15 Virtual Team Building Activities & Games To Actively Engage Your Remote Team

Marcel Tit

Written by

Marcel Tit

Read Time

10 minutes

Since working from home has become the new norm, project managers and team leaders in particular have a hard time keeping their teams engaged and motivated.

Sure, it was much easier to build culture when everyone was in the same place. Colleagues could talk with each other about whatever topic, in a break, during lunch, or even after work hours, as well as pick up non-verbal cues like a sarcastic tone much faster, which meant they were better equipped at solving conflicts and building relationships with one another.

With remote work though, we rarely have the chance to talk with our colleagues about something other than work. Loneliness starts to creep in, sapping our motivation and performance eventually – if not addressed early on.

The solution? Build trust through virtual team building activities.

Why virtual team building?

Just like regular team building, virtual team building aims at creating a safe environment where remote workers can be themselves and blow some steam off, while coming together as a team. Only this time, everybody is seated at their individual desks… or kitchen tables.

It’s important because teams who trust their colleagues, both in character and capability, are more willing to step out of their comfort zones and pursue a common goal. And effective, if practiced on a regular basis. You can’t slap a one-time spontaneous event, then expect all to follow suit and be charged up again.

15 virtual team building activities and games

Assuming that both you and your team have a stable Internet connection and use collaboration software like Paymo, Slack, or other affordable, all-in-one pm tools that are not so different in scope, here are 15 team building activities and games that will bring the team spirit back.

We’ve divided them into 3 categories, depending on the goal you have in mind:

Ice breaker activities

Meeting online implies a bit of idle time. There might be some technical difficulties or someone didn’t arrive yet. Until you fix them, use ice breakers as a way to warm up your team and set the stage for more complex activities.

1. Opening questions

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 5 minutes

We’re starting with the most obvious one on purpose. Not because it’s a no brainer, but because how you start a meeting sets the tone for how it will further unfold. So allow your team to make small talk here and there, as this loosens up the atmosphere and helps them catch up on each other’s lives – something that is given in an office, but not in a remote environment.
Keep it casual and do it right after you enter the video conference. Or, lay out a few organized questions as reference points in a collaboration tool. Here are our favorites:

  • What was the last dish you cooked?
  • What new cool TV series/animes/films have you discovered over the weekend?
  • Have you been on a trip lately? If yes, where and how was it?

2. Online riddle

You’ll need: Slack, Paymo
Time: 10-15 minutes

Not all those who attend meetings are fully energized. Some might have just woken up, some are struggling with their kids, while others are still thinking about the tasks ahead of them. 

Bring everyone’s focus in the moment with riddles. Find them on your own or go to Riddles.com for inspiration (they come with answers too). When you’ve found one, login to a work management platform like Paymo and start a discussion with your team to see who can crack it first. This simple exercise kicks our brain gears, making sure we’re giving our undivided attention to what’s next.

team-discussion

Riddle inside a Paymo discussion

3. Word association

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 10-15 minutes

This is another great activity to help your team focus before a meeting, only more inclusive and straightforward. Just ask your colleagues to summarize the meeting topic in a one word – nothing less, nothing more.

For example, you might be holding a meeting about your company’s positioning, so you ask your team to pick one word that best describes it. They could answer with “strong”, “inconsistent”, “work-in-progress”. No matter the answer, this exercise allows you to discover their view points and assumptions that led to these summaries in the first place. Ultimately, you want to clarify issues or goals together, before diving into the meeting agenda.

4. Birth map fun facts

You’ll need: Slack
Time: 10-15 minutes

Working in a distributed team has a positive impact on decision making and creativity in general, as team members with diverse personalities and perspectives can bounce off each other to arrive at never before thought solutions.

Cherish these melting pots at all costs. Download a map of the world and upload it in a collaboration tool. Then ask colleagues to point where they were born and list a few fun facts about it. Some might be fanatic supporters of their hometown (me included), so let them go the extra mile and present a one page slider. For instance, did you know that Oradea is the home of the 3rd largest synagogue in Europe? Anyway, this activity can be a good opportunity to learn about each other’s culture and allow everyone to bring in their unique quirks.

5. Open mic

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 15-20 minutes

Remember how in kindergarten you and your classmates stood in a circle and took turns to recite poems and do gigs? This time, it’s not so embarrassing, promise.

