter about everyone’s weekend and what they spent their time doing. But when you don’t see your coworkers other than for official business meetings, there’s little opportunity for conversation. I thought that it was important to facilitate these kinds of conversations so that we can continue to find things in common with each other and share big events in our lives. This is, after all what makes us a team! So instead of outright asking “How was everyone’s weekend?” and creating an awkward cacophony of voices replying at the same time over Zoom, I asked everyone to write a short Haiku about it. Then when it came time to read our haiku, it was natural to elaborate and allowed everyone their moment in the spotlight. Many of our haiku came out goofy, which was even better. I have included a few examples below:
Pictionary seems like a natural answer, right? Video calls are the same as everyone sitting together in a room right? Not exactly. There were a few kinks to work out. To avoid blurry video quality affecting the legibility of the drawings, we draw on our desktops while sharing our screens. This gives us a perfectly clear view with no lag. For added nostalgia, we use Microsoft Paint (1998) as our platform. You can find it here: https://jspaint.app/
The next tweak we had to make was the assigning of words; you can’t whisper over the internet. So I created a list of 100 items and at the beginning of each person’s turn, I ask them to choose one. Our team uses Google Hangouts for chatting and video calls, so I send them their word that way. Then the game goes on as usual – whoever guesses the drawing correctly first wins the round and becomes the drawer!
Spell it Out
This activity was meant to highlight moments of positivity. In the world’s current state, it has been easy to fixate on all the bad that’s happening, so it’s especially important that we give some time to acknowledge some of the good things too. I asked my coworkers to identify one positive thing that’s come out of their experience in quarantine and then to sum it up in one word.
The next step is to spell out that word using items that start with the first letter you need. For example: I started reading more, so I chose the word “book.” To spell out the word, I selected:
a bottle of Olive oil
the book Othelllo, by Shakespeare
and a Knife.
There was a book included in my items, however it’s not a requirement that your items relate to your word.
After they’ve gathered the items, they should do their best to photograph them all in a row for the team to guess later. Again, we used our chat platform, Google Hangouts as a tool to present our pictures. Sharing our positive experiences helps us reflect on the good things that are still happening around us and also might serve to inspire more good things in others. Maybe someone will finally pick up the book they never finished all those months ago, who knows?
An optional twist, if you’d like to encourage your team to get some fresh air, is to require that one of the items gathered must be from outside.