For every person who loves the #WFH life, there’s someone else who misses the camaraderie and coffee breaks of the office.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to keep team morale high with some virtual team building, icebreakers, and activities for remote teams. These ideas can serve as quick mood-boosters, or as part of a long-term plan to maintain company culture and communicate better.
Ninety-eight percent of employees in the United States say they’d like to work remotely (at least part time) for the rest of their career. And over half of the workers who responded to that survey say that they’re already working remotely at least some of the time. That’s a huge shift away from the old model of working in centralized offices, and it demands some big changes in management styles, too.
Remote workers say they’re happier, more confident, more relaxed, more productive, more loyal, and better at resolving conflict. But it’s not all good news. Managers who work with remote employees say they worry about low levels of employee engagement, satisfaction, and a sense of community at work.
Why is virtual team-building essential for employee happiness?
Regardless of work modality, team building is an important part of working life. It helps to build productive relationships, encourage collaboration, and develop communication skills throughout the workforce.
The idea of team building activities in business has been around since the 1920s. Early researchers identified a few key traits that teams need to succeed, including:
A sense of group identity
A sense of confidence
A sense of pride in work
Mutual honesty and clear feedback
Managers taking interest and pride in their teams
For most people, those points will tally with their experience. A workplace where people support each other, share constructive criticism, and enjoy their tasks is a happy place to be. A workplace where people are mistrustful, afraid to make mistakes, and feel distanced from their supervisors will not succeed.
But here’s where it gets more complicated for remote teams. If you don’t see your coworkers in person, it can be harder to build a sense of shared identity. There are a few more barriers to communication, such as different schedules, time zones, and even language barriers. Some people may feel nervous speaking up or sharing feedback over digital channels.
So it’s especially important to run team building activities for remote teams. You need to find new, digital ways of strengthening team spirit and encouraging people to communicate.
11 virtual team-building activities you can easily implement
There are 11 activities for remote team building on this list. Many of them would work well as regular events - once a week or once a month, for example.
You can also drop these activities into meetings or group chats if your team is normally office-based, but has to switch to remote work temporarily. People who aren’t used to working from home will need the extra morale boost, especially if their working style has switched due to an emergency situation.
In that spirit, you’ll also need to monitor whether these activities are working out for everyone. For example, some people will jump at a fitness challenge - but it might make other workers miserable. Always make activities optional, offer a range of difficulty levels, or better yet, give people a choice between alternatives: “This week, we challenge you to complete the fitness challenge or sign up for book club!” Let your team know that they can always opt out or speak to you if they have an issue with an activity.
Virtual team building isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal. The bonds between your team need to be continually reinforced by talking together, problem-solving together, and – yes - playing together. Don’t underestimate the power of fun to motivate and unite your coworkers.
Virtual happy hours and coffee catch-ups
Let’s start with something really simple. If you want to build team spirit and improve communication, then begin by giving people an opportunity to talk to each other - without the pressures of multitasking or deadlines.
Set aside some dedicated time each week when your team’s only job is to log on, chill out and chat. You can experiment to find the best time and duration for your team: some people will appreciate a Monday morning coffee, while others prefer to end the week with a happy hour. (If you do go for a Friday cocktail hour, make sure that people don’t feel under any pressure to drink.)
Try to keep this social time during normal working hours. It’s easier for your team to plan their schedules, and it also sets some boundaries for how “happy” the hour is going to get. Don’t worry too much about losing that time , either. If your team feels supported and connected, then their productivity at other times will more than make up for it.
Trivia and multiplayer gaming
Quick online games and quizzes are always popular. Let's face it. Who hasn’t taken a BuzzFeed quiz to find out which Disney princess they are?
There are two ways to share pastimes like this with your team. If everyone is working on different schedules, then you could share a game or quiz and encourage people to share their results. That way, people can play at a time that works for them, but still bond with others.
If you can get everyone online at the same time, then you have even more options.
Sporcle is a website which offers ready-made quizzes, including multiplayer challenges which play out in real time.
Jackbox has a selection of online multiplayer games. You can connect the platform to other streaming services such as Twitch so people can watch the game unfold. Because of the way Jackbox is set up, you can invite your team to an exclusive “room” to play.
Board Game Arena is a fantastic platform for playing board games online, with text and video chat included. You can also set up a closed group for your team to make it easier to host invite-only games. Sort games by duration or difficulty level if you’re just looking for a quick icebreaker activity.
An MTV Cribs-style glance into everyone’s workspace
One of the joys of working from home is that you have total freedom to customize your space. Treadmill desk? Why not. Your favorite print on the walls? Lovely. A Rube Goldberg machine that brings you coffee every hour? Please send me the blueprints.
