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When employees are in the same location, it’s easier to form a connection to their colleagues. They can ask questions, chat, have lunch together, or go out for happy hours. But the modern workplace is changing, and remote work statistics show a clear trend towards more remote work: now a whopping 22% of Americans work from home—and nearly half of US workers are at least somewhat involved in some remote work. So, what do you do when your team is distributed across different locations? The solution is simple (but not easy): you have to do your team building virtually.
What is remote team building?
Remote team building is the process of turning individual workers into a cohesive team that works cooperatively to meet your customer’s needs, all while workers are distributed across different locations. It’s important because it’s proven to improve the efficiency and performance when groups trust each other and feel connected to a common goal.
Remote teams also miss the daily face-to-face interaction that allows for team-building in the office, so managers have to find new ways to help team members bond. But it’s not enough to just put your team in a video chat together and tell them to work together—it takes technique, skills, analysis, and observation to form a strong, capable team.
15 remote team building activities and games
When you’re managing a virtual team, team building is a challenge—but it is far from impossible even if your team is distributed across multiple time zones, especially with video calls and virtual team building activities. Whether you're playing a game that helps you bring your remote team together or exchanging funny photos of your dog on your Slack channel, it’s important to ensure that your team has an outlet where remote employees can be vulnerable and socialize outside the context of work. As a distributed company ourselves, we’ve learned a few tricks to keep our teams connected. Remote team building games can be a fun way to refine goals and dissolve monotony in meetings. Here are our favorite ice breaker games and trust-building activities to try with your employees for some good team bonding.
1. Rock paper scissors tournament
Open up your favorite video conferencing software and try a virtual version of this classic game in real-time. Two people will square off, the winner goes on to play the next person on the team, and so on. It’s a great way to test people's reflexes, responsiveness, and encourage spontaneity. It can even be a great warm up before a brainstorm!
2. Learn someone’s life story in five minutes
This is a great exercise in listening, mirroring, and also helps team members learn about each others’ interests and build relationships. To play, pair people into sets of two and set the clock for five minutes. Instruct them to tell their partner their entire life story at that time. After the five minutes or up, the listener has to relay the life story from memory to the group on the conference call.
3. The aliens have landed
This game can help teams with language and cultural differences strengthen the company culture. Tell the group to imagine aliens have landed on Earth and want to learn about your company. But since they don’t speak English or understand what you do, it needs to be explained with five symbols or pictures.
Ask each participant to draw five simple images that best describe and communicate your company’s products and culture to a shared document/folder. Take a few minutes and look at all the images and talk through common themes. This is a great trivia game that really lights a fire to the group chat during a virtual meeting.
4. The birth map
Another fun virtual team building game is the Birth Map. Print a map of the world or upload it to a shared document or online whiteboard. At the beginning of your meetup, engage your team and ask everyone on your team to put a sticker or a pin on the map to show where they were born. Then encourage everyone to share a short story about what they love most about the place they were born. This activity shows the diversity of voices represented on your team and allows people to share their cultural values and also share some fun facts about where they are from.
5. Mindfulness ice breaker
In this exercise, participants write down ideas, thoughts, or feelings they've brought to the meeting. People often enter meetings stressed about tasks they’re working on, or other issues. This helps them check in with themselves, and process these thoughts and feelings. They then rip up their answers, which allows them to maintain their privacy, then focus on group tasks ahead.
6. Two truths and a lie
This popular game works like this: Each team member tells the group three statements about themselves. Then, the rest of the team has to guess which of the three statements is a lie. It can encourage colleagues to pay close attention to personal traits and stories. As well as attention to detail, it also encourages focus on consistency. This could be a fun online game to play during a coffee break hangout and always results in some fun water cooler chit-chat.
7. A picture of your life
Ask every member of the team to join a shared document or an online meeting board before the meeting begins and post a picture of something from their life. It can be anything that will tell a story about who each member is or how they work: a picture of the shoes each member is wearing, the view out their window or a photo of their desk. Then ask them to share the story behind their picture.
Here at Miro, we used this ice breaker game before a remote workshop about User Personas. The task was to share a picture of something on your desk that tells a story about who you are or how you work. In addition to this, we shared one thing we learned recently. It was fun and surprising, allowing us to get to know each other more and set the casual atmosphere we needed for the workshop.
