As many companies have seen employees working from home for more than a year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve been searching for ways beyond conference calls and purely work-focused Zoom meetings for workers to connect online.
Naturally, that’s led to an influx of online team-building activities, often replicating the types of activities companies would once engage in for in-person bonding, from wine tastings to virtual escape rooms. But while there’s no shortage of potential Zoom-based social activities for companies to book to entertain employees or clients, it can still be a lot of work for managers to find activities that are right for a particular audience.
That was the experience of Healey Cypher, chief operating officer at the venture studio Atomic, who said he found himself spending substantial amounts of time looking for better alternatives to the oft-dreaded Zoom happy hour. The experience led Cypher and his team to experiment with reaching out to vendors offering online experiences and to companies that might be in need of quality group entertainment in order to help pair them together. They quickly found there was plenty of demand for event hosts from online magicians to wellness experts to pizza chefs. So they started a new company called Boombox to help businesses find and book remote bonding activities that their employees will find fun rather than awkward.
“I found myself at Atomic spending hours just trying to find interesting ways to keep the team together,” Cypher recalls. “That’s sort of the beginning of Boombox—we had a real problem and said this should be easier.”
Boombox, which now counts companies like Google, Pinterest, and Target among its customers, lets users search through vetted event hosts for an activity that sounds right for their needs or work with an expert concierge to locate something appropriate. The company works with hosts to help make their events better for online experiences, Cypher says.
“We even will offer training,” he says. “We have some professionals that will coach hosts.”
When customers do pick an event, Boombox handles any logistics, whether that means sending out videoconferencing invites to team members or managing the shipping of supplies such as ingredients for a cooking event or samples for a Zoom wine tasting. In return for pairing up hosts and customers and handling these logistical details, Boombox collects a percentage of the fee paid by customers for events.
This model works well for event hosts, says Shuai Chen, founder and chief puzzle officer at teambuilding game company Patchwork Adventures. The company has been offering experiences for remote teams since before the pandemic but saw business expand by orders of magnitude after social distancing began. Boombox has sent a steady stream of clients to Patchwork Adventures, Chen says, for events such as virtual escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and murder mysteries. Boombox manages the booking details, which means more business and fewer back-and-forth emails for Patchwork.
“It’s been amazing having someone there being basically my sales and marketing force,” she says.
More bonding, less legwork
For customers, Boombox represents an easy way to find events to build relationships with employees and customers. Dylan Serota, cofounder and chief strategy officer of Terminal, which connects companies with remote workers, says before working with Boombox, managers and executive assistants within the company would try to find remote bonding events and do the legwork themselves to put them together.
“It was very haphazard,” he says. And there was always a risk employees wouldn’t enjoy the events. More recently, he says, he’s been impressed with the quality of events the company has booked through Boombox, where staff has helped recommend events enjoyed by people at similar organizations.
“We’ve used Boombox for whole company events where we’ve done magic shows,” he says. “We’ve used Boombox for sales meetings where we wanted to break things up and bring in comedians.”
Even as pandemic restrictions ease, many companies are still keeping a portion of their workforce remote, or simply seeing collaboration between coworkers distributed between different offices, so it’s likely there will still be a demand for online team-building events. And while Patchwork’s Chen suggests some customers will likely be interested in hybrid events, such as escape room-style puzzles where some participants are together and others are participating over the internet, she says it’s likely that online events like her company’s are also here to stay.
“Virtual games are never going to go away,” she says.