Most of us are proficient in how to complete the tasks and responsibilities of our positions while working remotely. We have the tools we need to perform our job functions and we have the technical skill to do so.
But how do we remain connected to each other virtually? How do we foster a collaborative team environment and avoid feelings of isolation while working remotely for extended periods of time?
David Young, Director of Instructional Product Development at Michigan Virtual, has been managing a mostly full-time remote team for many years. We asked him to share some helpful strategies for maintaining a positive team culture while everyone is working from home.
His advice? A robust remote team culture should contain elements from each of these three areas:
- Planned Remote Team Building Activities: These are scheduled, intentional activities for teams or groups of people coming together remotely for the specific purpose of building team culture and camaraderie.
- Informal Remote Team Building Activities: These are informal activities that can take place throughout the workday, but are not formally planned or scheduled. Think of them as the water-cooler type conversations or serendipitous interactions that happen throughout the course of a normal workday in any face to face office environment.
- Suggested Norms for Remote Teams: These are suggested norms or best practices that foster culture and connection when working with remote teams.
In this article, we share 23 team-building activities David’s team uses to build connection while working remotely.
Planned Remote Team-Building Activities
These are scheduled, intentional activities for teams or groups of people coming together remotely for the specific purpose of building team culture and camaraderie. Examples may include “icebreakers” for the beginning of meetings, games, or specific “getting to know you” questions. You can take any of these ideas and incorporate them into already scheduled meetings.
#1 — Kids and Pets Meeting
They are around us now anyway, so consider planning a meeting or using part of an existing one to introduce your kids and pets to your team.
#2 — GeoGuessr Game
One team member “drives” while the others watch and make guesses about where in the world you are. Play here!
#3 — 3 Things in 3 Minutes
Break into small groups using Zoom. Everyone partners up with someone, ideally a person they don’t know well. Each pair has three minutes to discover three things they have in common that go beyond the obvious, like “We’re both in this room together” or “We’re both wearing glasses.” After three minutes, everyone shares what they’ve learned with the group. Discoveries get pretty specific and have ranged from “We both have an adopted 11-year-old daughter from Guatemala” to “Our moms went to high school together in Detroit!” (IDEO 5 Exercises That Break Down Barriers)
#4 — Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Each person brings photos of their life (e.g., house, room, stuff, friends, etc.). The only rule is they can’t be in the images. When the group comes together, each person puts up their photos, and everyone has to guess whose life is whose. After each person is revealed, they have an opportunity to share a few components from their lives that are represented in the photographs (IDEO 5 Exercises That Break Down Barriers).
#5 — Virtual Coffee Hour and/or Happy Hour
Prepare conversation-starter prompts, then let the magic happen! Here are some examples to get you started:
- Bring your favorite coffee mug and tell the group about it.
- Share the recipe for your favorite cocktail or party snack.
- What was your first car? Bonus points if you can share a photo.
- What was your favorite April Fool’s joke (you’ve ever played or that’s been played on you!)
- What is your favorite movie character? Explain what made this character special from a social and/or contextual point of view.
- Share a quote from a favorite book or author.
#6 — Trivia Time!
Trivia and other quiz show type formats work well digitally and can be as casual (verbally asking the questions) or as fancy (using Kahoot or other services) as you like.
#7 — Share Your Dream Home
Each team member finds their dream home listing on Zillow (or any other real estate site) and shares it with the rest of the group.
#8 — Drawasaurus
An MS Paint-quality drawing and guessing game that you can play on your computer or phone. You can set up private rooms for your team to play in. Games are quick and very funny. Play here!
#9 — LSAT Logic Games Question of the Day
Varsity Tutors always has a different LSAT Logic Games Question of the Day ready at your disposal! If you’re just looking to get a quick review into your busy day, our LSAT Logic Games Question of the Day is the perfect option. Can you work as a team to figure these questions out? Check them out here!
#10 — If You Were a Course Name, What Would You Be?
Use your first, middle, and last initials to create a course title. For example: KWD = “Know, Want to Know, and Don’t Care” (you know, like a KWL chart).
