With more businesses moving to a hybrid or even completely digital workforce, it’s become more important than ever to keep employees engaged. It’s always been challenging to keep your team interested and motivated, but as millions of workers have learned, working from home presents its own obstacles.

So, what’s the best way to get employees excited about coming to work each day—even if their desk is the kitchen table? With virtual team-building icebreakers.

As we all navigate working in a remote team with the pandemic, team building is the missing piece. With the right activities, you can maintain a sense of culture and camaraderie, even without a physical office.

sample networking lounge in the vFairs environment

What is virtual team building?

In simple terms, team building consists of activities to have fun and build relationships. By removing some of the pressure your employees might feel during work, you can create a more cohesive team and work together even better.

Virtual team building creates activities so that everyone can feel at home (in a literal way, too!). No matter how good your remote onboarding during COVID-19 is, there’s still room to keep the culture growing after onboarding.

Why virtual team building matters

Good team building goes beyond just training employees remotely. Virtual team-building activities can help the company achieve its goals faster.

A common problem with remote workers is that they can be hesitant to communicate except for work topics. This lack of communication can slow down creative employee interaction, create silos, and stifle engagement. In fact, employee isolation has been shown to reduce productivity up to 21%, according to a study by Gallup.

With creative icebreakers, you can foster a more creative, communicative, and inclusive team culture. You may even be able to boost engagement and the bottom line for your business while making employees happier.

Why it’s important for remote teams

While team building can help any kind of remote work, it’s essential for newly remote teams. Groups that are used to being in an office together can enjoy the structure virtual activities provide.

Outside of virtual events and online exhibitions, many employees only see each other when there’s a conference call scheduled. Ice breakers help create interaction with people who might not see each other otherwise. In fact, socializing on a virtual team can improve communication patterns by up to 50%, according to a report by Harvard Business Review.

How to direct team building as manager

It might sound simple to create virtual team-building activities, but you need to keep a few principles in mind to make the activities as effective as possible.

First, create a more relaxed environment for the ice breakers and don’t tie them to work rewards or consequences. Some activities might involve a little fun competition, but don’t let it affect work or create sour feelings.

You’ll also want to make it a ritual to improve culture over the long term. Include regular ice breakers at different times of the week or before scheduled calls. A unified communication system can help you synchronize events across voice, video, live chat, SMS, and more. This way your team can engage on the channels they prefer.

And finally, mix it up. Use various activities to keep employees interested. We’ve listed a handful of these activities below.

product mockup of team meeting through an embedded Zoom breakout room

Top virtual team building activities

These popular team-building activities are sure to be a hit at your workplace. We’ve divided up the ideas into five categories so you can decide where each one should fit based on your team’s culture and schedule.

Get to know you

These activities are great for learning more about other people on the same team. You can include them as part of your virtual onboarding plan or just include them in online meetings.

    • Bingo. Create or download a bingo board with characteristics to check off based on members of your team. These can be work-related (“Worked here 3+ years”) or more personal (“Traveled to 3+ continents”).
    • Scavenger hunt. Learn what other people appreciate with this fun game. Have participants find items from their surroundings and share them on video, like “Your favorite writing tool” or “A personalized mug.”
  • Pancakes vs. waffles. In this game, participants debate which of two choices is best, starting with pancakes and waffles. Then the winning choice is compared with something else, and so on.

sample leaderboard from vFairs event showcasing points and prizes

To start a meeting

Team meetings can be tedious, so these simple activities can be a great way to get your employees energized and excited.

  • Icebreaker questions. Hearing others answering questions is a great way to get your team thinking collaboratively. You can start with fun questions, like “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” and move on to deeper questions, like “What’s the most meaningful trip you’ve ever been on?”
  • Find something in common. This game works for small groups or large groups split into breakout rooms. Everyone in a group needs to find something unexpected they have in common, like their favorite color or where they grew up.
  • Photoshoot. Start the call with a screenshot of the team, but add a special requirement each time. For example, with a pet in the frame, making funny faces, or holding a sticky note with a message. Just make sure everyone on your team is aware their photo is being taken and ask for their permission if you have plans to post it on social media!

product mockup of interactive webinar polls through vfairs

Complex games

Not all work needs to be tedious, and not all games need to be unrelated to work! These activities are a great way to make a work project interesting and expand your team’s creativity.

  • Decision making. Have a round-table discussion with your team about a decision they need to make. To make the process as productive and enjoyable as possible, create a structured agenda ahead of time.
  • Brainstorming. Gather your team and ask for answers to an open-ended question—some of the best questions start with “how could we…?” Use virtual note-taking software and encourage participants to build off ideas with their own.
  • Mind mapping. This activity is similar to brainstorming but involves more structure. You’ll want to use mind mapping software to list ideas across related branches. You might be surprised with what your team comes up with!

Just for fun

Make team building ongoing by adding one of these fun activities to your schedule every week. 

    • Lunch and learn. Invite an outside expert, watch a TED talk, or have a coworker host a session on a topic they’ve recently discovered. This activity serves two purposes—it’s team bonding and learning wrapped into one.
  • Play an interactive game. You can host a round of mafia, play an online game together, or even check out a virtual escape room. Escape rooms especially can be an excellent chance for collaboration.
  • Host a memory challenge. Divide the session up into groups of 2-4, and have each team try to write down as many items in a category as possible in a set time limit. The category could be countries, U.S. states, elements from the periodic table, or anything else.

Virtual happy hour

Structured events are great, but sometimes your team will want a teambuilding activity without a virtual event plan. Invite everyone to prepare a drink at home and enjoy one of these party games.

  • Pub trivia. Create a list of trivia questions—or download one online. Play a trivia night, or make it an ongoing event with everyone taking a turn as host.
    • Jeopardy. Use the classic Jeopardy rules for a fun real-time game during your virtual happy hour. You can offer small prizes for winning teams!
  • Charades. Create a list yourself or use an online charades generator to find topics. When it’s someone’s turn, have them go on mute and act out what they’ve drawn.

Remember, not everyone on your team may drink alcohol. In that case, you should check out alternative ways to host virtual happy hours that are inclusive to non-drinkers.

vfairs networking lounge

Ongoing challenges

Just because you keep your team engaged and company culture thriving when you’re working together doesn’t mean the fun has to stop between each video call!

  • Have a tracking challenge. Let employees track healthy habits, hours of deep work, and more with a shared spreadsheet. Working from home can be taxing, and a little healthy peer pressure can encourage habits they’re missing out on.
  • Tournament with brackets. Designate one night each week for playing games, and have an ongoing tournament where coworkers are matched against each other and compete to play in the next bracket.
  • Virtual “water cooler” thread. If you use a messaging application like Slack, set up a channel for non-work conversations. Ask questions to break the ice and get employees to interact with each other.

Next steps for virtual team building

Which of these virtual icebreakers will you use at your next team meeting? Consider finding your favorites and explain them to your team. Repeat it a few times until everyone understands, then add a new activity to mix it up!

After a few virtual team-building sessions, start to build out a cadence. Use your calendar app via your email to build out bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly team-building activities. This will give your team something to look forward to when a regular cadence is established.

Over time, you’ll build a library of icebreakers your team knows, and you can keep everyone engaged in just a few minutes. If you’re serious about improving your culture and bottom line, that’s a return on investment you can’t miss.

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