Virtual Team Building
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
What Is Virtual Team Building?
It’s no secret that workplaces are evolving. With numerous companies moving to fully remote work, engaging and creating a sense of belonging within your team is now more important than ever. While there are many ways to cultivate a sense of belonging in your remote workforce, one of the most effective is virtual team building.
Virtual team building is a set of activities that helps develop, unify and build trust among team members. These activities help foster that human connection which makes strong teams so successful. When done correctly, virtual team building has the ability to make remote teams feel just as close-knit as those working in office.
Why Building a Strong Virtual Team Is So Important
Games and activities at work should not be an end in themselves. After all, they obviously do not directly get any work done. Playing a game over Zoom means an accountant isn’t working on a spreadsheet and a sales rep isn’t making calls.
However, when used purposefully, online team building games improve attributes that may seem intangible, but can actually be measured through metrics like employee retention. They can end up saving your organization hassle and money, as well as making work more enjoyable and productive overall. Some notable outcomes of these activities include:
- Higher morale. When employees bond during virtual team building games, they often like each other more and feel an increased motivation to help each other with shared goals during regular work hours.
- Better retention. When team-building games increase motivation and morale, employees feel more positively about work and have less reason to look for other jobs.
- Greater employee engagement. As team members get to know each other and work more closely to achieve organizational goals, they are naturally more engaged. They start to care more about your company and their teams.
- Stronger relationships. Virtual team building has been proven to forge better working relationships between colleagues and lead to higher levels of happiness.
- Improved productivity. Virtual team building encourages employees to collaborate and often improves workplace communication. You know what they say: teamwork makes the dream work!
- Reduced loneliness. Let’s face it: remote work can get lonely. Virtual team building helps create a sense of togetherness among teammates and has been shown to improve the mental wellbeing of employees.
What You Need for a Successful Team Building Experience
To ensure your team building works, you’ll want to choose activities that are engaging, insightful and fun. (Otherwise, you may end up with a Zoom meeting full of people aimlessly scrolling through TikTok.) Here’s what you’ll need to have a successful team building session:
How will you facilitate the exercise? Through Zoom? Skype? You’ll want to ensure all team members have the tools needed to participate. The majority of virtual team buildings utilize web cameras, microphones and speakers, so make sure every participant has these — whether it be a set of individual devices, or an all-in-one combo.
It’s important to consider your team’s schedules when planning these exercises. Remember to be mindful of their time and take note of any important deadlines and projects when scheduling the session. Think about employee time zones and outside obligations, such as picking up children from school or pre-scheduled time off.
3. A Game Plan
Take time and establish your game plan. What do you hope to accomplish by facilitating this exercise? If you’re unsure what to accomplish, you can always request individual feedback from your staff beforehand. Team building is most impactful when it doesn’t feel like a chore to employees, so plan accordingly. You can also have a team building session just for fun!
Collecting feedback after a team building session is critical to evaluating how impactful it was and whether or not you achieved the objective you intended. Some ways to collect feedback include a post-meeting survey, a set of short questions for participants to answer throughout or perhaps a “raised hands” poll at the end of the event.
When to Do Team Building
To maximize impact, you’ll want to plan the frequency of your team building sessions strategically. Here are four of the best ways to implement virtual team building into your company schedule:
Add-ons to Team Meetings
To start your weekly team meetings on the right foot, or to spice up Friday’s daily call, try opening with an activity that addresses a challenge in your team (such as communication) or something fun to celebrate the end of the week.
Recurring Team Building Meetings
One good way to ensure you have time designated for team building is to schedule a recurring meeting dedicated solely to this. These meetings can last around an hour and should consist of no more than one to three activities. Sessions like these are most effective when implemented bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly.
Recurring Team Building Days
Consider holding a bi-annual or annual “Team Building Day.” You can try assessing your team’s challenges and facilitate some exercises to address them — squeezed between an icebreaker and one or two activities that are just for fun.
When New Hires Join the Team
Icebreaker and just for fun activities are great for making new team members comfortable and can go a long way in helping start them off on the right foot. Try to schedule these within a new employee’s first three days.
