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How To Keep Virtual Teams Connected (with Ben Hoffman from cityHUNT)

Tim chats with Ben Hoffman, CEO of cityHUNT, about connected virtual teams, the importance of empathy, and considering team member needs. Listen here!

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Audio Transcription:

Tim Reitsma

Whether your team is dispersed or working in the office, engagement and connection are two key ingredients in creating a healthy workplace. But how do we create and maintain connections in a virtual world through online coffee or team events? Well, yes, both are great. And in today’s episode, I’ll be having a conversation about connections at a virtual world with Benjamin Hoffman, founder of cityHUNT, a company built on a simple mission to provide teams with stronger, more meaningful relationships. 

Tim Reitsma

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Tim Reitsma, the resident host of People Managing People. Welcome to the podcast. We’re people managing people and we want to lead and manage better. We’re owners, founders, entrepreneurs were middle managers, we’re team leaders for managing people. And yes, we do human resources, but we’re not HR, at least not in the traditional sense. 

Tim Reitsma

We’re on a mission to help people lead and manage their teams and organizations more effectively. So if you want to lead and manage better, if you want to become a better organizational leader and more effective manager, then join us. Keep listening to the podcast to find the tips, tricks, and tools you need to recruit, retain, manage, and lead your people and organization more effectively. And while listening to the show, please subscribe and join our mailing list on peoplemanagingpeople.com to stay up to date with all that’s going on. 

Tim Reitsma

Welcome to the podcast. Ben, how are you? 

Ben Hoffman

Amazing. Thank you. Super pumped to be here. 

Tim Reitsma

Oh, that’s great. Yeah. Well, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, a little bit about your company. We just like to know who you are. 

Ben Hoffman

Sure. Yeah. So I actually started this company in 2000 at NYU. I was there for theater and I was about to graduate and I decided that I didn’t really want to do theater the way it was, so I better figure something out. 

Ben Hoffman

So with my partner at the time, we started doing the scavenger hunt pub tours with Polaroid cameras just for fun for our friends. And then people asked us if we could do it for birthday parties and bachelorettes. We’re like, yeah, sure is like our fun thing and kind of create an experience, a theatrical experience. And then one day someone was like, hey, can you do this for a corporate team building event? And I was like, sure, what’s your budget? They told me their budget. I was like, Yeah, that’s what we do. We’re a team building company, obviously. 

Ben Hoffman

Yeah. And then we became and I had to learn how to build a team building company, but it all sort of tied back into what I realized I was passionate about was sort of positive psychology, gamification, and that’s how it all started. And in the past few years, I’ve really shifted a lot of my energy and time into mindfulness consciousness kind of being present. And what that means, because I feel like everything sort of flows through that lens anyway. So that’s sort of how we’ve been building. And we went from Polaroids to digital cameras, started expanding nationally. We were just in New York at the beginning and then nationally. And then these new amazing iPhones came out and we built apps and just really trying to figure out, talking to our clients, build these experiences where they could get to know themselves better, get to know each other better, and like their environments better. 

Ben Hoffman

And now one of those things is a little different. Now, people don’t get to be in the environment so much when they’re doing these experiences. So we’ve created a whole new experience based on the world we’re living in now. But it’s been a really interesting, trying but amazing and blissful time recently with everything that’s going on. So I guess that’s the question. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, well, the world has sure changed, you know, starting off in the early days of Polaroid to digital, to phones, and now a lockdown. And so getting out and actually doing a team-building event or a scavenger hunt or whatever that is must look different now. And so how have you pivoted in this time? 

Ben Hoffman

Yeah. So drastically different. So, you know, we were growing so much this I had put in this whole new idea last year. I had an epiphany in 2019. This idea of make awesome for others. What does that really look like? How can we build that? So we’ve been doing tons of corporate events and making it available to everybody working with nonprofits, getting everybody out and playing, expanding our technology, really trying to get people out in the world, building relationships and we’ve been growing amazingly and then dead stop March. Right. All corporate, everything stops. So we said, OK, this is interesting. What do we do? So we started building some new games through Zoom using our technology, a two-screen experience. So we had scavenger hunts and game shows and these art projects and these mystery games. So we were just trying everything, experimenting, trying. Our clients were asking us, we were doing it, but it wasn’t like honestly, it wasn’t as fun as I needed it to be as I wanted to be. The connections weren’t happening. People were so burnt out of these video conferences that the experiences weren’t living up to the level that, you know, I had expectations for what we used to do. So I said, let’s take a step back. 

