By Marshall Mosher, founder & CEO at Vestigo--leveling up remote teams via VR adventure.

Even before the recent pandemic scattered teams and disrupted daily interactions, people felt disconnected at work. According to a 2019 employee survey, 40 percent of respondents reported feeling "physically and emotionally isolated in the workspace," a phenomenon that "spanned generations, genders, and ethnicities." 

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this trend. Health and safety protocols, remote and hybrid work arrangements, and other factors have left companies with a severe disconnection problem. 

The consequences can be devastating and far-reaching. 

One recent analysis revealed that 61 percent of people don't socialize with coworkers outside of work, 53 percent dread work because of their coworkers, and 38 percent don't trust their coworkers. 

According to one report, when employees feel less connected at work--specifically to leaders--burnout increases by 90 percent.

Meanwhile, employees desperately desire a more connected workplace. A recent study discovered that 54 percent of employees want more friends at work. Incredibly, the study found that a similar amount would "trade some of their compensation for more meaningful relationships with colleagues."

Simply put, companies have a disconnection problem. Shared experiences can help restore, rebuild or create connections that last, propelling business objectives in the process. 

Shared Experiences Bring People Together 

Shared experiences are the beginning of every relationship: families are forged as they support day-to-day living, classmates bond over their mutual academic engagement, and teammates develop relationships as they pursue a common goal. 

Even traumatic experiences create connections that produce positive growth. Research from the University of Oxford describes a concept called "identity fusion," where shared challenges create cohesion that "can be channeled into peaceful and consensual forms of prosocial action."

While leaders don't want to create unnecessary hardship for their teams, adventure experiences can simulate this effect, creating opportunities for connections that don't exist in the office. In many cases, the more remarkable the experience, the more impactful it will be for participants. 

The study, "Sharing Extraordinary Experiences Fosters Feelings of Closeness," conducted by researchers from Cornell University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Nanyang Technological University, encourages organizers to prioritize "extraordinary experiences" over ordinary connections to optimize impact. The authors write, "we suggest that extraordinary experiences foster feelings of closeness because they direct unacquainted individuals' attention toward the extraordinariness of the experience and away from the discomfort of initial interactions."

When implemented effectively, shared adventure experiences help teams cultivate emotional safety and relational connection as once-unfamiliar employees become acquainted with people's habits, emotional cues, and interpersonal qualities. 

Shared experiences are so powerful that they can rapidly create cohesion in previously disconnected teams, serving as a potent tool for leaders looking to urgently improve workplace culture. 

Tips for Creating Shared Experiences With Impact 

Creating extraordinary experiences can be difficult for organizers trying to break out of the mold of well-intentioned, but ultimately uninspiring corporate events. Fortunately, most companies don't need to look too far to create incredible shared experiences with impact. 

For example, organizers can: 

  • Use AllTrails, a fitness and travel app, to locate nearby trails and hiking destinations. The platform provides information about a trail's length, the trailhead's location, elevation gain, and other details. Couple the hike with a destination debrief discussing various analogies that the experience has with the team. 
  • Engage in team adventure experiences like white water rafting, kayaking, or camping to forge connections and collaboration that strengthen teams and build relationships. These experiences can turn a fun day outside into a transformative experience that creates lasting connections. 
  • Create opportunities for people to traverse the hero's journey, a process that allows people to grapple with challenges, devise helpful solutions, and facilitate collective outcomes. 
  • Leverage technology, like virtual reality (VR), to create digital experiences that account for distributed teams or lack of proximity to compelling outdoor adventure experiences. After all, with VR, teams can participate in everything from mountain climbing to skydiving without leaving their homes. (Full disclosure: My company offers this service.)

Regardless of the approach, these experiences provide teams with an opportunity to support one another. For instance, if a group member is struggling with the event, people can work together to lessen their load in a service-oriented, others-focused effort to forge community. 

Companies often rightly say that their people are their greatest asset. After consecutive pandemic years, it's time to bring those assets together--creating connections that foster strong relationships, create collaborative opportunities, and produce sustainable companies making an impact that lasts. 

While adventure experiences guarantee that people will come together, creating shared experiences is a powerful neurological and relational tool to help companies solve their disconnection problem that has persisted for far too long.