How to Set Up a Productive Virtual Team Building Activity
Virtual team building activities can be tricky, but when done right, they make a lot of difference. Most organizations go about it the wrong way and end up wasting time and resources, but the following methods will help you set up a successful virtual team building session.
Step 1: Create a Team That Will Plan the Event
No one can coordinate an event on their own, and division of labor is necessary to ensure the virtual team-building event runs. Start by choosing some individuals among staff that are competent, and have them come up with a plan to have a successful virtual event.
Step 2: Identify the Purpose of the Team Building Activity
Most organizations toss all sorts of activities into one session and expect their staff to build confidence, loyalty, trust, discipline, and other traits—but it doesn’t work that way. You should first make a list of characteristics that you are trying to improve among the staff members, then tailor each to a specific session.
Step 3: Set a Timeline
This is important because there are many logistics to consider when it comes to every team member’s schedule. Making things even more complicated, you also have to consider the time zones of each remote worker. One way to find a good time for the activity could be to create a questionnaire and have the staff choose between a specified range of dates.
Step 4: Have a Well-Planned and Detailed Itinerary for Each Session
For each session to be successful, the team must prepare activities or games. A fixed time should be set for each activity performed during that session. Have a list of games relating to each session and make a poll to enable the staff to decide on the games they would most like to play in each session. The sessions should not be long—you want to ensure active staff participation but end the activity before people start getting bored.
Step 5: Choose a Reliable Virtual Event Platform.
Now that you know which activities you’ll be doing, it’s time to choose a platform. This step is done at this point because the activities that are going to be carried out at each session may not be able to work with specific virtual event platforms.
Step 6: Create the Budget
The virtual meeting may need funds, just like a physical event would (though often, virtual meetings cost less than physical ones). If you have a larger budget, you can give rewards like coupon codes, free vouchers, etc., to winners of games. Here, you’ll also want to consider the cost of the virtual platform you’re using. Depending on the number of people you have, you might need to upgrade, which would take up some of your budget.
Step 7: Get Ready for the Activity
These are final preparations made by going through the previous steps and making sure the event would continue as scheduled and making sure the team is set.
Finally, make sure to collect feedback after the virtual team building session. This will enable the team to know what they did wrong and how it can be improved upon.
22 Team Building Activities Your Remote Team Will Love
To help you get started, I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite virtual team building activities. This list is not inclusive, but provides several exercises that any team will enjoy!
Have a new team member or want to start a meeting off right? These activities are great for “breaking the ice” and fostering community among your team. Icebreaker activities are also great for use in new hire orientations.
1. 3 Facts and a Fib
Time: 5-10 minutes per person
How to: Each team member thinks of three true facts about themselves and one equally believable fib. Then the “It” person shares theirs with the group, whose job it is to guess which of the four statements is the fib. After all participants guess, the person who is “It” reveals which one was the fib. The game concludes when all participants have shared.
2. Pancakes vs Waffles
Time: 20+ minutes
How to: Pancakes vs Waffles is a game where you make decisions collectively as a team. For round one, your team decides on whether the world is going to keep pancakes or waffles, and the other is to be removed from existence. Everyone advocates for their favorite choice and ultimately a vote of majority makes the decision. After one option is eliminated, you add a new competitor. (For example, the game may become Waffles vs Pumpkins, and then Waffles vs Puppies, and then Puppies vs Kittens, and then Kittens vs Cell Phones, etc.) The game ends when the facilitator wraps up.
3. Play-Doh Animals
Time: 15 minutes to create, 5-10 minutes for each person to share, 5-20 minutes for wrap up
Price: $0.50 – $10 per team member (depending on shipping)
How to: Each team member purchases one container of Play-Doh. (Alternatively, you can purchase and ship a container to each team member’s home address.) Each team member creates an animal (real or imaginary) that they believe represents them. Then, once everyone is done, each takes turns showing what they created to the group and describes why they chose that animal. At the end, the facilitator highlights the similarities and differences in the team, taking mental note of individual strengths and weaknesses. The facilitator should create an animal as well so their team can get an understanding of why they chose that animal.