Ben Hoffman

Let’s collect all the data of all these games we’re doing and see what it is. What do people love? Where do they feel the connection? Where do they feel sort of alive? And they forget that they’re on a Zoom and they’re just living and being and playing what are those pieces of each game? So we did that. We started collecting the data and then we created a best of experience. And that’s all we really offer now is we took the best of each of the games we had and sort of smash it up, mash it up into a one hour experience where people can play for the comfort of their home and still have this awesome time where they get to connect with each other. Lots of laughing, smiling, and a lot very fast-paced. So they get a piece of all of the different games. So there’ll be a moment that everyone really, really loves and hopefully lots of moments that people like. And most importantly, they get to laugh and smile and kind of see each other in a different kind of lighter way than they may have been experienced each other recently. 

Tim Reitsma

I was talking with a friend yesterday just about how my week has shaped up and start counting all the calls and the video calls I was on and Fridays, at the end of our day, a few of us get together for another video chat and usually with a beer in hand. And I think, you know, it’s a great way to end the day. But, man, I’m just tired of looking at people through a screen. And so adding that level of fun, how does that just drive deeper connection? 

Ben Hoffman

Yeah, so that’s what it has to be because it is hard. I feel the same way you do. I am so tired of it. I try to limit myself, I try to limit how many meetings I schedule, what’s going on. Do we really need to do this? Can I spend more time? 

Ben Hoffman

I’m spending a lot more time in nature, but when we do the games, we try to give everybody sort of a moment to shine. So it’d be like everyone’s playing the game and we’d be like, hey, can you unmute yourself? Everybody say hi to Tim. Hey Tim, what’d you put as your answer? What’s your favorite? You know, and then everybody kind of starts, and we just banter back and forth, and we kind of that’s what we’re building is these little moments of just connection where it just feels like you’re not in a Zoom anymore. We’re getting the feedback or whatever conferencing system you’re using is like, oh, this is the best video conference I’ve ever been on. And, you know, I didn’t think this could be fun, but like, by getting things and sort of building an arch into the experience. We actually get people up and moving. By the end, they’re they’re moving around. They’re dwelling, taking photos, coming back, sharing things. So we sort of we have music and we have really great hosts and we do a lot of banter back and forth. And you never know when you’re going to get called on. It’s sort of like the price is right. You know, come on down so we can see people’s reaction and you never know. And then you might get called on and then everybody cheers you on. 

Ben Hoffman

And it’s a really beautiful moment to have your whole company just like chant your name and cheer for you because you figured out, like because we do surveys, too, about out of one hundred people. Survey that your company was everyone’s favorite holiday treat. You know, is it cookies, candy? And then whatever it is, you answer it, and then everyone’s like yeah you got it right. Everyone loves cookies. Buy ten cookies. 

Tim Reitsma

It’s interesting that there’s that element of personal touch. And, you know, I know we’re kind of talking about cityHUNT on, what you’re offering. And but there’s that element of a personal to it. So it’s not just a one dimensional OK, we’re now doing another trivia game online. And why is it so important to add that personal touch? In relation, like you mentioned, the survey, you survey people and you get the answers and what does that actually do for people? 

Ben Hoffman

Yes. With our any of our games, our regular citizens, too, we always try to customize it, figure out who they are, what they’re into, and try to listen to them and be with them and get them so that we can build that game. So it does feel like it’s not just some random thing. I’m done. I don’t want to do trivia nights anymore. I don’t want to do those game shows anymore. So it has to be relevant. And when it’s fun, because you get to learn about each other and that’s one thing that we’ve lost. We sort of get to learn about each other when we’re in an office without even thinking about it subconsciously, just with the banter and the banter online. Is it the same way? So it’s kind of fun to hear what people are into, what people are doing. We use food a lot during our games. We have like a close-up round of food usually, and then people talk about their favorite food story this time that it may have changed at, oh, do you like this? Do you like that? And we want those discussions that aren’t happening. We’ve lost that kind of like, oh, you know, you’re not just having random discussions and what are things people are comfortable discussion, food, you know, what are they doing for fun? What books are they? These type of things. So when you share all that, we just kind of lost that a little bit. I think especially within companies, the ability to just walk up to somebody like, hey, how’s it going with you? You know, How you’re doing? 

Tim Reitsma

Absolutely. I, I heard from somebody in a company that I’m involved in and this person was saying that they almost feel guilty for having a conversation, not about work, whereas if you’re all in the office, we would be grabbing a coffee or a couple water and quote-unquote the water cooler talk. And that could last three, five, seven minutes. And we’re just not banter, as you say. But it’s interesting that this person had said they don’t feel guilty about looking at somebody’s calendar and saying, oh, it looks like they’re free. Maybe they could jump on for a virtual coffee. And so, you know, kind of just maybe a little segue into what are your thoughts on? Why is that important? Like people are missing it? I know that in my engagement surveys and people I’m talking to in different industries, people are missing that connection. So what in your what are your thoughts? Why is it so important? 

Ben Hoffman

Yeah, we’re humans, right? It’s what we do. We love to connect, you know, like on that deeper level and just see and be and hold space together. 

