Virtual team building is no different from regular team building, except all interaction is done through technology or over video chat. Instead of any physical collaboration, teams have fun together and learn about one another through virtual conversations and activities. The exercises focus on employees' feelings, interests and communication, which helps build enthusiasm and camaraderie among remote workers.
Virtual ice breakers
Ice breakers are a great way of breaking down boundaries and formalities to help communication flow more freely. In a virtual workplace, this is extremely important. Ice breakers can help people feel more comfortable interacting with each other.
1. Introducing kids and pets
Inevitably, kids and/or pets appear on-screen when employees are working from home. It is impossible to prevent. So, steer into it. Have everyone introduce the family members who are likely to make guest appearances now and then.
2. Photo contest
Everyone has photos on their devices these days. A photo contest is a great way to get to know each other and ease into the online space with something low stress and potentially fun. It doesn't literally have to be a contest. It's about taking that very first step toward building a community despite being remotely connected.
3. Share embarrassing stories
Provide they stay work appropriate, sharing embarrassing stories helps everyone get out of their own heads a little. Everyone gets to laugh together. It's surprising how easily people can bond over a little shared embarrassment.
Incorporating a team-building activity or game into the weekly work schedule can improve communication among employees, which can help your staff reach company goals. Here are 11 remote team-building activities to try.
1. Virtual coffee breaks
Coffee breaks with your co-workers are still possible when you're not in the same room. Encourage your remote team to schedule them with one another by video conference or create one that is open to the entire team. This is a chance for everyone to take a break and talk about their interests while maintaining their co-worker relationships outside of the office.
"Ask them about their day, how they've been feeling, if they're facing any work-related challenges," said Aimie Ye, digital marketing manager at GoCo. "Everyone needs a break from work, even if they're working from home, and small talk over coffee can go a long way."
In addition to or instead of coffee breaks, you can host a virtual happy hour or lunch. The point is to do something together.
"Encourage everyone to bring their beverage of choice to the table," said Sarah Morris, performance coach and director of Brain Happy. "Jazz it up with a great soundtrack, costumes and games. Spice up your virtual coffee break with a discussion topic."
2. Online book club
Starting an online book club is a great opportunity to share a fun and exciting novel you and other interested employees can enjoy. Set a time during work hours to discuss it once a week. Conversing about subjects other than work is a great way to bond, explore the way others think, and destress.
3. Personalized virtual backgrounds for video calls
Go into your video conference software settings and see what background options are available. Choose one that highlights your personality, and urge your team members to do the same. Although it is only a small change, it's an easy way to spark conversation and a lot more fun than a plain backdrop.
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4. Home tours
Video conferencing allows us to glimpse what our co-workers' homes look like. You can take this to the next level by encouraging home tours. For those who are comfortable doing this exercise, schedule a session where each participant walks around their home and shows the whole team how they live. This gives everyone a chance to peek inside their co-workers' home lives.
"Home tours are a great way to emotionally connect with your employees and ignite some good old team building," Ye said.
Take it a step further and schedule a time where everyone introduces a guest during a video call. Employees can join these video conferences with whomever they want, like their partner, child, pet or neighbor. Meeting the people (or animals) in each other's lives will help your distributed team develop deeper connections with one another.
5. Active video calls
If you don't have to share your screen for a conference, take your remote meeting on the go and make it a virtual event. Walk around your neighborhoods, and – if your surroundings are not typically disruptive and you're not discussing a project or assignment in depth – make it a mobile meeting. This is a chance to get out of your home office and give each other virtual tours of your communities.
To further this fitness idea, if people on your team enjoy working out, schedule a time for everyone to exercise together. Working out is not only good for you physically, but also improves mental and emotional wellness.
6. Watching videos together
Watching an inspirational or funny 15-to-45-minute video as a team can be a good bonding experience. Billy Boughey, author of Culture Reconstructed and founder and president of Elevate Experiences, suggested watching TEDx Talks. Motivational content encourages teams to talk and think about their vision and mission. During the video, leave your team's instant messaging box open so they can comment as they watch.
