Bring the team together with these remote team building activities

There’s been a clear trend toward remote over the past few years: According to Upwork, 41.8% of the U.S. workforce is currently working virtually due to the pandemic, but it’s estimated 36.2 million Americans (22% of the workforce) will be working remotely by 2025. This is a huge 87% increase from pre-pandemic numbers.

While remote work comes with plenty of benefits, it’s not all 20-minute coffee breaks and PJs-on-the-bottom-half video calls. With no watercooler chats, no Friday night drinks, and no team lunches out, employees can start to feel a bit, well… remote from each other if left to their own devices.

Pie chart on reasons why we struggle to work remotely

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Remote teams can be lonely and unproductive, or they can be engaged and motivated and enjoy a culture as vibrant as any office. Team building has the power to tip the balance toward the latter.

Organizations that invest in team-building activities have teams that are unified, more productive, and more creative. But how do you bond when everyone’s miles apart? This is where remote team building activities come in. Let’s get started.

What is remote team building, and why is it important?

Having a happy, cohesive team helps workers feel motivated and connected — something that’s been proven to boost performance. The problem with remote teams is that they often miss out on the important interactions that allow for natural bonding. It’s the manager’s job to find ways to help bring everyone together.

  • Virtual team-building activities can remind remote workers (or introduce them to) the amazing people supporting them.
  • Team-building activities can fire up remote teams and connect them to eager coworkers when excitement is slipping.
  • Team-building activities can help autonomous remote workers garner trust among managers and coworkers.
  • Happy remote workers means better retention, increased job satisfaction, and a great company reputation.

3 quick and easy icebreaker games to start with

Whether this is a first-time meeting or everyone on the team knows each other, icebreaker games can help dispel any nervous energy and put everyone in a positive, productive mindset. Try one when there’s a new face on the team, or use one as a jumping-off point before every meeting. It’s great for getting introverts involved, too.

Name The Emoji Song Title

Tools: A chat app or a video platform

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: Find a list of emoji song titles (like the one below), or create your own. Share the image on your group channel (or screen), then invite everyone to start guessing. It can be a free-for-all, or you can go around the ‘room’ and ask each person to guess a title. The person who guesses the most wins.

Groups of emojis that make up song titles

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Rock paper scissors

Tools: Online whiteboard, diagramming tool, or a chat app

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: The great thing about this one is, everyone knows how to play rock paper scissors. So assemble your remote team via a video platform, then pick two people to play in real-time. The winner goes on to play the next person, and so on. It’s a great way to get people chatting and loosen them up for creative activities.

Emoji song title charades

Tools: A chat app and a phone timer

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: Start a group thread on your chat app, then ask everyone on the team to recreate the last song they listened to using emojis. E.g., 👁️ 🐯 would be…. you guessed it! “Eye of the Tiger.”

Take turns. One person shares their emoji song title while the rest of the group tries to guess it within three minutes. Reveal the song title if no one guesses it once the time is up.

Remote team building games and activities

Ice cracked? Let’s dive into some team building games. These are great whether everyone’s new or your team’s well established. It’s also a good idea to do these semi-regularly, if possible.

Alien Pictionary

Tools: Online diagramming tool

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: This one’s great for helping teammates overcome cultural barriers to communication. Here’s how to do it: First, tell the group to imagine aliens have landed, and they want to learn about the organization. The group’s job is to explain the business’ culture and purpose via drawn images (these aliens don’t speak English or any other Earth language).

Using a free-draw tool, ask everyone to create images on their own personal canvas. Then, once they’re done, ask each person to share their creation with the rest of the team. As a group, take a few minutes to look at the sketches and work out if there are any themes. This is a great way to get everyone thinking about the business’s common goals together.

Tiny campfire

Tools: A session with tinycampfire.com

Cost: Depends on team size

Prep effort: Low

How to: Tiny campfire run virtual campfires for remote teams. Think icebreakers, ghost stories, competitions, and s’mores (which each person assembles IRL then cooks over a tealight). Head to the website to choose a package, then set some time aside so everyone can get involved.

