Remote team building activities are a great way to connect remote employees and teams. They can help break the ice with new remote workers and introduce them to colleagues in a more relaxed setting, as well as keep them connected and engaged over the long term.
This guide to the best virtual activities in 2022 explores why remote team building is important, as well as a range of activities you can try to get the ball rolling.
Why is remote team building important?
The rise of hybrid and remote working has brought with it a range of new challenges businesses need to address. While many employees enjoy the flexibility that remote working has to offer, there are downsides that can leave staff feeling demotivated and unsure of their future.
A report from the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics on remote working raises some issues that should be placed front and centre in any company with employees working from home. This report included the following worrying data:
- Employees who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted as all other employees between 2012 and 2017
- Similarly, if an employee changed to mainly working from home, where previously they were mainly based away from home, they saw their chance of being promoted fall by nearly half
- Employees who mainly worked from home were around 38% less likely on average to have received a bonus
An effective remote team building system plays an important role in addressing these and other issues closely associated with working from home. The lack of promotions for remote workers is in part a consequence of a lack of visibility, something that effective team building seeks to address.
When remote workers engage with one another in team building activities, everyone becomes more aware of how their role impacts others and the company as a whole. A sense of appreciation for relationships is cultivated and the recognition necessary for fair and equitable bonuses, pay raises, and promotions is present.
It’s easy for management to perceive remote workers in a different way to those who work on-site, forming false opinions about a remote worker’s work ethic, productivity, and level of commitment.
When team leaders and managers are involved with these team building exercises, many of the common biases and blind spots that they may have developed towards their remote workers are removed.
Challenges faced by remote teams
While remote workers face challenges around productivity, motivation, avoiding distractions, and striking the right work-life balance, remote teams must tackle additional obstacles.
Remote teams face challenges such as:
- Effectively managing projects with colleagues
- Putting in place the tools and processes to collaborate
- Maintaining a high level of productivity and tracking multiple tasks
- Coordinating work from different time zones and locations
- Building and maintaining trust while strengthening interpersonal relationships
There are great performance management tools available to help establish and monitor shared goals and keep remote teams on the right track. Whether setting objectives and key results (OKRs) or key performance indicators (KPIs), these tools can help individuals focus on team goals and properly delegate tasks.
The benefits of remote team building activities
When it comes to building relationships, remote team building activities are an essential method for achieving this objective.
Virtual team building activities:
- Help team members bond with one another, creating opportunities to chat on a formal and informal level and get to know each other as individuals, not just co-workers
- Encourage the development of problem-solving skills through activities and workshops designed to trigger lateral thinking
- Improve employee communication skills, getting people to share their thoughts on a wide range of topics and open up about themselves
- Boost employee engagement by encouraging a culture of feedback and recognition
- Identify employee strengths and weaknesses in a fun context that takes the pressure off and allows employees to reflect on their skills
- Address potential loneliness with remote working, capturing the spirit of “casual Fridays” and other workplace initiatives that help break down barriers
- Foster a culture of compassion and understanding, giving employees a morale boost to help keep them motivated
- Give insights into leadership potential, helping bring remote workers into any succession planning discussions the company is engaged in
This guide will help you to put together a wide range of virtual team building activities to help remote teams achieve these goals. You can also consult with remote employees and get them to suggest their own activities, giving them more ownership over the process.
How do you make remote team meetings fun?
Virtual meetings bring a different dynamic to the table compared to traditional face-to-face meetings in the workplace. Making sure these meetings are engaging and allow for everyone to communicate effectively is a challenge that needs to be addressed.
Different rules apply when conducting a virtual meeting, and the necessary software should be installed for all remote workers to make sure they can fully participate in the discussion. You should also make sure you have an online whiteboard set up if necessary, so presentations can be shared with all of the meetings’ attendees.
Once everything is set up and ready to go, it’s time to start the meeting. Virtual meetings can be prone to awkward silences and the occasional technical hiccup, so here are a few tips for how you can make them a little more fun.
Start the virtual meeting with small talk
This is a no-brainer, and is something all good managers will do in regular face-to-face meetings: start with some small talk. Small talk helps employees relax and ease into the meeting, lowering any potentially defensive postures and helping conversation flow more smoothly.