Ben Hoffman

I think that’s like what we love community. You know, we want that together. 

Ben Hoffman

I think deep in our hearts, we all really enjoy just those moments, not even what the words are. But just kind of holding that space and being together, it’s where we come from, where we’re pack together, and if you feel isolated, we use the term early on this is that our experience, we want it to be the antidote to isolation because I’m hearing that so much. I feel so isolated, feel so isolated from a lot of people and a lot of clients. So be like, OK, can we create an experience? Because I felt guilty. I was like, I don’t want to create another experience that’s going to just suck people’s time. If we’re doing this, can we really create an antidote to isolation where they do feel like they’re part of a community, something bigger than themselves and just like caught up in fear of the future, worry about the past, but they can be present in the moment. And I think when we’re with others, it helps us because I think real happiness comes from that presence of just being here, being now. And when you’re with other people, it’s a lot easier to do that than when you’re by yourself with your thoughts day after day after day after day looking at a computer screen. 

Tim Reitsma

So it’s so important. It’s you know, we are humans, obviously, and we thrive on that connection we do. I you know, I haven’t heard anybody quite argue with me on that on that topic. But we do we thrive on connection. I was telling my partner yesterday that we were out of the house running an errand. And I just like, man, I just want to be out today. I don’t want to go back home because I was able to see other people instead of staring at the wall in front of me or staring at a computer screen. And so for those people who are listening, there may be founders, it may be people working in an organization, managers. What could we be doing differently to drive that connection? You know, it’s we talk about how important it is. What are your thoughts and what can we do? Maybe that’s a little different. 

Ben Hoffman

I think asking questions and listening and just being in sort of holding space and not trying to solve the problem. Just, you know, and it’s hard to do that virtually. But sometimes it’s OK asking people like how, you know, and it’s tough. Do we really do this in business? But I do with my teams. So we always have a daily call. The call starts off with, like, what’s awesome with something that’s awesome that’s going on with you and anything awesome at work you want to share. And then is there something that can be even more awesome? We call that an EMA and that’s we don’t have a lot of meetings. We just do this one meeting a day and it goes pretty quick. And we just want I just want to know what people’s lives are like. It’s beautiful. I know what my team is doing, what they’re up to, and just we can hold space for each other during those conversations. We celebrate them things that work, and then we work on things. Sometimes it’s something in their own life that’s an even more awesome or something that needs help with work. But they know that they’re there and they’re in a safe space. And it’s kind of like a container that you can set where there’s not really much judgment, where you’re just being together. And so every day I know what a lot of people talk about food during their awesomes, which is great. So I know what people are eating or what they’re seeing. 

Ben Hoffman

You know, they’re going out there like I went out for an errand. I it was amazing, like what you just said. Like, it was great. I went for a walk. I walk my dogs, like, go like cheering for that. I took a nap. I took the time to take a nap. And I cheer that on, you know, as a CEO my team was joking about that. We’re talking about best strategies for naps. And they’re like, that’s weird that you’re you know, they’re laughing about that. I was like, no, I was like, I want you to live your fullest self. That’s why you know what I feel like? My goal is we’re all partners in this role, humans. And if you need to take a nap so that you can be fully charged and be fully present, I’d rather you not be here and be taking care of yourself so that when you are here, you can be present and feeling connected and being burnt out because of that. 

Ben Hoffman

It’s like, I don’t know, it’s this feeling of almost like a locomotive really pounding that. I feel like people tell me about the isolation kind of going on. And just like, how can you self care and how can I support that as someone who runs the company? And how can I help people support others taking care of themselves? In Sanskrit, that’s called my tree. And I just recently heard this idea of like loving-kindness for oneself. And I feel like that’s an important thing that we say. I tell my team at least that that’s OK, take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. 

Tim Reitsma

For a couple of. My mind is swirling here? Because even though my work we’re talking about how do we relieve stress and stresses, you know, we could frame it a different way. How do we and how do we do self-care? What does that mean for us? Yeah, but I just want to step back, because the way you’re what you’re describing, I think we may have listeners saying, how did you create such a level of vulnerability in the team if people are sharing, hey, I just need to nap today or, you know, I need to go for a walk and. And how did you get there? 