An exercise in lateral thinking

Tools: A video platform

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: Lateral thinking puzzles are a great way to get everyone chatting and thinking creatively. For this exercise, ask your puzzle question — either over video or by posting it on the group chat — then give everyone 30 seconds to think of an answer. Once the time’s up, go around the group and ask everyone to share their thoughts.

To get extra mileage out of this, spend a few minutes discussing as a group what you learned from each other.

Top tip: Type ‘lateral thinking puzzles’ into Google for some inspiration.

Birth map

Tools: Online whiteboard, diagramming tool, or a chat app

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: Print out a big map of the world and upload it to your chosen platform. Ask everyone on the team to drop a pin on it to show where they’re from or where they currently live. Then go round the team and ask everyone to share a story about their location. This gets everyone talking and helps celebrate the diversity within the team.

Photo story

Tools: Online whiteboard, diagramming tool, or a chat app

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: Ask everyone on the team to take a photo of something personal. It could be their bookcase, their desk, their pet — anything at all, so long as it says something about the individual. Then, ask each team member to upload it to the platform you’re using. Once you’ve got all the submissions in, download them and turn them into a virtual collage. Bring everyone together and invite each person to share a story about their picture.

For a slightly different take on this game, ask everyone to send their pictures to you. Then, you share them on the chat app or virtual whiteboard and invite the team to guess who each picture belongs to and why. Once a correct guess has been made, the person who took the picture shares the story behind it.

Top tip: This is a versatile game, but it’s easiest on an online diagramming tool because you can add stickers to each photo, saving any tallying and following threads.

One word roundup

Tools: A video platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, or a chat app

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: This is a super-quick exercise that gets people to both work together and focus on the project at hand. Simply go around the group and ask everyone to think of a word they associate with the project. Once each person’s shared their word, they should offer a brief explanation, which can include their hopes, as well as their reservations.

Virtual lunch date

Tools: A video platform or chat app

Cost: Around $15/person

Prep effort: Low

How to: Invite your remote team to gather together for a shared lunch. Order delivery to each person’s home, then turn on your cams and eat together.

To take this one step further, try running a virtual book club or film club alongside the shared lunch. The week before the food date, get everyone to read a (short) book or watch a film that they can discuss over a slice. Here’s a book list to get you started.

Remote work bingo

Tools: Project management software

Cost: Nothing

Prep effort: Low

How to: Everyone knows how to play bingo (and if not, it’s quick to explain). For this game, create a grid and fill it with typical things that happen in a remote workday. For example, you can tick a square off when you said “sorry, I was on mute” in a meeting or used the Pomodoro technique. To make this extra-organized, track everyone’s progress using project management software. The team can then follow each other’s progress in real-time, making the whole thing that little bit more engaging… and competitive.

A bingo sheet of common things that happen when working remotely

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The follow-up: How do I know if my virtual activity was successful?

The proof is in the pudding, or so the saying goes. After a team-building activity, you should see results: This could be workers chatting more openly on non-work channels, easier collaboration, and/or a generally friendlier mood. But that’s all largely subjective — there are more fact-based ways to gauge the mood without relying on guesswork.

Send a survey to attendees post-activity to see what they thought. Or better still, make it two: One immediately after, and one a few weeks or months down the line. Not only will this help you gauge success — but you’ll also have honest feedback you can incorporate into future activities.

Final thoughts

Team building activities can help workers feel engaged, connected, and acknowledged — and can even help resolve conflict in the group. Just because your team’s spread out across the globe, it doesn’t mean you can’t all get involved and benefit.

The first step is to make team building activities a priority. This means doing some research, setting some time aside, and explaining the value to your team. The next is to invest in tools that make collaboration easier — from chat apps and project management software to video platforms and diagramming tools.

Not only do they make it possible to play these games, they also make it easier for team members to chat, work, and collaborate in a way that works for them. By giving your team the opportunity to connect with each other in an engaged way, you create better opportunities for them to build meaningful, productive relationships.

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