Have a dressing up day for meetings
With remote workers having full access to their wardrobes in a matter of minutes, having a dressing-up day where people can have fun with costumes is an easy way to brighten up a virtual meeting.
You don’t have to go full-on fancy dress for this (although that can be a lot of fun too), and can narrow it down to sunglasses, cool hats, favourite T-shirts, and anything else employees come up with.
Play “Spot the toy” in your office space
One of the interesting aspects of virtual team meetings with remote employees is getting a small insight into their personality in the form of their home office. A fun observation-based game is to take a small toy or ornament and move it around the office to different locations from one meeting to the next.
Other meeting attendees can then see if they can spot where the object has moved to from one meeting to the next, or simply have the person turn off their camera for a few seconds and move it somewhere else to see if anyone notices.
Play the “Freeze!” game
A common issue with video conferencing calls is when someone’s video feed freezes. When it happens for real it can be frustrating, but it can also be flipped on its head and turned into an amusing pastime to lighten the tone of virtual meetings.
Playing the “freeze!” game involves employees pretending their screen has frozen and holding their expression like a statue mid-sentence. The first co-worker to notice this and point it out to the rest of the meeting wins the round.
Have a lip-synch battle
Music can be a great way to help lighten the mood before any serious work-related discussions begin, and a lip-synch battle helps employees share their favourite songs with colleagues.
To hold a lip-synch battle in a virtual meeting:
- Let everyone know ahead of time you’ll be hosting a lip-synching battle
- Make sure they prepare with their chosen songs and any props to help sell their performance
- Set a time limit per participant
- Spotlight them on the call when it’s their turn
- Get everyone to rate one another’s performances, with bonus points for accuracy, theatrics, and energy
It’s a fun ice-breaker, and can really help to get remote employees’ energy levels fired up for the day.
20 remote team building activities to try
The list of virtual team building activities to choose from is endless, but to help get you started we’ve compiles twenty activities you can try now. Consider sending this list of activities to your remote employees and getting them to vote on which ones they’d most like to try first.
Daily gratitude commitments
Practising daily gratitude is a great way to ground yourself in an appreciation of the good things in life, from friends and family to colleagues you appreciate working with. You can encourage employees to keep a gratitude journal, sharing their thoughts with one another to get to know one another on a more personal level.
Get together in virtual book clubs
A person’s choice of books can say a lot about who they are, and virtual book clubs can help individuals say a little more about themselves through their favourite books.
Encourage each team member to put together a list of the books they’d like to share and take turns hosting a virtual meeting to discuss what they’ve read.
Host joint meditation sessions
Joint meditation sessions can help members of staff relieve stress and anxiety and start the day with a positive outlook. Organise meditation sessions that everyone can join to help address mental health issues for remote workers who may be struggling with loneliness.
Organise virtual workout sessions
If you want to up the energy levels among your virtual teams, try arranging virtual workout sessions. It’s easy for remote workers to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle without the need for a commute, so a workout can help them to keep in shape.
There are plenty of free workout videos on YouTube you can try, and if employees have access to kettlebells, these are ideal for simple yet versatile training sessions from home.
Start doing tours of remote working locations
Remote working location tours are another good way for employees to show their colleagues a little more of their personality. Before each team meeting, choose one member of staff to do a guided tour of their remote working space.
Whether it’s their impressive collection of records or carefully chosen artwork they’ve hung on their walls, a remote tour will give their co-workers an insight into what makes them tick.
Send ‘daily snapshots’
A daily snapshot can be of anything the employee wishes, from a meal they’ve cooked for guests to progress they’ve made with their garden. Each team member can send their own daily snapshot to help initiate interesting conversations about their interests and hobbies outside of work.
Try live remote coworking
One thing remote workers miss out on compared to their on-site colleagues is the ability to chat throughout the working day. With live remote coworking, employees share a continuous livestream with their peers, which helps to replicate the ad hoc conversations staff who share an office enjoy.
Play online games together
There is no shortage of great online games available to play, and these can be a great way to help remote workers get to know one another. Encourage employees to decide which game they’d like to play. If staff are console gamers, they could try getting together online for multiplayer sessions of their favourite titles.