Ben Hoffman

I think by being. You have to be vulnerable yourself. It’s top-down. They know what’s going on. I, I try to be as present and conscious and we do breathing together like it’s, it’s not mandatory. But I will do breathwork with people and just be there. And if I need support I put that out there too. If I’m doing this they know that I’m living this on my hope is that I can live my full of self and find that within that light within so I can shine it out to others. And that’s what I really tell them to, is what do you need to do then? They know I’m committed to it in my lifestyle because I share it all the time, that everything else, the workflows from that other place. But if you’re not building that love and light within yourself and being able to shine that out to others and you’re focused so externally, you’re never going to be able to kind of be present and be with people. And, you know, what we really want to do is kind of hold that space, be compassionate, have fun, be awesome. But we really have to take care of ourselves to do that. And so I have to be completely vulnerable if I ask them to be that. So I talk about my meditations, my napping, whatever it is that I’m going to do to self-care. They know that it’s a big part of my life. And that’s the most important thing I’ve realized during this time during COVID is really I have to they have to take care of themselves before they can take care of others, because I realized I spent a lot of my life even with this company, of like my identity was so wrapped up in how many, you know, millions of people I could affect and like the accolades and the cheers and like these amazing events. And then they’d stop. Right. I was like, whoa, I’m really tired. I told my team I was like, I’m hurting. I didn’t realize how tired I was to you know, it’s nice to have financial success, but. Also to like feel that energy of all these people be like, oh, what a great event, thank you so much. And then in March, when there was a dead stop, it was like for the first time in a very long time, that wasn’t who I was because it didn’t exist. 

Ben Hoffman

And I had to get real with that and be like, whoa, I have to. And I told the team I have some work to do so that when this does come back, I’m not so tied to that. So I can even be more present with you and more present with our clients and our partners as we grow and not be. So I know it’s probably crazy, a little bit crazy thing. I mean, maybe it’s not what people say that much, but yeah, that’s sort of what happened to me. This broke me in a really. You know, I told my team, you know, it broke me in a really unexpected, but a lot of personal stuff go on, too. And this time and I was just open with them and shared with them and told them what I was doing, the work, and that this, too, shall pass. But I didn’t hide anything, maybe some things, but I tried to in whatever I could be in the moment, be where I was with them. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s you know, that word vulnerability, I’m sure, scares people, it’s a bit of a scary word, right? You put yourself out there and also that along with vulnerability, I believe, has empathy. So if somebody is being vulnerable and sharing, it’s having that empathetic approach to that. And it sounds like, yeah, in March when the world basically came to a standstill. 

Tim Reitsma

We needed to be vulnerable and we also needed to approach our teams with empathy because we don’t necessarily know what’s going on in their life. We don’t know necessarily what’s going on in their home. Are they able to set up a home office and whatnot? And so, you know, starting with that place of vulnerability, leading with empathy. Would you say that really ties in with creating a connection? 

Ben Hoffman

Definitely, and what I would add to that is presence like being in the moment. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah absolutely. 

Ben Hoffman

All of those things tie back into this one idea of like whatever you need to do to be present. Can I be here with you now? 

Ben Hoffman

Regardless of what’s swirling around, and that is where connect that is, that is connection. Yes. And if you know, and if you can’t be with yourself in that space of quiet, it’s really hard to be able to be in that space with others. 

Tim Reitsma

Absolutely. It’s you know, in the virtual world I know I’ve talked with a number of people is Slack is going off, emails are going off. You’re getting text messages. And a lot of this used to happen around that water cooler if so to speak, or you walk past somebody’s desk or office or cubicle and be able to ask them questions. And now it’s you’re getting pulled in digitally in ten different directions. And so, you know, our connections are now virtual versus, you know, that in person or that, you know, that that real human connection. And so do you find even with you and your team or with companies that you’re doing team building events with that you’ve been able to overcome that? We touched on that a little bit, just, you know, making it so fun that it doesn’t even feel like you’re on a Zoom call. So, you know, how do you actually create that sort of environment? 

Ben Hoffman

So that’s the first thing. Like when companies bring us in, like, that’s what I said. I was like, I will not do another event. I told my team until this is something amazing that does not feel like everything else they’re going through. So that was a pledge I made and I feel like we’re living that. So that kind of that moment. And they do I mean, we do that work and we do figured out how to create an experience. But day to day with my team and how I work is I try to limit my meetings, limit I don’t limit my emails, limit my interactions, limit my Slack, just try to be mindful of when I’m sending that, that this is sort of I’m pushing into somebody’s life in this moment. Do I need to send this? Is there OK? And kind of like everybody. What is that look like? How do I schedule my day to limit that? Because I don’t wanna be just like feel like we need to work for the sake of work. Is there a mindful way to kind of communicate digitally? And I try to push my team to sort of think that, like, take a breath, take the pause. 

Tim Reitsma

I like that. Yeah, as you 

Ben Hoffman

Do you need answer right now? Okay take a pause, slow it down. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s something I think I don’t know. You’re kind of speaking to me directly right now as I look over and I see all these unread Slack messages and emails and think, OK, well, things will happen in time. And, you know, I don’t know about you, but at least for me, I’m a people person. I need to at least see somebody on a video. That’s how I can connect. I’m a hand gesture person. You know, I need to be able to see those visual cues. And so how would you say, you know, we’re kind of bouncing around a little bit here, but, you know, for people who, you know, want to drive more meaningful connection, deeper connection, what is your recommendation? You know, somebody like myself, I love, you know, being on the camera so I can see other people, but the person on the other side might go, oh, no, please, no, not another video call. Yeah. 

