Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Online Escape Rooms are a great way of having a fun Virtual Team Building event for a remote team. They can have all the fun and excitement of a live escape room but allow participants to play together as a team from anywhere in the world. It does not matter where your team members are. They could be across the street or in a different country. All they need to play is a computer and an internet connection. However, having them as a successful team building activity takes a little preparation. If you are looking at having a great team building activity with an online escape room here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Tip 1 - Consider team size.
Make sure the activity you book can accommodate your team size. There are two types of online escape room events those that are totally online and those that stream from a physical location. Make sure to check out which type of event you are looking at.
Some online escape rooms are tied to a physical location using streaming technology. This limits the number of players that can be actively involved in the event, because the team is basically just directing a single person wearing a camera in a remote location. If your team size is around four people, the streaming type of escape room might be great. If you have a larger team, team members may become bored because most will just be watching and not actively solving puzzles themselves.
Escape rooms that are totally online have the advantage that they are not tied to a physical location so multiple versions of the same room can be ran at the same time. This is great for larger teams who want to hold their event at one time. If your team is larger than 5 or 6 people, you should check with the escape room company to see how many they can accommodate at one time. Some companies have the capacity of doing 100s of people at the same time.
Tip 2 - Is there a live guide?
A live guide in an escape room event can add a lot to the adventure. With a live guide, participants can ask questions and get help when they get stuck. A live guide has the bonus of giving the team a warm greeting and helping the participants with technology issues. They can make sure all team members are fully ready to start the event by explaining the mission and setting up the story. A good guide can play a character and add dramatic flair to the presentation of the online escape room.
Escape room events are filled with puzzles. Some of the puzzles may seem obvious while others may not. What is obvious to one person may not be to the next. Having a live person available to ask questions and give hints can help the team past frustration points in the online escape room. I live guide can become the participant’s friend encouraging them when they get lost and celebrating with them through their victories.
A guide who is also an experience team building facilitator can also help the team to improve teamwork. They can share team evaluations, recognizing when the team worked well together and suggesting ways the team can improve.
Some online escape rooms do not include a live guide. They may have a very robust automated clue system, but no mechanical system can adequately fill the role of a live escape room guide.
Tip 3 - Is the puzzle design linear or nonlinear?
Linear designed puzzles are great for telling a story and entertaining a small team, but they fail to achieve the dynamic teamwork associated with nonlinear online escape rooms. Unless you are willing to break up your team into small groups of 3 to 4 people, you will be much better off looking for puzzle designs that are nonlinear where multiple puzzles can be solved at the same time by different team members.
A linear puzzle design follows a specific path through the escape room with a series of dependent puzzles that are solved one at a time. Puzzle A must be solved before the team can move on to puzzle B and puzzle B must be solve before puzzle C and so forth. In this type of puzzle design the team is lead down one path with limited participation opportunities for the team members. In most cases there will be a couple of active puzzle solvers with the rest of the team occasionally offering comments or suggestions. This type of puzzle path does not test teamwork where everyone can solve puzzles and contribute their solutions to the team as a whole.
In a nonlinear puzzle design, there are multiple paths through the online escape room. What this means is that any given time during the progress of the team though the online escape room event, there will be several puzzles available to the team. This type of online escape room allows for significantly more participation from the all the team members. Everyone has a chance to solve puzzles, find clues and share efforts, creating greater opportunities to build team collaboration and communication.
Tip 4 - Does the event have a purpose?
Every team building event should have a purpose even if it is only to do something fun and take a break from the pressure of the job. However, by combining a real purpose with a fun event you can get so much more out of your team building time. In addition to your team having fun in the event, they can also learn how to better work together as a team. Sometimes you can even address specific areas where you want the team to grow.
Most escape rooms are designed for entertainment with truly little thought toward any team building purpose. This is because most escape room companies have little training in team building. Team building to them is a “by product” of their events and not a central focus. While escape rooms by their very nature are great for team building, having an event that focuses on specific aspects of teamwork inside the event can drive home the concepts in the minds of the team.
A good focused online escape room will have puzzles that are designed to challenge and test teams in different aspects of teamwork. These challenges can be just as fun as other escape rooms but lead to building greater insight into how the team functions and in some cases doesn’t function. With the right design performance can be measured and evaluated. The team can then take what they’ve experienced and build upon it to become a better team.
Tip 5 - Is there an evaluation and post event discussion?
It is always fun to win and receive a score. Almost all escape rooms can give you a finish time for the event, but not all will give you a team evaluation or a meaningful debriefing after the event. Having an independent look at how your team did, can be a great measurement for how well your team does and areas that you may want to improve.
Plan to have time to discuss the how your team did in your online escape room after the event is over. A great team building experience should be followed by an open discussion, so lessons learned from the event are recognized by all team members. Some escape room companies may offer a facilitation service with trained facilitators who can lead team building discussions. Others may offer some discussion questions that you can use for a self-facilitated discussion. Check with the company to see what they offer. Those who offer facilitation options are more likely to have put greater thought into the team building aspects of their events.
Tip 6 – Check the technology.
Many companies restrict access to company computers or computers used for company purposes. This restricted access is usually through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and may block portions of an online escape room event. You can imagine the disappointment of a team working to solve a puzzle only to find that they cannot access the clue when they solve it because the company firewall is blocking the website.
It is usually a good idea to check with your escape room company and see if they can provide you a list of links used in their online escape room adventures. The links can then be checked in advance and sometimes IT departments can unblock the links for the event so everything works as intended. This step does not take long, but it can go a long way in making sure the event goes off without technical issues. For larger events, some companies may even offer a live technical check.
An online escape room is a great way for a team to enjoy some fun and rewarding moments with each other even in a remote situation. After having ran 1,000s of these events at Mystery Escape Room, we recognize how important it is to make sure the event is great for participants and good for the company. Hopefully, these tips will be helpful with your next event.