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12 Ideas for virtual team building activities

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Over the last decade, working from home has become more common across organizations. The current pandemic has only hastened the transition of most businesses. Whether remote working is a temporary measure for your business or you plan to make it more permanent, you need virtual team-building activities to keep your employees engaged. 

The bad news is that most team-building activities and ideas are geared towards the physical workplace where everyone participates in person. The good news is that you can adapt many of these activities to work virtually. What’s more, you can even create interesting ways to build your teams when you get out of the conference room and use remote tools. 

Why is team building crucial for remote teams?

Most business leaders emphasize team-building activities to foster a sense of community, improve trust and build shared bonds between employees. When part or all of your team is remote, you have more opportunities for workers to feel invisible, unheard, and unappreciated. Remote working brings with it some loneliness as you don’t get to see your colleagues every day or share lunchtime rituals and coffee breaks.

It can be great to work from home at the start but many people find that they lose motivation over time. They feel disconnected from their teammates and worry about being unable to reach their manager or get feedback on their work. Team building activities can help your teams overcome those hurdles and bring everyone closer.

Can you build a great team virtually?

The next obvious question is whether it is possible to team build in a virtual setting. After all, you can’t do trust falls or share drinks over a video call. Fortunately, remote working does not mean you have to give up on team building or sustaining a great team. You just need to get a little creative and use some virtual tools.

There are virtual team-building icebreakers you can use to get to know your co-workers better. Or play some games to let off steam even if it’s over Zoom. Use a shared lunch or coffee hour to catch up on work or personal projects. You can even involve family members, children, and pets when you work from home!

Most virtual team building activities fall into one of these categories:

  • Real-time vs asynchronous
  • One time activities vs regular events
  • Productive vs fun
  • Work-related vs personal

Which particular activity you choose will depend on the occasion, how much time you have, whether everyone can participate at the same time etc. For instance, you might play a 5 minutes icebreaker game at the start of every online meeting. A host can organize a more elaborate game once a month to relieve the tedium of working from home. Some activities need everyone to participate through video chat. Others can be asynchronous meaning employees can participate when they have time over a week or month etc. 

Not all team-building activities have to be work-related or practical. Try to use some activities that are purely for fun or help employees get to know each other personally. As an example, you may ask everyone to share memories of their last vacation, showcase a hobby, share wildlife sightings or just show pictures of their pets doing funny things. 

Make online meetings fun

Meetings are an irksome part of the workday for most people. Virtual teams also need to have periodic meetings to share updates, progress, and share information. So why not make it more interesting?

60 seconds of fame

Whether you have weekly or monthly meetings, this is a simple activity to kick it off on a fun note. Ask each team member to share a joke, read a poem, sing a song or do something fun at the start of the meeting. Who knows, you may even uncover some hidden superstars in your team!

How are you feeling this week?

Invite team members to share a short update on how they’re feeling this week. Overwhelmed due to an upcoming deadline? Are you pumped to start the week after running your first 10k? Be sure to inform everyone that it does not have to be work-related. This is an opportunity to share worries and triumphs about personal issues as well.

What’s new with you?

This is a fun idea to share something new with your teammates. It could be a new artist you just discovered or a recipe that you made over the weekend. Post a picture or link to an interesting talk/website. It can be anything new that you discovered that week or month.

Share a funny picture/meme/gif

You can take turns for each team member at every meeting. Have them share a funny picture – it could be of their pets, child, car, or anything at all. Invite them to explain what’s happening in the picture and why they selected it.

Remember, you don’t have to use all these activities at once. Choose whatever works best for your team and you can always change it up if you want something different.

Virtual team building icebreakers

Show and tell

Remember show and tell in school? It’s a great way to get to know your fellow teammates, even if you’re working remotely. You can schedule this one in advance every week or fortnight. Give everyone 5 or 10 minutes to show off a hobby or a special project. Maybe they’re building lego sets with their child or they like to paint miniatures. Whatever it is, they can share pictures to show off any trophies they might have won! Encourage everyone to ask questions to develop strong team bonds by connecting over shared interests.

Create and share music playlists

Who doesn’t listen to and talk about music? Ask everyone to share their favorite playlists for when they’re working, working out, or just relaxing at the end of the day. You might discover teammates who share similar tastes or have attended the same concert. It’s a fun way to know more about a person and get some great music suggestions.

Messy desk showcase

This one can get messy. When you go to the office, there’s an expectation that your desk will be relatively neat. But all bets are off when working from home! Have team members share pictures or even a short video clip showcasing their messy desk. It can be all the more fun if you have children or pets who love to make your work desk their play area.

Guess who?

This virtual team-building activity requires some prep work but you can give out prizes for the winner! A manager asks everyone to share some fun/unknown facts about themselves. They compile this into a master document and everyone has to guess who each fact refers to. After a week or so, share the answer key and give a prize to whoever guesses the most correctly.

Team building games for remote employees

Virtual escape room

What’s a better team-building exercise than an escape room? While you cannot attend one in person, you can attend a virtual escape room exercise. Your team will have a host who will guide you through the room and your team has to work together to escape. It’s good fun and encourages team members to bond and work together to solve problems.

Trivia contest

Who doesn’t love a good round of trivia at the pub? Try recreating this classic pub game virtually with a host or get a trivia app. Invite teammates to play in real-time, join teams or battle it out individually. Virtual trivia can help you build a stronger, happier, and more productive team.

Online lunch date/social hour

One thing everyone is sure to miss with remote working is going out to lunch or cocktails after work on Friday. Set a date and have everyone order from their favorite meal delivery service. Kick back and relax while you share lunch as a team once again. If someone in your team has experience with or a passion for mixing cocktails, you can host a virtual happy hour as well. Everyone can join in with their favorite drink or try following along with the host.

Write a user manual for you

This is a good exercise for new teams or when you have new staff on board. Have everyone create a deck, document, or video clip showcasing their unique work style. Include some guidelines and have them provide basic information such as:

  • Do they prefer written or verbal communication? Text messages or email first?
  • What is their favorite time to work without interruptions?
  • Do they like video calls, phone calls, or online meetings to problem solve?
  • What’s the best way to get their attention and what are their pet peeves?

Collect and compile these documents in a repository so everyone is aware of these working styles. This way all current and future members can get up to speed without wasting several hours in a meeting.

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