6 Easy Virtual Team Building Activities Every Manager Needs

Ken Narita profile image June 2, 2020 | 5 min read

Virtual team-building activities can be the secret sauce to making your (and your remote teams’) video calls more productive and fun. With everyone working off-site and ‘alone,’ a quick warm-up activity will help build stronger connections, ward off loneliness, and increase work-from-home productivity.

Plus, ice-breakers don’t have to take long to set up and do. Moreover, just like having your work-from-home office essentials in place, the benefits are worth the effort:

  • Team members relax, boosting their mood and preparing them for an active meeting.
  • Quieter employees play a more active part in the call.
  • Managers and team members connect at a more personal level.
  • Team collaboration increases.
  • People start to look forward to their video meetings!

That said, not all team-building activities are created equal — some are great for the karaoke rockstar types but less so for the quieter team members. To make your ice-breakers successful and easy to set up, here are a few tips:

  • Make the team-building exercises simple and ‘universal’ (as in, not too far out of people’s comfort zones — at least in the beginning).
  • Keep everyone engaged by moving the activity forward at a good pace.
  • Set some simple ground rules about time (use a timer if necessary).

Whether you or your staff members are extraverted or on the reserved side, these fun activities are sure to make everyone’s workday better. Let’s jump in.

1. “What’s your favorite thing in the world (and why)?”

Once everyone’s on the call, kick things off with this “the world’s your oyster”-style question (remind participants to keep their answers short and sweet).

This opening question is about as low-risk as it gets. It’s also a great question to help everyone get to know each other better.

Go one step further and assign a scribe to record everyone’s response or have everyone respond in a dedicated Slack channel (or your collaboration platform of choice).

2. “Where were you born?”

Ask participants to say the city or state where they were born. They can also add a weird or interesting fact about the area (e.g., in Massachusetts, it’s illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder).

Asking people where they’re from creates opportunities to get to know each other better (it’s even more interesting for global teams).

Option: Create a shared Google map, and have everyone add their birthplace and an interesting fact. Have each person tell the group about their hometown.

3. “If you could live anywhere in the world for one year, where would you go, and why?”

Give everyone a few minutes to think about their dream location and why they’d like to live there for twelve months.

This is a thought-provoking question, as participants have to consider that they’re staying longer than a vacation but not forever. Use the question to get a conversation going about what would make the year-long retreat memorable or life-changing.

The question provides an opportunity to think creatively, share ideas, and inspire each other. It’s also a good morale booster — to escape to your virtual happy place.

Pro tip

Make your team-building activities a group effort. Ask your staff to:

Provide feedback — especially on the first few sessions (a quick email should do): What they liked or didn’t like. Most importantly: How they felt after the activity.
Lead the warm-ups for future calls and create a schedule.
What they’d like to do moving forward, including new and different activities.

4. Two Truths, One Lie

Ask everyone to tell the group three things about themselves; two will be true, and one will be false. The team tries to guess which one is false.

For example, Kelly in marketing might write: 1) I despise cantaloupe, 2) Growing up, I had a pet sheep, 3) My first car was a 1986 Yugo. Participants vote for the one that seems untrue.

This is a fun way to learn new things about each other and cultivate positive work relationships — especially when the ‘truths’ are surprising.

5. “Check out where I work!”

Ask everyone to take a picture of their desk to share with the group (or use their laptop camera to do a guided tour).

Seeing where your colleagues work brings everyone a little closer — no matter where they are in the world. It’s nice to get a visual on where your teammates get things done.

Another option is to have participants snap a picture of their desks and share them in a designated collaboration channel. For the ice-breaker, everyone guesses the owner of the desk.

6. “Explain what you do to a (virtual) five-year-old.”

Ask participants to explain what they do (their job or a project they’re working on) as if they’re telling a five-year-old. The other team members will play the role of the young audience. The would-be five-year-olds will pretend to know nothing about what the presenter does (if they’re familiar with their teammate’s job role) — and will ask questions to help them understand.

Whether you’re telling a stakeholder about the status of a project or explaining something complex (and unfamiliar) to your colleagues, getting your message across in easy-to-understand language is an essential communication skill.

Depending on who’s on the video conference call, consider putting people with different skills together. For example, the systems analyst could explain what he does to the community manager, and the software engineer could partner with the creative director.

Another option is to have participants record a conversation with a five-year-old (or their grandparents) and explain what they do (in one minute or less). Then they can share the video with the team.

This activity may require a little more effort and might push some people out of their comfort zone. However, the opportunity to improve everyone’s communication skills will be worth every role-playing minute.

Putting the ‘team’ in virtual team-building activities

As you get started doing ice-breakers, you’ll need to adjust the activities to suit your meetings and participants.

Over time, your remote-working staff might like to chip in and lead the team-building activities. For the best results, do the activities regularly and ask for participants’ feedback to ensure the exercises are effective and fun.

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