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 activities. When you don’t have a water cooler to congregate around, these activities and games can fill in as the causal interactions that create bonds of cohesion and teamwork among your remote workers.
Virtual team building involves different activities that are meant to strengthen bonds between remote team members. Its main purpose is to create a work environment where everyone is connected on a personal level, and where they can work with each other with minimal difficulty.
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Why is virtual team building important?
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 remote team building activities, 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.
Build emotional bonds/trust between team members
There are two ways to look at a team — as a group of people with unique skills of their own, and as a single entity that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The differentiating factor between the two is the overall trust level between the members of the team, which is what team building activities enhance. It’s about believing that everyone has each other’s back, and being inspired to always give 100% together.
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 Zoom. 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!
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10 best team building activities for virtual teams
1. Two Truths and a Lie
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
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 SongStation. 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
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.
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
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
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 the whole-team meeting at a set time.
Bonus bonding tip: Have every group member who wants to participate make something from the finalized menu. Share pictures of the process via social media, or even host a virtual picnic where everyone chows down on the fruits of the team’s labors. You know what they say: the team that eats together stays together!
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. 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Pro tip: Use a Kanban board to organize your virtual team building
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.
One way to make the process easier is to create a Kanban board with all the team-building ideas that people have. Create a column for “team-building ideas” and let the team discuss it under the card, then move them to “planning” once people are clearly excited about the activity.
A column of “upcoming” will give a visual overview of all the upcoming team-building activities that anyone can join.
This type of project board is extremely efficient for virtual team-building, as the more active personnel can make suggestions and plan the activities, while the more passive teammates can easily see what’s coming up and join if they find it fun.
There are plenty of tools to try, but one great option is Hubstaff Tasks: an Agile project management tool with other advanced features, such as Kanban boards, Agile Sprints, and automated daily Stand-ups.
Bonus: 5 virtual team icebreakers
Do an intro video
Introducing a new team member via a team-wide conference can be overwhelming for some. Instead, let your team do an introduction video that they could upload and share to the team. They can talk about basic details about themselves like hobbies, prior job experiences, and what their role in the organization is going to be.
Show and tell
Ask your team to take a photo of something in their personal life — it could be a hobby, their family, or a side project — and send it to one of your channels. This will give you an idea of who your team members are behind their resumes and gives everyone a chance to make nice first conversations.
Short questions are great because they can show certain aspects of a teammate’s personality that can’t be seen in interviews. What’s great about them is that they can be anywhere from serious to completely random.
- How would you summarize your life so far in one sentence?
- What was the smallest thing that had the biggest impact in your life?
- What would you rather have: the power of invisibility, or the ability to out-pizza the Hut?
Short questions like these are comfortable to answer, which makes easing into the team smoother.
Schedule a game night once a week so your team members can get together and play online. It’s not about the video game itself or the competitiveness (but that’s sometimes fun too), but rather the element of camaraderie outside of work. In this regard, voice chat is very helpful. Just make sure that you don’t play during working hours.
Describe yourself in one word
This icebreaker is extremely easy to do: come up with one word that will describe who you are, whether as a member of the team or as your own person. You’ll very likely be surprised by some answers.
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!
This post was updated May 2020.