One of the biggest drawbacks of a remote workforce is the lack of team unity. Physical separation leads to mental separation, but the effects can be mitigated with the use of regular team-building exercises.
In fact, Jeanne Wilson, professor of organizational behavior, has researched the subject. Her conclusion:
“…Communication and shared identity within a team can mediate the effects of physical separation.”
In a study of 733 work relationships across a variety of industries, Wilson found that “perceived proximity” was more important than actual physical proximity.
The virtual collaboration environment puts some limitations on team-building, of course. It’s hard to arrange a trust fall when your team lives in different cities. On the other hand, technology allows for a variety of new, clever team-building exercises to explore.
Virtual team-building exercises have a number of tangible perks for your team.
- They help remind your team members that the people they’re working with are talented and collaborative and can support each other.
- They can restore a sense of wonder, excitement, or passion for the work they’re doing as a team.
- They can build trust, among peers and managers, to help the more independent members of the team feel more secure.
What we’ve done for this post is compiled over 50 different team-building exercises you can put into use with your teams. They’ve been divided into categories based on their purpose, but many of them can be used in different ways, so feel free to take inspiration from or adapt items on this list for your own purposes.
Icebreakers are great team-building exercises primarily because they’re flexible. They can be fun little games to start off the meetings for the day, or they can be introductory exercises for new teams to get to know one another.
- The Rose and Thorn. Life always has its ups and downs. Go around the table and ask each team member to say one good thing that has happened since their last meeting, and one bad thing. Have your team leader start off to set the tone.
- Show and Tell. We all loved the show and tell presentations as kids, so why did we stop as adults? Using the icebreaker phase of your meeting to go around the table and have everyone show and tell something meaningful to them, whether it’s a collectible, a sentimental item, a pet, or anything else.
- Lateral Thinking. Ask a lateral thinking question and discuss the solution amongst the team. Not only does this challenge your team to think outside the box, but it also gets the brain warmed up for the meeting and the workday.
- Snapshot Discussion. Have everyone on the team take a quick picture of something around them – or give them 5-10 minutes to go out for a pic in the garden – and share the photos for discussion.
- Stranded! Your team is stuck on a deserted island. Give them a list of tools and items, and tell them they can only pick three. How do they survive with what they’ve chosen?
- Zoom Background Games. Challenge your team to come up with creative Zoom backgrounds and see who creates the most interesting, zany, or theme-relevant background for a given meeting.
- Sell It. Ask each team member to pick a mundane, boring item from nearby and sell it to the team as if it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
- X or Y. Pick two things, and have your team decide which one they prefer and why. Cats or Dogs? Winter or Summer? Coke or Pepsi? Keep them light-hearted.
- Two Truths and a Lie. A classic icebreaker: ask each person to put together three statements about themselves, and challenge the team to figure out which one is the lie.
- Blind Drawing. Assign one person an image or object, and ask them to guide the others on how to draw it without saying what it is. Limitations (like only using simple shapes and lines) can make it more fun.
- Guess the Image. Pick a photograph and zoom in extremely close to one part of it. Ask people to guess what it is while slowly zooming out until someone gets it right.
- Who Am I? Assign each team member a historical figure and ask them to come up with ways to describe themselves until someone on the team guesses who they are.
- Geographic Facts. Ask team members to pick a geographic location somewhere in the world and share an unusual, little-known fact about it.
Some team-building exercises are best as introductions, while others work better once your team knows the basics of one another. This selection of exercises serves to help your team get to know one another on a deeper level, so they can better understand each other and what they bring to the team.
- Virtual Quiz. Apps like QuizBreaker allow your team to input facts about themselves, and other team members to guess who is associated with which fact. Which team member can’t whistle? Which one won a paper airplane contest? The answers can make your team feel more like friends than just coworkers.
- Map Building. Start with a map and ask each team member to put in a pin in the place they were born and the place they currently live. Over time, expand the map by adding pins for favorite vacation spots, other places they’ve lived, and other location data.
- Day in the Life. To let your team get to know one another, each day, feature one of them with a “day in the life” or virtual tour of where they live and what they do each day. Introduce pets and children, show off entertainment setups or hobbies, the possibilities are endless.
- Big Issues Discussion. Pick a piece of big news or current events, share a news article about it with the team, and discuss it. Try to avoid anything too controversial or politically charged, though.
- Talent Show. Give everyone 1-5 minutes at the start of a meeting (picking a couple of people per meeting, if the team is too large), and have them do something. Read a poem, tell a joke, play an instrument, show off a hobby, anything goes.
- Pen Pals. Set up pairs of team members and start a pen pal program with them, complete with hand-written letters. Send everyone some envelopes and stamps to facilitate the process.
- PowerPoint Nonsense. Ask everyone to develop a quick three-minute presentation on a random topic (the more nonsense the better), and vote on the best presentation.
- Baby Photos. Ask everyone to find and upload a photo from their childhood and explain it, whether it’s a goofy school picture or a treasured memory. Try to be sensitive to those who don’t have much to draw from, though.
- 10 Things in Common. Get your team – or small divisions of a larger team – to spend some time coming up with 5, 10, or however many things they all have in common.
Office games in an in-person environment range from fun and exciting to gimmicky and boring. Virtual office games can take advantage of technology in new and interesting ways, to let your team leverage their creative skills, collaborate, or challenge one another in friendly competition.