Give each of your team members the chance to take the stage for 1-2 minutes before a meeting, with breaks of 15 seconds between performances. During this time, they can sing a song, tell a joke, show off their knife cooking skills – whatever rocks their boat. The purpose of this ice breaker is to share mutual hobbies and small guilty pleasures, that in return will prime the team to contribute more deliberately.

Teamwork activities

Now that you’ve warmed up, it’s time to actually practice a few activities to bond together and improve team cohesion. You’ll know that you’re successful when you feel a greater connection with your colleagues, even though they’re miles away.

6. Personality test (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator)

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 30 minutes

How well do you know your colleagues, professionally? I’m not talking about their LinkedIn activity or latest credentials, but about their preferred way to communicate, handle conflict, and contribute to the overall team.

Find out by taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. The original one capitalizes on Carl Jung’s theory that our behavior is influenced by four psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. These are further translated into four categories that combined together, result into 16 personality types.

Take the survey at 16personalities.com (we found this to be the most user friendly one) to get an accurate profile of your personality type. Not only will you find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie, but also which characteristics make you compatible with other types and how to efficiently deal with them. If you want to throw in some fun, google your type followed by “famous people”. I’m ENTP, the same as Celine Dion, although I suck at singing 😅

7. Office trivia

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 30 minutes

Competition in the right context can be stimulating. Especially when it’s about reinforcing your company values and making sure everyone practices them, even at home. 

For this, play the virtual, more dynamic version of the traditional office trivia. Prepare between 20-25 more and less serious questions about your company, like “When was it established?”, “Who are your ideal customers?” or “How many people called Andrew are there in total?”. You get it. Only this time, you’re also giving hints in the form of a first letter, multiple choice, or numbers to create confusion.

Here’s the fun part. Group all the participants into teams of 3, with a representative who will use a “buzz” like sound to alert you when they have the answer. The buzz sound has to be chosen at the beginning and can’t be further changed. Note that some – like a chicken squeak – can steal some laughs from the others and buy you more time. The team with the most correct answers wins. Entertainment is guaranteed while you’re doing an enjoyable value check!

8. Fake podcast

You’ll need: a video/audio recording tool, Google Drive
Time: 1 hour

Working in a cross-functional team makes it hard to put ourselves in our colleagues’ shoes. If hiccups show up during the handoff process (and they sure will), you risk drawing the wrong conclusions, especially if you’re a marketer trying to get developers or vice-versa.

Prevent this from happening, host a fake podcast. During this virtual activity, pair up team members with one another and have them interview each other about their job roles and responsibilities. The interviews (no longer than 10 minutes) need to be recorded in audio or video format and uploaded on a shared platform, so the whole team can access them.

This exercise builds a lot of empathy, as everyone discovers how a usual work day looks like for each of their colleagues. No more blaming the marketers for “slacking off” or the developers for “delayed updates”. You’ll just understand that we’re all on the same boat, doing our fair share to move it in a common direction.

9. Share a goal

You’ll need: Slack, Paymo
Time: 20-30 minutes

Formal policies don’t necessarily translate into a trustworthy team. Rather, strong teams are built on a foundation of trust and support, both at and outside of work.

So, encourage your colleagues to share their non-work related goals with the rest of the team, why they are important, and when they want to achieve them. You can even keep lists in a collaboration tool so they’re visible at all times. Then, ask about their progress as they’re approaching deadlines.

Yes, it’s a little scary to have your dreams visible in plain sight. But there are benefits on both sides. ”Dreamers” get the much needed help and support from people close to them, while ”supporters” learn more about the true nature of their colleagues outside work. Overall, the whole team becomes more accountable, knowing they can fall back on each other to keep going. Something we all strive for, since we’re expected to get things done together.

10. Pancakes vs. Waffles

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 40-45 minutes

Like a speed car going from 0 to 100km in just a few seconds, Pancakes vs. Waffles is a collective game that has low stakes, gradually growing in importance the longer you play it.

Here’s how it works. As a team, you have to decide whether you want to keep pancakes or waffles, eliminating the loser word once and for all. Each team member can support their choice with arguments, but in the end, the majority has to rule over one word to go on with. Next, add a new contender. Say Pancakes vs. Snickers, Snickers vs. Salads, Salads vs. Festivals, Festivals vs. Ski resorts. You get the point.