Ben Hoffman

So, I mean, what we did during our games, which is sort of funny, we realized. So in the beginning, we’re like, everyone needs to be on camera. And then I was like, well, that’s sort of like people don’t want to be on camera. And then was like, let’s experiment and let’s make bigger rooms and let people be an audience. Like because it’s fun to watch. And then we’re like, some people just want to be the audience and that’s OK. Some people want to be called on and that’s OK. So if you want to be called on, be part of the game, that’s fine. Turn your camera on if you don’t. So like just kind of meeting people where they’re at. So some people want that type of communication. And before I was like, you know, and it was my mistake because you start to think or at least I do sometimes that everyone’s like me. Right. So it’s just like, oh, they need to be on the camera. That’s how the way the game works. But then I was like, let’s do an experiment. Let’s open up a really big room. Let’s do like a really big video conference and let people who don’t want to be on camera, not be on camera and the audience or they can play without doing that. And they love it. The people who don’t want it because they can still watch and enjoy it and they see their friends on there. So so for them, that’s energizing. And for me being on the cameras, energizing, but kind of understanding what different people, how they feel connected, how they feel energized and not just kind of looking it from their eyes and being empathetic that way. But, yeah, I spend a lot. I do. I you know, and I have certain protocols and my team knows this. If I’ll answer an email within 24 hours, 24 business hours, if you need something that day, you can text me. 

Ben Hoffman

If you need something urgent, call me and I will get back to you. And they know that’s how it contact me and that that sort of are we call it communications of awesome. 

Ben Hoffman

And everybody has agreed to that. And if you can’t do that, if you have to get in realignment and you can’t do that, that’s fine, too. 

Ben Hoffman

And then we have our banter and our hangouts, our Slack, all of that. That’s just for fun. And then like we don’t really have to do work on that. Don’t expect someone to get back to you. If you do that, that’s just banter. 

Ben Hoffman

If you want to document it, you know, documentation you send this way. If you need something that you know, something pretty immediate text. If you need something in the moment, just give me a call and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. So and so we are. We’re all in alignment. In agreement. Yeah. We call it the communications of awesome. And we all sort of got into agreement. And everybody who comes in, all of our partners, I talk about that with them. What are the expectations? Is that’s where our suffering comes from? And a lot of sadness is just like I have expectations of how you’re going to communicate and you have expectations that I’m going to communicate.

Ben Hoffman

If we don’t, we’re not on the same page. We’re both going to suffer because we don’t feel like the other person is, you know, hearing us or connecting with us. But it’s really the expectations that are just off, right?

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Oh, I love that you brought that up. It’s been an interesting conversation with a number of people, a number of peers in different companies about communication. I love the communication of awesome. And it’s certainly that expectation, even with somebody new, joins a team or reiterating, hey, this is how we communicate. You know, this is the kind of that expectation and just driving that alignment, it’s so, so important. I love that you kind of hit on that, you know. 

Ben Hoffman

And also just giving them choice. Yeah. The one thing, too, I would say that to them. 

Ben Hoffman

And I’m like, are you in agreement with this? This is how we’re doing things. Is there a different way you want to communicate? Let me know and we’ll try to kind of do that. But I’m not forcing that on anybody because that’s not really fair either. So when they come in, say, hey, are you. Is this good? Does do you feel like this is an alignment with you? And if it isn’t, let’s find something that is in alignment with you so that we are on the same page. But everyone so far we have, you know, quite a few people who work with all the teams. They’ve all been really good, you know, good about. As soon as they hear that, they’re like, oh, of course, that makes perfect sense. Makes life a lot easier. One less thing to guess at. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, no, it’s you’re spending so much time just reading between the lines and miscommunication. I was just looking at some data yesterday about organizations’ miscommunications and the potential cost of miscommunications. And it’s astronomical. So, you know, we talk about creating a connection, a virtual world wall, that connection communication is part of that connection. We have to figure out how we’re going to communicate with each other, especially if we can’t walk past each other, have that banter at the watercooler. And so, you know, you touched on what you do in your team building events. And then I love your also your daily call, your awesome and even more awesome and your communication of awesome. So sounds like awesome is one of your core values at cityHUNT. 

Ben Hoffman

It is. It is. 