Create a virtual break room
A virtual break room gives remote workers a space where they can meet virtually and chat freely. They are very easy to set up, with some performance management software compatible with Microsoft Teams, where dedicated virtual break rooms can be set up in channels.
GIF Wars virtual icebreaker
The GIF Wars concept works as a virtual icebreaker and gives employees the opportunity to praise their colleagues in a fun way. Get them to send a compliment with an accompanying amusing GIF to help break the ice and show recognition for a job well done.
Introduce ‘show and learn’ sessions
Show and learn sessions are popular in schools, where students are asked to put on a fun and informative presentation to the class about their interests. They’re just as entertaining as remote team building activities, giving staff the chance to share their skills and experience around a new subject their colleagues may not be aware of.
Take personality tests – and discuss the results
Personality tests are a fun way to discover more about yourself and share it with peers in virtual meetings. There are plenty of personality tests that you can find for free online, so make sure everyone uses the same test for more accurate comparisons.
Host remote workshops and classes
Encouraging remote employees to participate in remote workshops and classes not only helps to break down barriers, but it’s also an opportunity for them to upskill and expand their talent stacks.
You can use online courses, or arrange these workshops and classes via the company’s social intranet, where staff can post courses they recommend to others.
Enjoy lunch and dinner boxes together
Enjoying good quality food with colleagues is another tried and trusted method to help build relationships and strengthen connections. Employers can surprise their remote workers with dedicated lunch boxes and get virtual teams to connect via video call and enjoy the food together.
Connect team members that usually don’t work together
Virtual team building activities are great for helping remote colleagues connect, but they can also be used to help employees interact with staff outside of their teams and departments. These conversations bring insights into the bigger picture of how the company works.
Liaise with your HR department to access their people database to find the best fit for these meetings, and use them as an opportunity to share skills and knowledge.
Organise DIY and cooking activities
Whereas show and learn activities serve as a nice introduction to the various skills and interests of remote employees, DIY and cooking activities offer an opportunity to dig a little deeper into employee skills.
Encourage them to set up DIY and cooking activities others can participate in and share their own creations, offering different levels of difficulty depending on the prior experience of those involved.
Set friendly challenges
Setting friendly challenges can encourage motivation and a healthy degree of competition among remote working employees, and the scope of potential challenges is only limited by imagination.
For this team building activity, get employees to set their own challenges, whether it’s a fitness goal for individuals or something that teams can work together to accomplish.
Remote storytelling workshops & training (with experts)
Storytelling is a useful skill in a variety of circumstances, encouraging the development of language that can help improve presentations. It’s also a lot of fun, and you can set up storytelling workshops and training events with professionals.
Some courses will go into detail on how to properly construct a great story, and these skills could prove to be invaluable for employees in the future.
MTV Cribs: Remote team edition
This fun virtual team building activity takes its inspiration from the classic MTV Cribs show and is a variation on the remote working office tour. With this game, a remote employee is chosen as this week’s “celebrity” and hosts their own walkthrough of their home, showing off their prized possessions along the way.
A slack channel to post cute pictures of pets (quick & easy)
Everyone loves pets, and sharing cute pictures of your cats and dogs is another great conversation starter and icebreaker for virtual team members. It’s quick and easy, and all you need to do is set up a dedicated chat – for instance, a Slack channel – where remote employees can share pictures of their adorable pets.
How do you facilitate a virtual team building session?
There are a variety of ways you can facilitate a virtual team building session, from choosing the activity yourself to encouraging remote working employees to come up with team building ideas of their own.
You can start by setting aside designated times for these activities, for instance at the beginning of the week or on a Friday afternoon when everyone is looking forward to the weekend. You can use performance management tools to plan, schedule, and invite participants, and encourage them to use company forums and your company news feed to share ideas for future sessions.
Virtual team building activities are an essential method for team leaders and managers to help foster lasting relationships between remote working employees. There are activities to suit all tastes and personalities, so try out a few of the activities we’ve suggested here and encourage feedback from participants.
With team building activities improving morale, strengthening bonds, and encouraging engagement and motivation, they’re an effective tool for any business with employees working either remotely or hybrid.