Let’s Play: How a Virtual Board Game is Creating Connections in Virtual Workplaces

by Phil Neuffer Vol. 48 No. 3 2021
Drastic changes in how and where people work has spurred numerous innovations to help enhance the virtual office. One such innovation is Cozy Juicy Real, a virtual board game and team-building tool meant to help facilitate deeper interpersonal connections among colleagues.

Jed & Sophia Lazar,
Cozy Juicy Real

Board games have undergone a renaissance in the last decade and it’s only going to continue. According to a report from Arizton Advisory & Intelligence, the board game industry will grow by 13% by 2026, with games like Ticket to Ride, Gloomhaven and Scythe creating exceptionally immersive experiences for players while challenging just what a board game can be.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous examples of games connecting people even when they aren’t in the same place, whether through video games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Among Us or through virtual versions of boards games like Clue and Scrabble. As the future of work will likely continue to feature at least some form of online interactions, Sophia Lazar and Jed Lazar are following these trends and using board game architecture to help facilitate stronger connections in the virtual workplace.

The Missing Element

The giant shift to work-from-home setups over the last year wasn’t the initial spark for the Lazars’ idea, however. Five years ago, when Jed Lazar was coaching startup entrepreneurs and Sophia Lazar was providing life coaching, they noticed many of their interactions with friends and family were stale, relying too much on small talk at the expense of forming stronger connections.

“Being coaches and facilitators, we knew the power of questions and how you can elicit those meaningful conversations if you put the intention in, but we wanted to make it fun and consistent,” Sophia Lazar says. “So, it was a process of gamifying conversations.”

That process led the Lazars to create Cozy Juicy Real, a digital board game that sparks conversation via personal questions and competition. Although the game originated as more of a social endeavor, the Lazars eventually understood how much potential the game had as a team-building and online collaboration tool, especially as more people had to begin working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t realize we’d developed a team building tool because just like friends and family have a need to connect, it’s so important for teams to connect,” Jed Lazar says. “We pivoted from focusing on friends and family to focus on team building.”

Although they still hope to produce a physical version of the game in the future, the Lazars have plenty to do when it comes to the digital offering. More than a year of online meetings has created no shortage of “Zoom fatigue,” making it difficult to get colleagues to interact, but Cozy Juicy Real’s design is meant to break down those barriers.

“What’s missing from online work, what’s missing from Zoom meetings, is the human element,” Jed Lazar says. “The game helps teams create trust in an easy and natural way, and a way that a lot of people don’t even realize they’re developing trust.”

Naturally Building Trust

The game itself is structured fairly simply. Games are played between four to six players with a digital game board shaped in a diamond. Players move around the path of the game board by landing on spaces color-coded to cards in the middle of the board. There are five different types of cards and each either asks a question or presents a challenge or activity for the player to complete.

The questions/challenges vary in intensity based on the type of card. “Cozy” cards, which are green and worth 30 points, feature easy to answer questions such as “What’s something you like about your hometown?” From there, “Juicy” cards, which are orange and worth 40 points, are a bit more personal and may ask you to do something like find something in your current environment and explain why it is important to you. The third and most intense questions and challenges are reserved for the “Real” cards, which are red and worth 50 points and might ask you to discuss someone who has positively influenced your character. These three card types are at the heart of the game, which is built on a slow and natural evolution of trust, according to Jed Lazar.

There are two other card types, including the “Random” cards, which prompt the group with challenges and have varying point totals, and the lightning deck, which comes into play at the end of the game.

As players answer questions and overcome challenges, they collect their completed cards on their own individual player boards so they can calculate their point totals. In addition to question cards, players are also given a set of “Spark” cards, which can be given to opposing players at any time during the game. These cards, which can offer encouragement or ask a player to follow up on a previous response, can be doled out at any time. However, even though these cards give points to the receiving player, any player still holding any of their “Spark” cards at the end of the game loses the commensurate number of points they could have given out.

Normally, each game is played between small groups via Zoom, but the Lazars have conducted game sessions with teams of all sizes, from startups to large corporations. The Lazars work as facilitators in these group sessions, which have included up to 300 people, outlining the rules of the game and providing a bit of a warm-up before participants break into individual groups to play. Games usually last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes and the Lazars remain in a general lobby to provide assistance but do not sit in on the actual games themselves.

“They really get to know each other and feel comfortable, but we stay in the main room in case anyone needs help,” Sophia Lazar says, emphasizing how this creates an organic space to build trust.

Gaming For the Future

As facilitators, the Lazars can also customize game sessions for specific team members or specific topics. For example, they have conducted events for companies to onboard new hires, specifically crafting questions to help communicate each organization’s core values by working with the companies themselves beforehand. Cozy Juicy Real also features card decks that focus on topics like leadership, innovation and diversity, equity and inclusion, and the game has also been used at off-site retreats and as part of leadership programs.

This type of team building separates itself from other similar activities by making team members focus internally rather than on an external objective, according to Jed Lazar. In addition, the lessons of the game can be applied to improve workplace interactions.

“One of the things that we hear from the HR managers that hire us is that they love playing this with new teams because then they can actually learn things about people, and that can lead to easier conversations later on,” Jed Lazar says.

“It’s so much easier to have the conversations that really matter after getting to know your coworkers a bit because you know them on a more personal level,” Sophia Lazar says. “People tend to share things that are quite meaningful to them.”

In the coming months, the Lazars are launching new editions of Cozy Juicy Real to address not just the current environment but the future of the workplace, to create a superior work-life balance, to better differentiate workplaces and to combat the feeling of loneliness in work environments that will continue to incorporate virtual elements.

Phil Neuffer is senior editor of Monitor. Rita E. Garwood, editor in chief of Monitor, interviewed Jed and Sophia Lazar for this article.

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