As you notice, the stakes grow higher with every round. Here’s where it gets interesting though. What if you add a feature of your product and compare it to a similar one of your competitors, say Time tracking vs. Random screenshots? Or two competitors facing each other? This helps understand how your team perceives your unique attributes against similar solutions and whether you need to change your strategy to own a better space in your customer’s minds.

Just for fun activities

You can’t always keep a straight face while at work, even if you’re doing it from home. Otherwise you risk bringing yourself on the verge of burnout. Get a little bit childish on purpose and blow some steam off with the following just for fun activities.

11. Meme contest

You’ll need: Paymo board
Time: 15-30 minutes

If you enjoy shooting paper balls with your colleagues at an improvised hoop (usually the office dust bin), you’ll love this meme contest. The virtual game consists of 4 rounds, each one with its own topic, to see who can find the best memes over the Internet.

All you need to do is log into Paymo and create a workflow with 5 columns for each round, including a warm-up one. Then switch to the Board view and have each colleague add their own memes to a card, along with their name. Once done, upvote who has the funniest meme by reacting with a thumbs-up emoji. The person who wins the most rounds becomes the Troll King Of The Internet…at least inside your team!

meme-contest

Meme contest in Paymo

12. Take a pic of your desk

You’ll need: Slack
Time: 5 minutes

Inside an office, you’re forced to keep your desk clean. At least out of common sense and respect for the others. This means no scrambled post-its, overlapping coffee rings, or pizza leftovers from last weekend’s DOTA. 

At home though, you can be as laid-back as you want to. Work next to your cat, have a few Christmas lights hanging to remind you of holidays, or let the dishes pile up until somebody picks them. To keep things fun, take a pic of your workstation and share it on Slack. Then brag about the chaos almost swallowing you or your unique setup. In return, this will spark some serious laughs and legit reactions questioning your interior design skills (and sanity too) 😂

computer-desk

My desk on a “clean” day

13. Share a common music playlist

You’ll need: Spotify
Time: n.a. (can be done async)

Who doesn’t enjoy a fair share of music during work? Thought so. In fact, this study has investigated the effects of background music on performing repetitive tasks, showing that 90% of the surveyed people are more productive when they listen to music.

With the science in place, it’s time to pair it with tech. Use Spotify to create a common playlist that each of your team members can listen and contribute to. Jazz it up for a mellow feel when you need to get into the zone or sprinkle it with electronic beats to get work done. Here’s what us peeps at Paymo listen to.

14. MTV Cribs: Work from home edition

You’ll need: a video conferencing tool
Time: 1 hour

Remember MTV Cribs? How every celebrity was trying to impress the viewers (mostly teenagers, myself included) with their ginormous houses and lavish lifestyles? Leaving aside the show’s snobbiness, this is the perfect exercise to bring your team closer, even when they’re miles away or you’ve never met in person.

Have each of them give a fun, creative, ‘90s style tour of their house or workstation in a way that reflects their personality. You’ll learn more about your colleagues by observing them in their “natural” environment, even discover common hobbies like a love for desk cactuses or the fact that you both pet a corgi. The virtual game also comes with a few hidden benefits. It urges some to tidy up a bit, while others can raise the bar for the rest with matching outfits or easter eggs.

15. Remote Work Bingo

You’ll need: a bingo card, a video conferencing tool
Time: n.a. (can be done async)

Did somebody say BINGOOOO? I used to play it in college, shouting “full line” or “bingo” across the tables filled with free tea and coffee to keep the gamblers pinned the whole night. Ignoring the bad cafeteria service, you can play a remote work themed one with your team too.

Start with the bingo card below and cross off the squares once you hear someone say the exact words or you happen to be doing one of the activities during a video call. Like wearing sweatpants. The first one to complete the card wins, although your colleagues will enjoy themselves even if they share common things they’ve crossed off together. So keep it in close reach and brag about your record while doing video meetings to spice up the atmosphere.

paymo-bingo-card

Remote Work Bingo à la Paymo

Back at you!

These are just a few of the virtual team building activities that you might want to try out. Use them to set the stage before an important activity, bond better with the rest of the team, or just have some fun for the sake of it.

The bottom line is to keep your team aligned during these uncertain times and help each other out, both at a personal and professional level.

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