Interactive Virtual Games Help Remote Workers Bond

A major task for organizations in 2022 is retaining and engaging employees. One way to stay connected? Building community through shared moments of play online.

Author: Casey Gale       

Mystery Games

Mystery Trip, a team-bonding event planning company, recently launched Mystery Games — what founder Dave Green calls the “hybridizing” of virtual and tactile, in-person components to create an interactive experience for participants from anywhere in the world.

This past year has been one of turbulence in the workplace, with unprecedented levels of workers leaving their jobs across industries in “The Great Resignation” — a term that has become part of our vernacular. In October alone, 4.2 million workers voluntarily left their positions, often to take another job, while job openings hovered at 11 million. So after two years spent adapting to living and working during a pandemic, what can we expect in the new year?

“Looking ahead, we believe 2022 will center on navigating the new normal and employees’ elevated power in this tight labor market,” Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor’s senior economist and lead data scientist, wrote in a recent research report about upcoming workplace trends. The companies that succeed, Zhao said, will be those that rethink employee engagement and expand the workplace community beyond company walls, necessary since the pandemic has made staying connected with increasingly dispersed colleagues more challenging. “Many companies previously leaned on the physical office to facilitate this sense of community, offering attractive in-office perks,” Zhao wrote. “But what employees miss now is not the office. At a time when the flexibility offered by remote work is valuable for employees, maintaining and enhancing employee connection and community requires special attention from employers.”

Mystery Games self portrait

Teams playing Mystery Game can play one of six games, including a scavenger hunt where they are asked to find random objects and complete silly tasks, to compete for prizes.

It’s in that space that Dave Green has seen an opportunity. Founder and “chief mysterious officer” of Los Angeles–based Mystery Trip, a team-bonding event planning company, Green has helped create experiential, offbeat trips in 10 cities across the United States for Netflix, Lyft, and Google, among other corporations and associations, since 2016. “When people are having this shared visceral experience together, it lowers the walls” between them, Green told Convene. “If you and 30 strangers are getting on a bus and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to come together because you’re having this experience together. And it’s a great bonding experience.”

When the pandemic hit, Green knew he had to recreate the kinds of in-person bonding experiences that he’d developed into something akin to them online. And so Mystery Trip recently launched Mystery Games — what Green calls the “hybridizing” of virtual and tactile, in-person components to create an interactive experience for participants from anywhere in the world.

To create a moment of shared surprise, a package of client-selected and game-specific items are shipped to employees, who are instructed to wait to open the package until the virtual event. “When the time comes for the event, everybody goes into Zoom and the host will tell everybody to open their box. Inside, you’re going to maybe have a pack of M&Ms, a pack of Oreos, three balloons, a bolt [type of screw], chopsticks, a cup, and just seemingly random stuff,” Green said. “And these are all things that you’ll need for the game. It’s interactive, it’s not passive — everybody’s having the same exact experience at the same time.”

Participants can play one of six games, including Minute to Win It, Game of Games, Family Feud, and a photographic scavenger hunt, to compete for prizes. “The most effective team-bonding events involve in-person, experiential components,” Green said, so his goal with the online experience was to have people participate in something together in real time.

Though some people are returning to the office and to in-person meetings, Green told Convene he sees remote team-building as a bonding activity that is here to stay — heavily “through 2022,” and continuing long-term. “I think companies have seen that people don’t need to be together to be productive, and you can get the best staff if you’re not just picking from a pool in your city,” Green said. “You can pick from anywhere in the world. I think attitudes have shifted and remote and virtual events will continue to grow.”

Mystery Games was beta tested by more than 5,000 people worldwide in 450 groups, including Harvard University and the American Bar Association, and “showed immediate results for clients seeking engaging, new ways to drive camaraderie between employees,” Green said. “They’re all created with the intention of interaction and connection with each other, without physically being together.”

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.