7. Online gaming
Employees who are part of an online gaming community can encourage the rest of their remote team to join in. Ye said this helps keep fun alive and allows you to get to know your staff on a different level outside of work. As an added benefit, your co-workers might be the assets your online crew needed all along to help you win.
Show-and-tell isn't just for kids. It's a chance for remote workers to share unique aspects of their lives. Schedule an online show-and-tell for your team and tell them to bring something they find interesting. It could be their child, a handstand they've finally perfected, a souvenir from a memorable trip or their new air fryer. You can even raise the stakes by turning it into a competition. Make some of your virtual team members a panel of judges and ship the winner a fun little prize.
9. Virtual scavenger hunt
This remote team-building activity is basically a scavenger hunt using common (or uncommon) items found around the home. The facilitator will have a list of things for each participant to find, and the first one back in front of their screen with the items – or the person who has the most of the requested items – is the winner.
Charades is always a crowd-pleaser and is sure to get some laughs from your remote team. Divide your employees into two groups and have them act out different people or activities over the video call. You can even create your own charade cards based on your industry. Your team can also play Heads Up, which is a charades game, by downloading the app on your phones.
11. Theme days
Treat your video conferencing calls like high school spirit week with a wacky hat or college sweatshirt day. You and your team can come up with your own ideas to incorporate various themes. Encourage them to get creative with their video conference photo, which could also be related to a daily theme.
"Put your favorite superhero in place of your photo for when your video is turned off," suggested Carole Stizza, executive leadership coach at Relevant Insight LLC. "Or change your video screen name to a famous person you would like to meet. If clients are not in on the meeting, the boss or team leader should help set the tone of fun, or at least give their OK to it so no one feels silly or mocked."
12. Rick roll
You've been Rick rolled before, right? This takes the idea and makes it into a game for the virtual office. The idea is to hide links to the Rick Astley video in innocuous places. Is there a morning memo going out? It can have a devious link. The focus of the game gives people a chance to relax and interact in a way that isn't strictly focused on work.
13. Virtual water cooler
A non-work-related group chat is an amazing community builder. In an office setting, people gather around the proverbial water cooler to talk about their weekends and all kinds of things that have nothing to do with work. A group chat can do the same thing for the virtual workplace.
14. Daily motivation buddies
This is an ongoing exercise that helps people feel less isolated while working remotely. The idea is that people are paired off (or put into small groups). Their job in this task is to send each other sources of motivation at the start of each day. It could be a silly poster or a meme. It could be a song.
15. Virtual happy hour
Obviously, this is best done outside of working hours. It is very much how it sounds: Teammates meet in a virtual space for drinks. They can share their favorite cocktail recipes, play games with each other online, and hang out.
16. Fitness challenge
This works well for non-virtual workplaces, too. The idea is to have teammates set fitness goals and compete with each other to complete them. It could be a weight loss goal, number of steps, time or anything else. Doing this annually helps promote good health among everyone, and the ones who get into the spirit of the competition can form strong bonds.
How should you take time for team building in meetings?
It's OK to keep team-building activities short so you're not hurting your team's workflow and productivity.
As a leader, you need to kick off your exercises with the right attitude. Explain the goals behind your virtual team-building ideas. Ye said employees might feel like the actual activities are pointless if you don't explain their purpose and value, so make sure the activities have a reason behind them and don't take up too much time. It's also helpful to appoint a team leader or facilitator for each virtual team-building exercise so activities don't drag on.
"Team-building activities and games must be purposeful and proportional to the overall timeframe for the business meeting," Ye said.
When scheduling team-building games or virtual meetings, it's also important to be mindful of all employees' time zones so everyone can take part.
Why is virtual team building important?
During stressful times, taking a break to engage in activities that build team spirit will help you and your employees maintain balance and positivity. There is nothing quite like face-to-face interaction, and because of COVID-19, many teams are working remotely. This physical distance between team members can create a shift not only in productivity, but in company culture and how people feel and operate as a team. Virtual team building helps bridge this gap and improves communication.
"Team building is the glue that binds the team together and allows for interactions similar to what you would have if you were face to face within an office setting," said Ann Nihil, operations and culture manager for Fracture.