Looking for a way to bond with your remote team? Try this.
How we discovered the perfect board game for remote team-building at RenoFi during the pandemic, and how you can use this new, out-of-the-box online activity for under $30/employee.Feb 5, 2021 • Justin Goldman
My brother and his fiancé came to visit a few months back, and while they usually bring amazing baked goodies from Brooklyn for our three young children, this time they came armed with a new board game for the adults to play. We had a blast playing and it dawned on me that the game would work really well even in a remote environment.
That’s when the idea for our first annual RenoFi Clock Block Championship Tournament was born!
Unlike most companies, the RenoFi team has been remote since its inception in 2018. We’ve always believed it was the future of work and thus have been purposeful in our approach to building an authentic & enduring company culture as a remote first company.
Our growing team of nearly 30 lives in Slack and on Zoom across multiple states, countries, and continents - and we’ve been doing so for a couple of years now.
But that doesn’t mean the challenges of remote working during a pandemic haven’t shifted our work culture.
Despite being a fully distributed company, prior to the pandemic we did still see one another in person. We bring the full team together in person once a year and each department also gets together once or twice a year.
Obviously this has all been paused due to the pandemic so despite our remote roots, we are facing challenges like everyone else when it comes to building team camaraderie fully online.
This has been especially challenging as our team is growing fast. Half the team has never met another team member in person!
We’ve tried the weekly water cooler catch-ups, 1:1 coffee chats, virtual escape rooms, secret santa gift exchanges and everything in between.
But with at least several months to go without a vaccine, a bunch of new employees, and little opportunity to see each other in person, we decided to give this virtual board game tournament a try and as I said above, we found the perfect game: Clock Block.
In the words of Sara and Bryan, the actual Clock Block game designers at Galactic Sneeze, “Clock Block is tactile (it’s literally hands-on), highly re-playable, and everyone is engaged every round of the game. Also, it has a healthy dose of friendly competition, with the timer adding in a playful layer of intensity. The best part is the rounds always seem to end in a fit of laughter.”
We decided to take this game to the next level with the RenoFi team - rather than just simple game play, we created a virtual tournament, with multiple rounds, a prize at the end, and even a live event with commentary for the final champions round during an All Hands meeting.
If your team is getting sick of the virtual happy hours and looking for the perfect activity for your remote team, whether it be 2 people or 500, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.
As a founder I often swap notes with other founders on everything from fundraising to scaling an organization, but lately I’ve found the conversations turning to remote culture building.
Thus, I thought it would be helpful to share this on a broader basis. We hope you find it useful!
Below I’ll explain how you can bring this virtual game tournament to your company - from set-up to rules, to tips and tricks and game play, read on to find out how “Clock Block” can get your remote team through the final months of the pandemic on a high note.
Here’s a 30 second video that shows the general structure of a round of Clock Block.
What You’ll Need
- 1 Clock Block game per employee
- Zoom (or any other video conferencing platform)
- A timer (can use Google timer, iPhone timer, etc.)
- 60-90 minutes per match
If you’re looking to bring Clock Block to your company, it’s important to prepare in advance. You’ll want to ship the game to each of your employees individually - you can do that through contacting Kikkerland Design and doing a group order, or purchasing the game individually on the Kikkerland Design website here. Kikkerland was happy to accommodate a large group order and even took care of the shipping logistics for us.
Use the code ‘H4H’ to get 10% off your Clock Block purchase and donate 10% to Habitat for Humanity.
It took a little over a month for the game to reach to each of our employees across the globe in Japan, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, just to name a few.
You’ll want to collect your employee’s preferred addresses in advance, put them into a spreadsheet, and enter the tracking numbers once you have them. This will help you determine when all the games will arrive, so you can plan the tournament accordingly.
While all of the games arrived at employees homes on different days, they got there eventually!
The Tournament Structure
Rather than just playing the game once, we wanted to turn it into a tournament structure culminating in a championship round. We made it double elimination so everyone got to play at least two games and ran the tournament over two months, playing one game every other week, roughly.
