In a physical office, people frequently chat, stop by coworkers’ cubicles, and even hang out after work, but virtual co-workers often don’t have that luxury. That’s why it’s crucial that remote team managers set aside specific times for fun team-building games. When you don’t have a water cooler to congregate around, these activities can fill in as the causal interactions that create bonds of cohesion and teamwork among your remote workers.
Benefits of Team-Building Games
Team Morale and Productivity
It’s easy to think your team is too busy to play a bunch of games, but savvy managers know these team-building exercises have tangible impacts on productivity, morale, and overall team performance—and they’re especially important for virtual teams that don’t often interact unless it’s strictly work related.
In a remote setting, exchanges often feel transactional and less human. Someone sends a question via e-mail; someone else answers. By letting your workers mingle in a fun, casual, personal manner, it fosters bonds of trust and cohesion that positively impact future work interactions. This small dedication of time has a potentially huge payoff.
Remote workers are particularly susceptible to letting bad days bring them down. When you work alone, getting that external perspective is hard, so one bad thing can snowball in your mind. When you do these team-building exercises, you learn you have the support and respect of your virtual team, which lends that important perspective.
Team building ensures everyone—especially brand-new members—feel accepted and welcome in the group.
What You Need
Virtual team-building games don’t require much. Just make sure you have a video-enabled conference tool, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or GoToMeeting. Seeing coworkers’ faces is crucial to forming personal bonds and trust, and it’s the next best thing to face-to-face interactions, so avoid teleconferences or conference calls with audio only. Let the Games Begin!
1. Two Truths and a Lie
What It Is: The night before a video conference, all remote team members should write down two true facts and one lie about themselves. These should be personal anecdotes—not work related. After a team member reads all three, people chime in and guess which fact is actually a fib.
Why It Works: Video conferencing is the next best thing to face-to-face communication, and discerning someone’s facial cues and body language helps to build trust and connections between team members. Everyone also gets to learn two new facts about each coworker. Getting to know people’s personal lives helps build camaraderie and team cohesion, and fun icebreaker games are an easy way to form that bond.
2. Happy Hour (and Karaoke) Night
What It Is: On a Friday or Saturday night, team members can join a video conference call, enjoy a few beverages of their choice, and sing to their heart’s content via an online karaoke platform, such as Red Karaoke. To make it a work-sponsored event, management can send out virtual gift cards beforehand to cover the drinks. This virtual event should not be mandatory, though; just let the people who want to partake (and sing!) do so.
Why It Works: Coworkers in the same office can hop down to the local bar and unwind together after work, but remote teams often can’t. A virtual happy hour gets remote coworkers to bond over something other than spreadsheets and meeting agendas, and the connections formed by letting your hair down—and belting out a few tunes—will strengthen the team moving forward.
3. Collaborative Calendar
What It Is: This is a shared calendar that’s editable by all team members. Remote workers should be encouraged to add professional and personal commitments to the calendar—with the knowledge that any particular event can be made public or not.
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Why It Works: A collaborative calendar provides several benefits.
- It lets workers input all their obligations in one platform, rather than having to juggle a personal and professional calendar.
- It gives your coworkers a glimpse into your personal life. (Remember, though, you can choose to make those events public or not.)
- Knowing a team member is at his kid’s basketball game helps put a human face to someone you’ve only ever emailed.
- It lets people know when it’s a good time to get a hold of you and when you’re unavailable.
In terms of logistics and personal connections, a shared calendar is an easy way to facilitate and improve remote working relationships.
4. Round Robin Recognition
What It Is: At the beginning of a virtual staff meeting, everyone goes around the table and shares two shout-outs: one for something amazing he or she did the past week, and one for something amazing another team member did. The acknowledgment doesn’t need to be landing a company-changing account or revolutionizing a system; it can be something as simple as staying on top of your email correspondence. The important thing is setting aside time to acknowledge contributions made to the team.
Why It Works: One of the biggest problems with remote teams is that people work in their own bubbles, which can be isolating and lonely. In an office setting, where people interact in person, team members often get kudos for jobs well done, but that can fall by the wayside when teams don’t meet face to face. Consistently sharing what people did well is a great way to ensure all team members know they are appreciated, valued members of the team and their hard work has not gone unnoticed. It boosts morale, builds bonds between individual members, and motivates people to do work worthy of sharing during the next round robin.
5. Plan a Meal
What It Is: Break the team into several small virtual groups and task each group with planning an elaborate seven-course meal. Then bring all the small groups back together as one group to finalize the perfect menu. Each small group can join a dedicated conference call, and then everyone can join into the whole-team meeting at a set time.