- Musical Throwback. Play music over your call or meeting, and challenge your team members to identify it. Picking songs from 10-30 years ago tends to have the best results, but you may want to adapt this to the average age of your team.
- Scavenger Hunt. Put together a virtual scavenger hunt. Ask your team members to compile a completed list by taking pictures of various household items, local flora, or city landmarks, depending on the scale you want to stretch your exercise.
- Pictionary. The time-honored game of Pictionary can be played quite easily through a variety of online platforms, including Skribbl and Drawize, or even just screen-sharing a paint program.
- Spreadsheet Pixel Art. By using Excel or Google Sheets, ask your team to fill in cells to create pixel art. Either give them a prompt and see what they come up with or let them design whatever they like.
- Zoom Bingo. Develop a bingo sheet with items like “wore pajamas on the call” to “accidentally left muted/unmuted” and issue sheets to each team member before the meeting. See who gets their bingo first.
- Gif Conversations. Using an embedded gif tool in a service like Slack, or Google searched gifs, challenge your team to have a full conversation using nothing but these short animated images.
- Werewolf/Mafia. A common party game, each player is assigned a role, and the game progresses until either the “good” team is killed off or the “bad” team is identified. A huge array of rule sets and tools exist for this game, so check it out.
- Virtual Escape Rooms. Escape rooms are a growing trend, but they’re hard or impossible with a remote team. A virtual escape room, with a guided storyteller and digital assets, is a powerful alternative.
- Virtual Holiday Celebrations. Each meeting day, pick a holiday (every day is a holiday somewhere) and celebrate it in a quick and respectful way.
Sometimes you need more than a few minutes of time to prepare. These team-building exercises require more setup and investment, but they’re great for deeper than surface-level discussions and engagement within the team.
- Book Club. Putting together a book club requires getting your team to read on their own time, so try not to put too high a level of strain on their time. A chapter or two of a book is plenty. Discuss new chapters in each meeting.
- Movie Club. Similar to a book club, pick a movie everyone should have access to (free on YouTube, or verify everyone has Netflix/Hulu first), and have everyone watch it in advance. Discuss it at your next meeting.
- Origami. First, mail origami paper to everyone in your team. Then, using online instructions, have people put together origami items, from boxes to animals, and show off their constructions at the start of a meeting.
- Remote Meals. Taking the team out to lunch or dinner can be a great occasional team-building event, but it’s impossible for remote teams. Instead, issue everyone a budget and a simple recipe, or get everyone a meal box from a service like Blue Apron, and have a meal together remotely.
- Digital Pub Crawl. For the teams that like to drink together, do a virtual pub crawl. Pick noteworthy niche websites and visit them as a team, discussing their content over a drink for 15-20 minutes before moving on to the next. Just don’t do this as an icebreaker, or no one will get anything productive done at the meeting!
- Fitness Challenge. Particularly now, a lot of people are transitioning to working from home, and the lack of physical activity that accompanies it. Challenge everyone to set and strive to reach a fitness goal, and track progress at each meeting.
- Baking Challenge. Almost the opposite of a fitness challenge, give everyone a recipe and challenge them to make it. Maybe you’ll have a star baker, or maybe you’ll all nail it.
- Collaborative Storytelling. In a separate Slack channel or Teams room, start out a story prompt. Ask team members to go around each day and add one sentence expanding and continuing the story.
- Photography Challenge. Pick a theme and ask team members to spend a few days or a week photographing it. Share the best photos and vote for a winner.
If your remote team uses Slack as their primary chat channel, you’re in luck. Slack has a wide range of plugins and apps to give it extra features, and some of them are designed to be team-building games and extensions. Set up a few of them and encourage casual participation throughout the day.
- Donut. This app semi-randomly pairs up two team members for a one-on-one chat, with guided topics and activities.
- Simple Polls. You’ll need a resource to come up with the polls to create, but this app allows you to make polls and post them for your team to vote.
- PlayPlay. This is a virtual platform for a few simple games, including ping pong, chess, pool, and tic-tac-toe.
- JukeBot. This tool, combined with Spotify, lets you put together a collaborative jukebox playlist for your team. Get everyone to contribute their favorite relevant songs.
- Lark Icebreakers. This app has a bunch of built-in icebreaker questions that let your team get to know one another without needing to set up a complicated guided experience.
Tools and Resources
This last section isn’t so much team-building exercises as it is resources. These sites and tools are available to use, often for a small fee, and provide a platform, ideas, games, and tools to set up team-building exercises like those listed up above. Check them out and see which ones work best for your business.
- TeamBuilding.com. This website offers a handful of virtual team-building exercises, ranging from office games to kits that include a tiny DIY campfire to a tea and coffee box with guided brewing and meditation.
- Petri. Petri is a team-building game platform that offers a wide range of activities, from tea talk and yoga to trivia games and language lessons.
- Jackbox. The Jackbox party pages have a wide range of party games that can be played digitally. You may need more tech set up to run some of them, but most of them are great and make for some fun collaborative challenges.
- Tabletop Simulator. For the teams that like board games, Tabletop Simulator is a virtual tabletop with a huge array of built-in games and a custom engine to play your own games. Buy copies for the team and have some fun.
- The Go Game. This company is a unique team-building platform that provides hosted meetings with games, activities, a live DJ, and a leader to guide it all.
- Treasure Mountain. This is another virtual escape room style experience, with a full digital game available for small teams to play in competition with one another.
There you have it; a wealth of possible team-building exercises to help bring a virtual team together. Which ones work best for your team?
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.