Rounds & Matches
Each round is made up of individual matches. The great thing about Clock Block? You only need two people to play in a round - and you can play with up to eight players. No matter how small (or large) your team is, you can customize the tournament rounds to fit what works best. It can even be a tournament for just your department if your company is quite large.
Clock Block game rules say you can play with up to 8 people at once, but in a remote environment we found that 4-5 people is the optimal number for gameplay. The game moves quickly, and there are still enough people to create a fun challenge during the betting portion.
The Tournament Schedule
- Round 1: November 30th-December 11th
- Round 2: January 4th-January 15th
- Round 3: January 4th-January 15th
- Round 4: January 18th-January 29th
- The Championship: February 3rd at 9am
(We took a bit of a break between Round 1 and Round 2 for the winter holidays.)
You need to select one person to be the Game Master.
Matchups will be picked at random by the Game Master.
Each match will have a match captain selected by the Game Master - the match captain is responsible for:
- Scheduling the match with the group within the round timeframe noted above.
- Match captains will run the actual game (don’t worry it’s easy)
- Captains should schedule a 90 minute calendar block for everyone, though it won’t take that long to actually play the game.
We decided to sweeten the pot for the winner with:
- A donation to the charity of their choice in their name.
- A gift card to the store of their choice
- Their name is engraved on the RenoFi Clock Block Trophy that they get to hold in their possession until the next tournament (for fantasy football fans out there, it’s kind of like that.)
We found it was easiest to let each group of players coordinate their match on their own each week - so each game happened at whatever time was most convenient for all the players. (If you have team members in different time zones, this part is crucial!).
The Virtual Game-Play
So how do you make Clock Block virtual? We had a few slight alterations and adjustments that make remote game play run smoothly.
- Make sure that each player has table space to build, and has the ability to angle their webcam to show both their face and the blocks on their table.
- Appoint someone to keep score, and someone to be the timer other than the match captain.
- Make sure that every player is using gallery/tile mode on whichever video conferencing software you’re using, so that everyone can see each other, and most importantly, see each other’s blocks.
- The match captain will draw the building cards for everyone and place them close-up to their camera. This saves time so that everyone doesn’t have to go through their own individual card decks to each find the same card, and the team captain can leave their camera setup on a close up angle so everyone can see it.
- When you’re using the timer, make sure to set the alarm to a volume that everyone can hear on their end to know when the time is up.
- Appoint one person to be the score keeper to make things simple.
- Don’t forget to have each player show their betting chip in the camera - Clock Block rules state that a correct bet means +1 points added to a player’s score, and an incorrect bet is 0.
Tips & Tricks
- For the first game, make sure to start with a practice round. It takes practice to get a better understanding of how long it takes to build the different structures with the different constraints.
- Try out different rules for the “?” constraint on the dice roll. We had a lot of fun making up a “singing rule” - you have to hum, whistle or sing a song while you build.
So how did the tournament go? Our three finalists ended the competition with a final face-off that our company watched live (though we asked non finalists to turn off their cameras).
For the final event we assigned a referee to the match and also had two of our funniest team members provide play by play commentary to give that live sports feel we felt the championship warranted.
We surprised the company and invited the game creators, Sara and Bryan of Galactic Sneeze, for some live Q&A!
It’s not every day you get to squash arguments about the rules of a board game with the ACTUAL rule makers. (One of the few benefits of virtual game tournaments!)
The rest of the company watched from the peanut gallery and live slacked during the event (betting on the event can neither be confirmed or denied.)
It was almost like we were all back at a pre-pandemic sports game. Almost.
Share your ideas!
If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’ve found this helpful and give it a go. Let us know what you think - we’d love to hear how it goes! We are all in this crazy time together, so if your company has come up with it’s own creative ways to bond as a company, please share them with us and others.
Justin Goldman Co-Founder & CEO RenoFi