#11 — What’s On Your Phone Checklist
Each person makes a copy of this Google Drawing. Type an “X” in the box beside each item you have on your phone and see who can get the most!
#12 — Emoji Song Titles
Guess the names of song titles written with only emojis… then, write your own for the rest of the team to guess. Play here.
#13 — Collaboratively Build a Song
Use Chrome Music Lab’s Kandinsky tool to make visual art into music. Choose a team member to act as the artist. Each person describes a shape and the shape’s location to the artist round-robin until everyone has gone. For example, you might say “draw a large square in the upper right corner” or “draw a short diagonal line across the left side.” When everyone’s shapes have been drawn, the artist will share their screen and sound and play the song until no one can stand it anymore!
#14 — Merriam-Webster Time Traveler
Use the Merriam-Webster Time Traveler website to look up words that were first used the year you were born. Find your favorite word and share it with the group.
#15 — The Oregon Trail
Play The Oregon Trail together. Choose one person as the leader who can share their screen and control the game, but then let team members take turns making decisions as they are needed. Try not to die of dysentery!
#16 — The WayBack Machine
Use the Wayback Machine to have each team member find and share a website that they used to enjoy or frequent in the past.
#17 — Favorite _____ Meeting
Have everyone wear or bring a favorite item to a meeting. For example, ask everyone to wear their favorite hat or shirt. Or meet from your favorite vacation spot using the virtual background feature in Zoom.
Informal Remote Team-Building Activities
These are also informal activities that can take place throughout the workday, but are not formally planned or scheduled. Think of them as the water-cooler type conversations or serendipitous interactions that happen throughout the course of a normal workday in any face-to-face office environment.
#18 — Group Chats
Maintain group chats for teams that are working together on an ongoing basis. Your team probably already has this, but encourage people to share informal updates, including personal updates and milestones in the chat group throughout the day. Take the initiative to do so yourself! Also encourage people to ask questions or offer support in the group chat (rather than to individuals). This helps with the kind of informal conversations that happen in the open office when we “overhear” each other’s work and are able to contribute.
#19 — Group Chats – Conversation Starters
Try one of the following activities to get conversation going in your group chats:
- Share a gif/meme that expresses your current mood
- What is one item on your desk/workspace? Why is it there? (Try to go beyond the “usual” of laptop, keyboard, pencil)
- Share “Throwback Thursday” pictures
#20 — Virtual Lunch
Invite a group of people to eat together in Zoom over lunch.
#21 — Group Co-Working Time
Log into a video chat on Zoom or Teams for the purpose of working individually, together. Keep the video chat open as you work on individual projects alongside your coworkers.
#22 — Check in on Someone
This one is simple: Just take a few moments to reach out to someone via chat, email or phone and ask them how they are doing. Think about reaching out to team members you don’t interact with as much or have not heard from recently.
#23 — Virtual Walks
Invite a person or group of people to join together in zoom, on the phone, or in teams ,and go out for a walk!
Suggested Norms for Remote Teams
These are suggested norms or best practices that foster culture and connection when working with remote teams. They are not required, but ideas that have worked on some teams for maintaining and fostering a positive team environment remotely.
- Unless there is a compelling reason not to, conduct your virtual calls and meetings with video on. This may seem silly or unnecessary, but it goes a long way toward maintaining connection with your remote colleagues.
- In group calls, remain muted if you are not talking.
- If you get interrupted on a video call, turn your video off until you are able to pay attention again.
- Whenever possible, include options for all team members to respond and participate in discussions in live meetings. For example, ask for people to respond to a question via chat, rather than verbally, or use the tools in zoom to poll everyone if you have a question, rather than hearing from one or two people.
- Err on the side of asking questions or requesting help/support in your team chat rather than side chats with individuals. This mimics more of the open-office environment where people overhear things and are able to jump in and offer assistance or a different perspective.
- Be patient. Extend grace.
- Take time for self-care and mental breaks. We don’t work in an office. Things like informal conversations at the coffee station or dropping by someone’s desk for a friendly/ brief conversation are not afforded to remote workers. Take a moment to stretch, take a walk, call a loved one, or pet a dog/cat.