4. Icebreaker Questions
Time: 2-5 minute per team member
How to: This activity can be a short addition to any meeting. Before the regular and possibly difficult discussion, help people get into the discussion mode with fun and stimulating questions. Keep scouring the internet for new ones, such as:
- What is your morning beverage of choice and why?
- What is your favorite way of fighting distractions while working from home?
- In a zombie apocalypse, what three people do you want watching your back
5. Getting-to-Know-You Quiz
Time: 2-5 minutes per team member
How to: Before your meeting, have all team members turn in several unusual or surprising facts about themselves and their history. Then the facilitator will read each fact (or state it in their own words) and have team members guess who it is about. Give a point for each correct guess, but emphasize that everyone wins by building camaraderie and understanding.
6. Real Life Pictures
Time: 2-5 minutes per team member
How to: Ask employees in advance to take a picture (or select one in their library) to share with the group. It should reveal something about them in their normal life, such as the view from their window, their family, a pet, their most-used mug, or their favorite TV show. Have them show the picture and explain why they chose it. This is helpful for getting to know new hires.
Communication and Collaboration
These activities are best used for improving communication and collaboration among teammates.
7. PI Personality Test
Time: 5-10 minutes for test, 15-20 for each share
How to: In advance of the meeting, each participant takes the free Predictive Index behavioral assessment. Then, they take note of which personality type they received. The facilitator creates a free account after completing their test and once everyone has finished, the facilitator collects the results and discusses everyone’s personality type with all attendees. This allows attendees to gauge a better understanding of their co-worker’s preferences and working personality.
Note: The Predictive Index offers a paid program; however, the behavioral assessment linked to above is currently available to anyone free of charge. There are many tests out there with a similar purpose, but this one is two questions and free, so it is great for low-budget team building.
8. You’re on Mute
Time: 2-5 minutes per player
How to: One person (Player 1) mutes their microphone so no one can hear them but they leave their video on so everyone can see them. Then, Player 1 says a sentence while on mute and the attendees have to guess what they have said within the timeframe (recommended 2-5 minutes). Player 1 cannot correct them, but can re-mouth the words if needed. After the phrase is guessed correctly or time runs out, someone else goes until all attendees have participated.
9. User Manual
How to: Each team member creates a “User Manual” that describes their working preferences. The facilitator should provide a template to the team that everyone can fill out. Once complete, the manuals can be stored in a shared drive for everyone on the team to reference. This manual can answer questions such as “How I like to communicate,” “How I like to receive feedback,” etc.
Note: This is also a great activity when onboarding new team members. Try having new hires add to the existing index of user manuals.
10. Zero to Hero
Time: 10-15 minutes for groups to discuss, then 5 minutes for a group discussion
How to: Using your video conference software’s breakout session feature, have team members split into pairs for a limited time. They take turns: One explains a negative incident from their past, and the other tries to reframe it to highlight a positive aspect or result from it. Then, the partners switch roles. Bring the group back together and briefly discuss what you all learned.
11. Solving Mock Problems
Time: 30-45 minutes
How to: Create a simulation of a business challenge. Give the team a made-up (but typical) task or project, including goals, guidelines, and a time limit. Have them brainstorm possible solutions and make decisions. Then, give them feedback about the positive aspects of their process and solutions. Help them learn principles and practices they can use in workplace teamwork.
12. Debate Club
Time: 5 minutes to think of arguments, 10-15 minutes per debate
How to: Give pairs of team members challenging issues and opposing points of view to defend. They have a few minutes to think up arguments and then present them. Encourage other team members to applaud if they appreciate their effort. But the rule is that they must practice good manners no matter how much they disagree. Discuss how this skill can transfer to workplace disagreements.
13. Reflections and Resolutions
Time: 2-5 minutes per team member
How to: At the end of a year—or any time—organize a virtual meeting with some snacks. Spend time allowing each person to reflect on an accomplishment from the past year and a resolution for the next year. Team members should encourage each other and show that they’ll support each other in their goals.
These activities are unique and can be done at each team member’s convenience — no meeting required! A great way to implement these activities is through software like Slack, Microsoft Teams or another group chat app.