Ben Hoffman

And it’s interesting because when this started like this last year was really about making more awesome for others in this really big push. And we were pushing and growing. And recently I’ve had the shift with my team and I said, you know, I love that. But I was like in my heart, I’m feeling this idea of being more awesome together. I feel like I’m so much more together with everyone we build with as it used to be. This is a shift that I sort of seen in society with everything that’s gone on is like there are people who are like consuming and making, and sometimes I’m consuming and sometimes I’m making. But now I feel like there’s a lot more being together in terms of experiences. And it’s a shift that I’m making with that team. In terms of that, I want that all moment. Like in like just like where you just haven’t. That’s what I want. And that’s what I love in my own life, is just a connection. Like you’re just like literally your face goes, oh, we’re like an all can mean so many more things. When I say awesome, I mean really like Oh or Oh, you know, kind of having that moment and sort of being in that Oh moment together, everyone just energetically has that look on their face. 

Ben Hoffman

When I see it in the Brady Bunch mode, you know, video conferencing is just like the best was just such a great moment when, you know, like we’ll say it answered. Everyone’s like either like, oh, I got it wrong. Or like, oh, I got it right. It Oh happens a lot when you’re playing games, you realize. So there’s a lot of awesome happening. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s a couple of weeks ago in our organization, we’re a global company. We did just a very simple thing called to truth and a lie divided everybody up at and even within half an hour. And we learned so much about people in the company. We also learned who could tell the most elaborate lies, which is also pretty fun. And we all share a laugh. And it doesn’t take a whole lot to drive connections in our organizations and drive something that’s meaningful. And it can be quick. It doesn’t have to be forced. I hear the term and I’ve been hearing this term now for a while called forced fun. And we never want to force people into this. And I like that you said, hey if you’re doing a virtual team event, there’s an audience. You don’t need to participate if you don’t want to. And so have you heard that term force fun and has that come up? 

Ben Hoffman

Yes definitely. Yes. And that’s like what we’re fighting. Like, I don’t want that ever to be. 

Ben Hoffman

It has to be like we’re being doing it together. We’re in it together. 

Ben Hoffman

Whatever that means to you, find your space so that you can enjoy this the most. There’s no there should be. You know, for me at least, I don’t ever want to force people kind of into that. I don’t believe in that. So we try to and we use a lot of science in positive psychology and how we build the game so that it’s you know, we’re building it so that you can. 

Ben Hoffman

And that’s what I’ve been learning, too, in the digital world is the different levels. 

Ben Hoffman

Some people like on a normal citizen, when people are doing scavenger hunt and things like that, you have people who are like solving because we have sometimes clues where there’s puzzles they’re solving or people who are really into the pictures are really into the videos. So we try to always and we do this and we’re starting to do social distancing games again where people are out and about and playing in responsible ways. And because that’s what we really got good at, was everybody on the team can kind of find their niche where they feel comfortable. What’s fun for them, what’s fun for me is not fun for you necessarily. So can you build an experience where it’s diverse enough, where you can find that moment, find your niche and really enjoy that? You know, I want to do all the mapping. I want to do this. And people you start to see all that. 

Ben Hoffman

And that’s a beautiful moment as you see people fall into the place where they’re comfortable. And that’s where I had to check myself, was when we were building these games, being like, let’s, you know, OK, that’s interesting. Let’s see what happens if we have to. The audience members have a great time. Oh, they had an amazing time. That’s what fun was for them is to do that. They don’t need to be on they don’t want to be on camera, but they are still participating energetically. By cheering people on and just being there. And then afterward people talk about it. You know, that’s those moments, too. If you have a shared experience. My hope, and that’s what I said, is like, you can take this. You don’t it doesn’t end here. You can talk about what happened today and have fun with this. Some clients will stay and have like a party afterward where everyone stays on and it’s just like they’re in a really great place energetically. And another thing that I would say with these experiences is trying not to have distractions, can you turn everything else off? Can you turn all your notifications off and just be with each other, whatever you’re doing? I feel like that’s the ultimate hack, right? When I’m with you, I’m with you. I’m not I don’t have a news browser going. I don’t have my Slack pinging. I don’t have all of those. If that’s you’ll never I don’t feel like I can ever really be present with someone if everything’s buzzing and people are pulling at me. And I think that’s, you know, companies, that’s a good thing to say, hey, you know, and be like it’s OK to be unavailable. I like my team. I tell them it’s OK like you’re, that means you’re doing something where you need to be focused and you need to be present. That’s fine. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yeah. And I think it’s it’s really that nature of being OK with telling people that, hey, now’s not a good time to talk or hey, I know you picked me six times, but can we talk in an hour? And, you know, we all get that and I can’t speak for for others, but I know I’m guilty of doing that. Hey, are you free right now for a quick talk? And often I get it. Yes, I actually 100 percent of the time I get a yes. But, you know, on the flip side, when you actually put yourself in that person’s shoes, really that empathy approaches, you know, maybe ask for permission first or preschedule something or put something into actually have that good, deep, meaningful conversation. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with people personally and professionally where you know, that now is not the best time to have a conversation. There’s some distraction. You’re kind of getting the. Yeah. Mm-hmm. And I do that with my kids. You know, they’ll come down to my home office and try to talk to me and I’ll be in the middle of something. And, you know, before I know it, I’ve said yes to, you know, them having more candy or watching TV or something because I hadn’t given them my full attention. And that’s really driving that surface connection versus a deep connection happened so often. 