Why It Works: On top of being one of the more fun team building games, it also demonstrates how collaborative efforts often yield the best results. Even in a remote team, multiple heads are still better than one, and this also teaches people how to navigate working and collaborating in a virtual setting, which is an invaluable skill for remote teams to master.
6. Map the Group
What It Is: The team leader or manager creates a simple document that contains a map. The document should be editable by all team members so they can go in and mark their current locations. Tailor the map to your team’s makeup. If you’re across the state, make it a state map; if you’re spread throughout the globe, go with a world map. Have a dedicated chat channel (via Slack or other team messaging platform) where workers can share fun facts about their cities or things to do if other team members ever come to visit.
Why It Works: A map of the team members’ locations accomplishes two key goals. One, it lets everyone know where everyone else is located, which facilitates logistical hurdles such as scheduling meetings in different time zones. Two, it gives all team members insight into their coworkers. Geographic location could offer cues about social or professional norms that will make personal interactions more seamless.
7. Movie/Game Night
What It Is: Once a week (or month or quarter), pick a movie. Stream it via a virtual conference call with screen-sharing ability and have a live chat running at the same time so people can chime in with their comments, thoughts, and anecdotes. To keep things interesting, alternate between movie night and game night. (Charades and Pictionary work particularly well.)
Why It Works: Whenever your remote team gets together and the focus isn’t on the work or job itself, people loosen up and let their guards down. Movie and/or game night gives people shared experiences (outside of the job) to bond and joke over, and people start recognizing similarities and common ground, the crucial first step to successful team building.
8. Virtual Scavenger Hunt
What It Is: Under the umbrella of “scavenger hunt,” your team has a lot of options. Here are two popular possibilities:
Personnel Scavenger Hunt
Everyone gets together on a conference call and finds the team member who fits each scavenger clue description (youngest worker, worker with the most siblings, worker with the most pets, and so on). This is ideal for new teams that want to collaborate, have fun, and learn more about each other.
Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Outdoor scavenger hunts send virtual team members to accomplish fun, interesting, silly, challenging tasks (convince a stranger to do a yoga pose with you, kiss a lobster, etc.). Make small virtual teams that can divvy up the tasks, and tell team members to stay connected throughout the hunt by phone, text, or mobile-based communication apps, such as Voxer.
Either create your hunt from scratch or use a scavenger hunt platform, such as GooseChase. If you go with an app, you can often submit photographic proof of your task completion directly into the program for points, and the leaderboard aspect creates some good-natured competition. Encourage team members to share experiences, videos, and photos on social media.
Why It Works: It’s not always easy to laugh and joke when interacting with somebody about a work project, but get together for a game, and people let their fun sides show! When people are on friendly terms, work disputes go down, and productivity goes up.
9. Rank It
What It Is: Start with five random objects. (The team leader can pick.) These should be disparate items; don’t choose, for example, a pencil and a pen. Then give the group various scenarios, from zombie apocalypse to Godzilla attack to beach vacation. Every team member then ranks the usefulness of each item in that particular scenario and explains his or her reasoning.
Why It Works: The goal of team-building games is creating bonds of trust and friendship that translate into more cohesive working relationships, and these bonds are often best forged in casual settings. These icebreaker games are quick and easy, but they provide real insight into your coworkers.
10. Get Fit
What It Is: Send every team member a Fitbit and then set weekly team goals for steps taken, minutes exercised, and so on. This one is a bit of a financial investment, but it’s a great perk for your virtual workers! For smaller companies that can’t afford the up-front cost, set similar fitness-related goals, but leave it up to team members to track their progress. Allow people a channel to share healthy recipes, their favorite workout routines, and photos (taking the dog for a walk, participating in a fun run, etc.).
Why It Works: Virtual jobs often involve a lot of sitting at desks and staring at computers, so this is a great excuse for everyone to make health and fitness a priority. By doing it as a team, you have a built-in support network, as well as accountability to keep you on track. It also shows that the company values their team members and wants them to be healthy and happy.
Just because your team members don’t meet every day doesn’t mean they can’t form meaningful professional (and personal) relationships with their remote coworkers. As a manager, if you make team building a priority, you’ll see the positive effects in remote staff retention, increased morale, and improved team cohesion.
Have you done virtual team building activities with a remote team? How did it go? Do you see an idea not in our list that you think should be included? Let us know in the comments!