As a lot of companies had to shift to home office and many are now even planning to stay fully remote, I often get asked about team building activities that can bring remote teams closer together. Therefore, I’d like to share five relatively easy and highly effective, fun activities that help your colleagues (re)connect and feel as one team, despite the physical distance.
Create remote coworking space (easy setup)
Some humans enjoy working on their own from home and are even more productive without the distraction of the office, whereas others struggle to stay focused or motivated when working by themselves. To recreate an office feeling and facilitate social interaction that doesn’t require (unnatural) scheduled meetings just to say hello, think about creating a remote coworking space.
You can either set up a virtual room in one of the many proximity chat tools and form it to your liking, with an area for focus work, brainstorming, and/or project work, but also including areas such as lunch break or coffee kitchen. Without having to hop in and out of video calls, your team can simply navigate through the virtual space throughout the day and regarding their current work task. This makes it much easier to see in which area other colleagues currently are and whether they are free to chat or look for someone to brainstorm together.
Another alternative can be a #coworking channel created in slack. The first person online can set up a conference call and share the link to have it open for anyone who feels like company while working to join. It should be clear though what the purpose of the video call is to meet the expectations of everyone joining. Maybe set up two different calls, one which focuses on work getting done (motivation) and another for a little chat between tasks or to take lunch breaks together (socializing).
Introduce (bi)weekly Donut calls (really lightweight)
If you don’t need a daily space for teams to exchange, you might want to consider introducing Donut into your team’s (bi)weekly routine. As a slack extension, this tool mirrors the opportunity for a random chat that would have usually happened in coffee kitchens and hallways.
Working remotely, you have to create these team building moments virtually, and give it a little push. Donut takes over this role, automatically pairs up colleagues, and plans a 15-30 minute video call for them, in case they accept to participate. Like this, remote workers can get to know other colleagues that they usually don’t interact with during their daily work.
Maybe it is wise to give these calls a little direction, either allowing to talk about work or banning it from these short calls to give them the opportunity and get to know each other an a personal level.
Since you only need to install the extension and then everything runs automatically, this is an easy and really lightweight way to implement team building opportunities in your remote team.
Spark creativity with spreadsheet pixel art (use free template)
Whether you already use Google Sheets to organize your remote team or you want to introduce it in the remote work process, this is a playful way to get familiar with spreadsheets. You can either provide your team with a prepared spreadsheet or let them develop complicated but awesome spreadsheet formulas to create spreadsheet pixel art themselves.
All that is needed is a little bit of code which will replace numbers with a color fill for each cell. Like this, the team can paint images by using numbers and create pictures of nearly anything.
Use spreadsheet pixel art in two ways to bond remote teams. You can either set this activity as a competition where everyone has to give their best attempt to create the most beautiful pixel art of a predefined image in a given time frame. Or you can make it a collaborative activity where the team creates the pixel art alongside a relaxed chat, e. g. during after-work socials. Make the team choose an image that best represents what dominated their past week and add the pixel art to a gallery after the weekly remote meetup. And at the next Christmas party you have a wonderful pixel story of the past year that relives memories of the remote team.
Guess each others emoji board (fun and insightful)
Remote teams have to rely on excellent communication to produce outstanding results as a team. Often, written communication gets misinterpreted and might need to be clarified via phone or video calls. But emojis? They rarely get misunderstood, do they? Maybe this is why they have slowly but surely found their way into our professional emails or work chats. Emojis visually express what we feel, think, or want to say in a much shorter way. Or they set the tone of our conversation to indicate to the reader whether this message is meant nicely or seriously to avoid that (s)he places their own feelings in the message and gets the wrong impression.
Now, you will learn a lot about each other by seeing everyone’s most used emojis. Can you guess who’s emoji board belongs to whom? Let your remote team take a screenshot of their frequently used emojis in their messenger program and send it to the game host. The host will then create a list of all participating players and send it to each of them. Within the next five to ten minutes (depending on the team size) each person has to guess the top five emojis of each colleague on the list. When the time is up, the host will reveal the correct answers and award points to all players. These can be given for accuracy, having three out of five correct, or even ranking the emojis in the correct order.
The most frequently used emojis give an interesting insight into each others mood, life, communication level, etc. Why would Paul use the shrug emoji so darn often? It’s time for your remote team to find out and connect over common emojis. This team building activity is a great addition to your next virtual meeting and can become a monthly happening.
Choose together: pancakes vs. waffles (quick bonding)
This old game of pancakes vs. waffles is a great activity to make collective decisions as a team. If the world can only keep one of the two, make that ‘either or’ decision together. In the first (easy) round, the team has to decide whether they would rather choose pancakes or waffles. What is each one’s favorite and how will the team vote?
After the first item is eliminated from this world, the remaining one (e. g. pancakes) gets compared to the next item. The winning item from the second round gets compared with the next one, and the game goes on like this as long as the game host wants.
While the first choice does not involve too high emotions, the conversations may get quite heated the longer this game is played. By having to decide for one item as a team, this team building activity eventually shows the values of each player and becomes gradually more personal with every new higher-stake decision.
In my opinion, these five team building activities are really easy ways for anyone to boost and improve remote connections virtually. Sometimes, facilitating team building online is lacking the host’s time or facing its own unique challenges. If you look for event support or a more professional setup of remote team building activities, take a look at our range of interactive virtual escape rooms, murder mystery, trivia, and fun world trips. But before you get in touch with me, let me give you three more tips for virtual team building.
Organizing team building online is not exactly the same as when you did so at the office. Some dynamics that come with physical presence are no longer influencing the remote activity. Therefore, please consider these three tips to make your virtual team building a success:
1. Integrate everyone, also the introverts
Meeting and interacting online makes it very easy for the quiet or shy ones to stay in the back and easily be forgotten. Create smaller groups to avoid that someone gets virtually lost in the large team. Introverts often feel more comfortable to open up in smaller circles and the dynamics of small groups as well as useful icebreakers at the beginning of the team building activity encourage everyone to participate.
2. Follow the 2.5x rule for online activities
What this means is that compared to local activities you would do 2.5x as many virtual activities to balance the lack of physical and social interaction from usual office and kitchen chats. If you used to have a five-minute casual chat with the team at the beginning of your weekly stand-up before, dedicate 12.5 minutes for it at your virtual meetings. And the quarterly team building event becomes at least two to maybe three virtual activities.
3. Give room for virtual team building at every meeting
Workers in the office had some time for casual team building before each meeting started by arriving early or waiting for everyone to sit down. Meeting online can lead to directly jumping into the business conversation and make good use of everyone’s time. However, I recommend to calculate five to ten minutes at the beginning of team meetings to allow for social interaction. For those that jump from meeting to meeting, small activities like guessing the emoji board or playing a quick round of bingo help to take a (mental) break and be more focused afterwards. And for the others it gives the opportunity to bond just as they would have with the usual office chat that falls apart entirely for remote teams.
I hope these ideas and tips will help you design virtual activities for your remote team more easily, and show that it is not as difficult as some may think to keep remote teams connected.
Have a wonderful day!