Ben Hoffman

Totally, yeah, it’s interesting to kind of see that and what’s nice is sometimes, as I said, take the pause if I’m going to reach out to somebody, do I need to reach. What’s the best way to do that? Can this wait until, you know, I’m going to talk to them in the daily meeting? OK, I know they’re going to be there, do I need to do it right now. You know, is it something how what the difference between something that’s, you know, important and urgent. And there’s very few things that are urgent. You start to realize, yeah, this is important, but is it really do I need to know this in the next five minutes? It’s very few things that I need that I need to pick up and ask them to call me back right away. Right. Like now, if you take this second to really ask yourself that question, what happens if I actually wait on this? Then I’m OK and I send a message and, you know, I know we have this expectation, so I know what I’m going to get my answer typically. So, you know, I guess it goes back to that communications of awesome again is just even with my kids, we sort of have, you know, kind of when I have my space and when I can be present with them and when I’m working and. Kind of everything like that, and it’s hard because you do want to I want to I love them and it’s such beautiful energy, but sometimes I will be serving them if I am not actually listening to them and try to do things at once. Not everything is just right. Like the work isn’t good and they’re going to be frustrated because I’m not giving them real attention. I’m just sort of placating them. So it’s just like this idea of pleasing versus being right. Just trying to please somebody. So I feel good about myself maybe. And I’m hoping they feel good. 

Ben Hoffman

Probably not going to both feel good. 

Tim Reitsma

I love it. That’s so great. Because it’s so true. Thanks for sharing that. I think there’s a lot of wisdom just in that last not last minute they’re in and just, you know, being and being present as is so important. You know, right back to the topic of the podcast kind of that just brought us back full circle, you know, creating a connection, a virtual world. And we’ve talked a lot about a few really important aspects, but I think it’s kind of hit the nail on the head. Right. We need to be present for trying to drive connection with somebody. I just picture myself standing beside the coffee machine in the office that I used to go to that don’t go to anymore. Now, you’re fully present. You don’t have distractions, notifications going off. You’re chatting about life with that individual. And so it’s so, so important to free up that space. 

Ben Hoffman

Yeah, completely, I mean, your phone, a lot of times you leave your phones, you hear all of that, you’re just they’re just you, the person, the coffee, and with no motive either. Right? You don’t need anything. You know, maybe sometimes you do. But a lot of the times those are the magic moments is where I can be with someone and not need anything from them. They’re not trying to get anything from me. We just are. And like, yeah, that’s human. You talk about connection. That’s human connection. Right. There is like a split seconds of like we just realized we’re just both even being just here in the same space, just enjoying this moment. And that can kind of be we don’t realize it, but that is we really I at least I do really enjoy that time. So that’s kind of things we might be missing out on is those it’s hard to do that. I mean, I do this breathing exercise with my team at the end of all of our calls. I’m actually part of another company called Breath Pollution. And every day at noon, it’s an app people can download. And the goal is to get a billion people breathing together for one minute, once a day, where you just close your eyes. Just like what? It’s just like exactly what we’re saying. Just like breathing in with me. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Let it all out. 

Ben Hoffman

You can just do something like biochemically, you’ll get your heart synchronized, you’ll get your mind synchronized, you get your breath, start with the breath and all these things start to get synchronized and everything else can fall away. 

Ben Hoffman

And you’re just with that person breathing. So that’s you know, these are sort of my little tools, little toolkit that I’ve been developing for myself and sharing with my team and sharing with clients little hacks. It takes a minute. I’m always like usually I start every meeting. I mean, even podcast that I’ve been on, I say, hey, at the start of the podcast, can we just breathe for a minute? You know, might be weird for everybody else listening to do that with us. And like, I just there’s a science there’s a lot of science behind it about like just taking that. 

Ben Hoffman

Can you take a minute and. And just being together, is that enough? 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, that that’s great. 

Tim Reitsma

Even in that just so much packed into how, you know, how to set yourself up to be in the present moment really drives that connection, whether it’s in person or not. But clearing your mind, focusing on just one thing, focusing on your breath, taking a deep breath, not just a chest, you know, shallow breath, but an actual deep breath. And, yeah, it’s you know, I know what I’m going to do after the podcasters spend some time and breathing. And because it’s so important, often we lose. I find myself just in just busy mode, like, look at my calendar. I’ve got, you know, five days a week, and almost every hour is booked up with something. And so it’s go, go, go. 

