In the pre-COVID-19 era, volunteers used to balance their remote work for 510 with frequent visits to our office. They shared a workspace with staff and volunteers alike. This mix of online / offline was the glue of our volunteering model. Volunteers formed groups based on interest or task, could quickly coordinate with project staff, work efficiently and connect socially.  

When COVID-19 sent us home in March this year, the office could no longer be counted in into the mix of our volunteering model. We had to find new ways to keep volunteers connected to the team, beyond the constraints of the four corners of our screens. Curious to know what we found? Scroll down for an overview of our remote working hacks!  


Volunteerism is one of the foundational principles of the International Red Cross Red Crescent. As such, 510 embraces collaboration with professional volunteers and thesis students as one of its core values. Our 23 staff members are currently supported by 45 volunteers and 10 thesis students. Together, they are all working towards the common purpose of improving the speed, quality & cost-effectiveness of humanitarian assistance by using and developing data and digital products & services.  

We often refer to our volunteers as professional volunteers, because they are highly skilled professionals committed to donating their time to 510, besides working jobs as data scientists or writing PHD theses. Together with staff and with significant responsibility, they develop dashboards, calculate flood models, produce risk indexes and classify satellite images for damage assessments.   

Without volunteers, 510 would not exist.  

Most of the work that volunteers were doing pre-COVID was already remote in service of humanitarian needs across the globe. We had even run a pilot earlier this year to explore remote volunteering models (Enhancing Aid Capacities, funded by the EU Aid volunteer initiative). And as the the data and digital team of the Netherlands Red Cross, 510 was already quite used to working digitally. MS Teams was our mobile home long before March 2020.  

Still, we enjoyed working from the office, partially because it enabled staff to connect and collaborate with volunteers in person. So when we switched to a fully remote working model, we wondered: how do we keep our volunteers happy and engaged with the team?  

We asked volunteers about their needs in this new setting and reflected with our staff on the way we work with (remote) volunteers. We looked into best-practice examples of digital community building and piloted new ideas.   


A quick look into academic research reveals that volunteer satisfaction relies on four major factors:  

  • Participation-efficacy: is the volunteer able to make a difference for someone else?
  • Group integration: can the volunteer establish social relations and collaborate with fellow volunteers and staff?
  • Support and feedback: does the volunteer feel supported and receive feedback on their work?
  • Empowerment: is the volunteer allowed to take responsibility?

Switching from a mixed online / offline to a fully online volunteering model did not affect the contribution volunteers are able to make, the feedback they receive and neither the degree of responsibility they are given. Those elements of volunteer satisfaction were already embedded in the way we worked with volunteers. Yet, the second factor, socially integrating volunteers without an office to meet them, was a new challenge 

Logging in from a device for yet another day of home-office risks becoming draining if it is stripped off all the social benefits that used to come with office-based work. Screen time should not exclusively equal work time, especially for volunteers. However, screen time does not naturally translate into social time either. It seems social sparkle fades whenever we try to digitally duplicate the things that used to be fun offline. Being put in a virtual room for a casual chat with more than six people turns out to be a recipe for awkward silences or loud monologues.  

Capturing a natural dynamic of interaction in a remote setting requires a bit of facilitation, or “scheduled fun”, as one volunteer put it.  


We continued old and introduced new team rituals to get a sense of the work being done in our virtual office, and more importantly, to connect with the humans behind their screens doing the work. Below we have listed our virtual team rituals, quick icebreaker games and other resources. This list is by no means complete as we are learning on the go. Do you have other tweaks for remote teambuilding? We’d love to hear from you via ljkattemolle@redcross.nl. 


  • Stand-up: Every morning from 09:00-09:30 we tell each other what we have been doing yesterday, what we are doing today, and what we need help with
  • Planking: One of our volunteers introduced planking back in 2017 and we are still going strong. Every day at noon we switch on our camera’s, time trackers and Spotify-playlists to plank 4x 1 minute
  • Yoga: Once a week Kelly Opel (@opelyoga) teaches a gentle yoga class, reminding us to move slower and drink more water
  • Week-wind down: A casual half our on Friday afternoons for those who feel like closing off the week with a short chat, reflection or game
  • Monthly activities: Some virtual events we have planned to encourage activity beyond the screen: 
    • Masterchef: One team member, the “Masterchef”, shares the ingredient list of his / her favourite dish. A few days later, the Masterchef turns on his / her camera and gives participants live instructions on how to prepare the dish. With their cameras on, participants cook along. When dinner is served, participants either stay on to have a virtual dinner with the rest, or turn off the camera to eat on their own or with their housemates. Besides doing something together, the added bonus of this activity is that you get to have a look into your colleagues kitchen and / or meet their spouses, flatmates, children or 
    • Poem exchange: A special for the holiday season. All participants draw a name and write a short poem for that person. Participants virtually meet on a set evening to read out loud the poem that has been written for them. Participants guess who has written the said poem. 
    • Geo-cache: This scavenger hunt for grown-ups sets teams out to find hidden treasures.  A home-run for the Geo Information enthusiasts of our team.
    • Tour-de-510: Many of us like to hike or cycle. When the weather is better, we will send our colleagues en-route to walk or bike the best routes we have.
    • Humanitarian simulation exercise: On a more serious note, this virtual simulation of a humanitarian mission prepares participants for immediate-disaster response. 

Screenshot of our very first Masterchef session


We sometimes use virtual whiteboards like Miro or Google Jamboard to get virtual gatherings started. Some icebreaker games we have been playing:  

  • Draw your character using this Miro template board
  • Show one item on your desk and explain what it means for the way you work
  • Show on camera / share a photo of your favorite spot in your country / city 
  • Show on camera / share a photo of your current view
  • Upload a photo / image of your guilty pleasure, guess which belongs to who
  • Upload a photo / image of your hidden talent, guess which belongs to who
  • Find out 10 things you share in common with your team members
  • Describe one of your team’s core concepts to an alien. We tried it with data & digital. 
  • Find something that starts with a certain letter, show it in front of the screen, assign a new person to find and show something starting with another letter

 Icebreaker: describing data and digital to an alien




We will continue exploring digital community building practices as we will continue working remote in the near future. We love to hear about your team’s best tips for working remote! Please get in touch via ljkattemolle@redcross.nl if you have any additions for the list above.  


Written by Liselot Kattemölle, M.A. Advanced Migration Studies  

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