8. 10 common things
This game is good for starting a brainstorming session. Divide your team into small groups and ask them to spend 10 minutes coming up with a list of 10 things they have in common. If you prefer to keep the topic more business oriented, limit the list to work or industry-related topics.
It can be as simple as, “we all wear shoes,” to something more specific like, “we were all hired in 2014.” Regardless of the answers, it will create a bond, generate discussion and laughter, and get the group thinking creatively. Allow time for each group of remote workers to share their list with the larger team on the online whiteboard. This will create an electric, dynamic atmosphere, well suited to brainstorming.
9. Scavenger hunt
This versatile game often has fond childhood associations, and can be done anywhere, whether in the office or outside. In many creative ways, it uses a variety of skills, strategic thinking, and problem-solving methods, to find the hidden items. It can especially help people who might have different styles or don’t normally work together as a strong team.
10. Guess the artist
Before your next meeting, ask every remote employee to create an image or find a picture they can use to tell a unique story or fact about their lives. Everyone should upload their images to an online whiteboard in advance. At the beginning of the meeting, everyone puts stickers on each image, guessing whom each picture belongs to.
Then you can start to figure out together which picture belongs to which person. When a correct guess is made, that person needs to share their story with the group. Do this over video conference with an app that allows screen sharing like Google Meet or Zoom, so the speaker can include video for the storytelling and everyone can connect the name, face and story. When a correct guess is made, that person needs to share their story with the group.
11. Favorite things
In this collaborative ice breaker game, everyone on the remote team is encouraged to name their favorite thing. This exercise is useful because it can be adapted to align with the meeting goal, work environment or something more personal. Since the participants are all asked to name their favorite thing, there is no risk of getting the answer wrong. This works well for remote teams, because everyone can participate.
Here’s how it works:
Assign the “Favorite Thing” topic. Possibilities include “your favorite thing about the company” or “your favorite aspect of the product.”
Ask team members to find an image online and upload it to a picture sharing site, shared drive or online whiteboard like Miro.
Each employee should present their image and a short description to the group. It will stir the participants’ imagination and creativity and makes an ideal springboard to brainstorming.
12. A bucket list
Brian Scudamore, CEO of O2E Brands, asked his team to share a 101 Life Goals list. 'It’s a powerful way to learn about people and their dreams, as well as to generate ideas for future team-building activities,” suggests Brian.
You can use a shared document or an online whiteboard to keep all the lists. Like many other remote team-building activities, this exercise builds empathy and adds context to your everyday work.
13. One word exercise
Starting from your designated meeting topic, pick a phrase that relates to the central theme. Have participants write down a word that they associate with it. This game allows everyone to share hesitations and expectations, then focus on the task ahead.
14. Flat lay your desk
This is a remote team-building exercise we picked up from the 6Q team: “You could get your team members to take a flat lay pic of their desk and share it with the rest during your team meetings,” they suggest, adding, “A flat lay is basically a photo of items from directly above, and these items are usually arranged or styled on a flat surface.” Sharing the story behind an object can also be a good way to learn more about your colleagues’ personalities.
15. A tour guide
When your team members are remote, it can be a great idea to schedule an actual tour of each remote employee’s location. (Think: a professional version of MTV’s Cribs.) They can show their office space, guide the team through their home or a cool co-working space, or, if technology allows, livestream in the city and show the main tourist sights and secret spots.
You can use a live streaming service or a social network like Snapchat or Instagram. The result can be really exciting. This exercise is great for building empathy and giving each remote team member some context to understand their colleagues’ backgrounds (particularly great for international teams).
FAQ about remote team building
How do you build remote team cohesion?
Building remote team cohesion is more challenging than in an office: you need to make an effort to help employees connect with each other, openly communicate, and build relationships informally. Slack channels, team lunches, and games are a great way to do this.
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Do virtual team building activities work?
Yes! If you have your games and activities planned and everyone knows how to participate, then they should help break the tension and let people get to know each other.
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Which games and activities are best for remote team building?
The birth map and aliens have landed game are great at helping team members introduce themselves and get to know each other, while also helping build a company culture.
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