Tim Reitsma

But we have to take a minute for ourselves, because if we can’t connect with ourselves, how’s it how is it going to be possible to connect with others? But, you know, as we kind of wrap up the podcast and I’m curious about, you know, what’s kind of one takeaway you have for somebody who is listening, who may be a founder looking to implement something in their organization, maybe a manager who is looking to do something different in their team, or maybe you’re just part of a team and looking for kind of a practical way to drive and create connection. What’s kind of one key thing that you can pass on to people? 

Ben Hoffman

There’s a great question, really, I guess it really depends on sort of the culture of the team and what they need. Everyone’s in a different place. As I said, there are some simple tools, the big hack that I would say right away. I mean, I know it’s sometimes weird, but breathing with other people just for a minute really does slow everything down and can really help that. At the start of a meeting, I always find my meetings are good flow so much better. I’m so much more present. I’m much more impressed with that person. If I start by breathing with them, we usually end all our meetings that way or start our meetings that way. Just a minute and then don’t lose a team building however you’re going to do it, you know, sitting. And we have some really cool games that we built and that’s fun and that’s great. But there’s other ways. 

Ben Hoffman

How are you creating if you’re going to if all you have is this tool of a video conference, how can you use it to create that community to still laugh, to have these all? You know, these awesome moments which, you know, when I think about the coffee, like when you think about people around coffee or water cooler, I think about people laughing. I don’t even know why they’re laughing. Maybe, you know, like I walk by and they’re laughing and maybe they don’t even know that, just like that kind of just fun laughter. And so can you create experiences like that where people are all laughing together? Maybe that’s what we’re missing is like, what is it like to be in a room of everybody laughing and cheering together energetically? So can we create those experiences? Again, we’re doing tons of holiday parties right now. We’re almost sold out with them because there’s no other option. Right. We’ve created a whole really fun experience doing a virtual holiday party. We’ve taken kind of the best of everything we’ve done and tie to holiday theme to each thing withdrawing and scavenger hunt and all these different pieces, but trying to create. But at the end of the day, I want to create that energy of, you know, our team does. We want to be more awesome together with the client and create the energy of the holiday party like it’s not lost. We’re just reshaping it. We’re reimagining it. And what is the best part of the holiday party when it’s healthy when it’s successful? I think it’s when you have those moments of everybody laughing, smiling, and sort of just cheering together and being together. So finding ways to do that still virtually and not feeling like it’s impossible because it is possible we’ve seen it. 

Tim Reitsma

That’s great. Is great. A little bit of advice is even if for those who are plotting a holiday party, it’s what are the goals you want to achieve out of your party? And if it’s a virtual gathering, you know what? What are you hoping to create out of that event? Is it simply just sending a gift card to people or creating an experience for people? So that’s just a great band. And people could find you at cityHUNT.com, is that correct? 

Ben Hoffman

Yes. And I’m also working on a book. 

Ben Hoffman

You can go to my website, BenjamínPeaceHoffman.com, and kind of see some of the stuff that I’m working on. They’re taking out all these ideas of mindfulness team-building like soulful abundance in work life, physical, emotional vitality, and financial sustainability. Those are sort of the three components that I’ve realized, like as a hard-working entrepreneur in the past and trying to shift to be a more socially abundant, mindful entrepreneur and in work and in life, kind of working on a book and telling that story and whatever experiences that I’ve had and be vulnerable about sort of the light, the shadow, the hard work that we’re all going through and in it together and sort of some tools that a lot of wonderful people have given to me. So Yeah cityHUNT.com, we’d love to help anybody. And our whole thing is make awesome for others who are doing a ton of work with fundraisers right now. So we just did a big program with the American Cancer Society where they couldn’t do their normal relays and races and things like that. So we’ve created experiences for them and then we’re doing tons and tons of corporate team building, especially virtual holiday parties the next few months. 

Ben Hoffman

So you can find information about me, those two places I’m not really on. So I know it’s really weird, but I’m not really on social media. I’m taking a little break right now. So that’s where the two spots I’m at that might change, but that’s what’s up. 

Tim Reitsma

Sounds good. Yeah. And for those who are listening in, if you’re thinking of team building events and I know Ben has written a great article for peoplemanagingpeople.com. 

Tim Reitsma

So head to the website as well and subscribe. So you make sure you don’t miss out on the great articles that are coming out of that website. So it’s been such a pleasure to have a conversation with you today. And I really appreciate you coming on. 

Ben Hoffman

I appreciate you, too. This is beautiful. I really love the work that you’re doing, helping people sort of connect with one another and more deep, meaningful ways, which what else is there? Right. 

Tim Reitsma

Totally. And I also think all of our listeners who are listening today, if you get a chance, please head to our website, subscribe, but also let us know different topics or that you’d like to hear about, as well as give us some feedback on what you like and what you like to hear more. So with that, have a great afternoon, everyone, and we’ll talk soon. 

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