14. How are You Feeling?
How to: Create a separate group chat or post for team members using your company’s chat app software. Each day or week, ask team members how they are feeling. Team members respond using only emojis or gifs. This is a great way to do a temperature check on your team and instill some humor into everyone’s day.
15. Gif War
How to: Similar to the “How are You Feeling?” activity, create a separate group chat or post for team members to respond to a scenario. The facilitator posts a scenario (i.e. “When you forgot to save a document before closing Word”) and each team member must respond to the scenario with a gif. The funniest gif wins and the person who wins decides the next scenario. Great for comic relief!
16. Check Your Knowledge
How to: Create a separate group chat or post for team members using your company’s chat app software. Each week, ask the team a question meant to test their knowledge. This should be a question or scenario related to their daily work (i.e. you might ask an HR team: “Someone comes to you with a complaint against their manager. How would you conduct an internal investigation?”). This is a great way for team members to brainstorm and learn from each other. To mix it up, you can have other team members ask questions or provide additional information to make the question more interesting.
Just for Fun
These activities are purely for entertainment. They help team members bond, encourage a laugh and are a great way to break up workplace monotony.
17. PowerPoint Improv
Time: 10-15 minutes per player
How to: All participants prepare a five-to-eight slide PowerPoint beforehand and send them to the facilitator. The slides should contain no words, except for a generic title on the first slide. All other slides should contain photos (such as photos of funny looking birds or people dancing). The stranger the title and the more it contrasts with the pictures the better. (For example: a PowerPoint titled How to raise your children” with photos of various exotic birds throughout.) Next, the facilitator sends one PowerPoint to a random participant right before the meeting. This participant must give a presentation based on the slide’s title and the pictures contained within.
Note: Have fun with this one! This one is sure to be full of laughs.
18. Remote Pictionary
Time: 2-5 minutes per player
How to: Instruct each participant to open their computer’s Paint app (or equivalent) at the start of the meeting. Select a team member at random to be “It” and send them an object, concept or subject they must draw via private message. The “It” participant must draw this object in their Paint app using screen share and cannot reveal what they are drawing. They must also use the mouse to draw and cannot use their hand or pen on a touchscreen device. Other attendees must try and guess what the “It” person is drawing. The round is over once the object is guessed. The person who correctly guesses what the “It” person is drawing becomes the next person to be “It.”
19. Tiny Campfire
Time: 90 minutes
How to: Brought to you by Tiny Campfire, this activity consists of a virtual campfire that includes historic ghost stories, icebreaker games, little competitions and real s’more making. It’s all the fun of a real camp night, with no mosquito repellent required. Before your event, Tiny Campfire sends you and your team a tiny campfire kit. On camp day, they send each team member a link to a video conference room and run the experience. The facilitators help create high spirits, engagement and shared memories for your team.
20. Drawing Game
Time: 15-20 minutes
How to: Have one team member at a time describe a photo only they can see while the other team members try to draw it from the description. Revealing their drawings often leads to laughter and insights.
21. Movie Night
Time: 1-3 hours depending on movie length
Price: Cost of subscription service
How to: SnackNation suggests giving your team the feeling of going to the movies together. Popular apps such as Netflix and Hulu have watch party features, which you can use to watch entertaining and/or educational movies or shows. Encourage healthy snacks during the viewing and have helpful discussion questions afterward to get team members to chat about what they saw for a short time.
22. Jackbox Games
Time: 10-20 minutes per game, depending on the amount of people
Price: Party packs (which include several games) are about $30
How to: Once you buy Jackbox games, they’re yours forever, and only one person in the group needs to own the game for everybody to play. Just choose the pack you want to purchase, and you’re ready to get started! There are a variety of games to choose from, including word games, trivia, drawing games, and more. The only thing players need is a phone to input their responses. Jackbox is a great way to have fun, learn how people think, and laugh together. Since the number of players is limited, this is best for smaller teams.
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Preston is a senior talent partner with experience building and leading recruiting functions for healthcare, education, and tech companies. Presently, he is the head of talent acquisition at Parallel Learning.
Preston holds several certifications. In addition to sourcing and recruiting, Preston specializes in talent strategy, candidate experience, hiring process design, recruitment marketing, and onboarding.