While your team isn’t physically working together, it’s a fun bonding exercise for people to share their home workspaces. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Ask people to film a quick video tour of their workspace
Share a photo of your desk
Share a “shelfie” of what you’re reading
Take a photo of something that motivates you
Do a “show and tell” segment
The reason that activities like sharing desk photos work well for remote team building is that they show some personality. When you only know someone through a Slack chat, you only see one side of their personality. So these activities are a way for people to open up and get to know each other.
Remember “show and tell” back in kindergarten? Well, believe it or not, this is still fun to do as an adult. Ask your teammates to pick an object and chat about it. You could do this as a group activity to break the ice, or make it a weekly event where one person gets to star.
An object from your family’s history
A mystery object, and coworkers have to guess what it is
An object which you use for a favorite hobby
An object from your last vacation
eBook book club
Running an online book club fits in well with a weekly social hour or show-and-tell session. Here’s how you get started: share an eBook with your team and set a date to discuss it. Everyone can read at home at their own pace.
It’s up to you whether you choose something relevant to your business or go for escapism. Just make sure that the book is not overly long or challenging, and keep the discussion friendly.
One variation on this idea is asking each team member to nominate a (short!) book. As you read your way through everyone’s choices, you’ll get to know the team better.
Depending on your business, you could also open the book club up to customers. It’s a great way to build stronger relationships with your audience and offer some added value.
Raise your hand if you spend at least some of your remote working hours on the sofa. We’ve all done it, right?
Even in a conventional office, staying healthy is important. And it can be easy to get into bad habits like boor posture, or not taking regular breaks to move around. Fitness challenges are great because they support your team on several levels: physical health, mental health, and bonding with coworkers.
When you set a fitness challenge, make sure it’s realistic and achievable. Try to offer a range of options or difficulty levels to accommodate everyone, such as:
Go for a run or do a workout video
Try a new sport this week
Host a video-call fitness hour
Join a charity challenge
It’s best not to make fitness challenges into a competition, unless every single person on your team is super-sporty and ready for the challenge. Instead, focus on the team spirit angle: cheering each other on, sharing selfies, and motivating each other to stay on track.
TV show or movie discussion session
Here’s an alternative to the book club: set up a club to watch a show together, or watch old movies. There are a couple of different ways to set this up:
Choose an episode or movie to watch, then pick a time to discuss later in the week. Everyone watches on their own time.
Use an extension like Netflix Party so that the team can hang out together while they watch. You can run this activity outside working hours so long as everyone can agree on a time.
Just like the book club, you can encourage your team to share film suggestions and recommendations. This is a really laid-back way to experience something new and spend some relaxed time together.
Remote work bingo session
Bingo might have an old-fashioned reputation, but it’s a classic game for a reason. Everyone knows how to play, it’s quick, and winning a game is incredibly satisfying.
This is a really fun activity to integrate with watching a series or reading a book together. You could also use it as a quick game to kick off a meeting or end the working day on a high note.
Some people enjoy creating bingo cards which are specifically related to their work - like “customer service bingo” or “programming error bingo” - but these games can be risky. It’s easier to keep things light.
These challenges all share some key characteristics: they’re easy to do, light-hearted, and don’t require any special equipment. You can encourage your team to share their efforts on social media, or just in a work group chat, depending on how comfortable they feel. Everyone will have a chance to show their creative side.
Video conference icebreakers
Whether they’re on Zoom or in person, meetings can sometimes feel a little low energy. If you want to wake your team up and start the meeting on a high note, then try playing a quick game or live contest.
As well as playing around, these games can be used as a way to reinforce key knowledge or set the theme for a meeting. For example, you could run a quick quiz about cybersecurity to make sure that everyone’s up to date.
Finally, we recommend creating a suggestion box for virtual team building activities. As we saw at the beginning of this article, people feel better and do better when they are free to speak up and share ideas. So why not get your team thinking of remote team building activities?
Set up a dedicated email address, Slack channel, or conversation thread where people can suggest things they’d like to do. Then you can pick the best ideas, or ask your team to vote for their favorites. When people have a stake in the activity, they’ll join in with even more enthusiasm!
This list of virtual team building activities is by no means exhaustive. There are a million other ideas where these came from!
Every team is different, with different needs and working styles, but we hope you’ve found at least a few suggestions which work for you. Better yet, maybe you’ve been inspired to think of your own team building games! Either way, find a way to keep morale fun even at a distance!