There's no shortage of virtual team bonding activities out there. When lockdowns hit, plenty of businesses pivoted their in-person events to the virtual world, and plenty more popped up solely to cater to this virtual audience (ahem...who would do that?). In conjunction, without the tried-and-true company happy hour, a lot of organizations were stuck asking themselves how they could build camaraderie and boost morale for their remote employees. Natural synergy. And yet, with all the digital icebreakers and virtual dance parties available, it can feel overwhelming to sort through all the remote team-building activities to find the best one for your team members. Luckily, we combed through the top players to find you seven of the best interactive virtual team-building activities out there (with a bonus eighth in case you need it). So without further virtual ado, here they are!
What are Virtual Team Building Activities?
Ok, ok, I know I just said "here they are" and now they're not actually here (they're just a bit further down in case you're getting antsy). In case you're not familiar with team-building activities, I wanted to break down a couple of high-level things to make it easier to digest and to help you understand why we chose the ones we did.
Why are Virtual Team Building Activities Important?
A Harvard Business Review study found that "the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings." Meaning, if you only focus on the time your team spends in meetings, you're missing opportunities to improve your team's output, but also their overall morale. And morale has been linked countless times to team productivity, including a 2014 University of Warwick study, a Wharton Business School study, and more. Plus, happier people are just better for the world, right?
No matter what the driving factor - an austere leadership style focused solely on productivity or an altruistic one based exclusively on inspiring happiness - there are plenty of reasons to invest in team-building activities. When lockdown hit and depression rates spiked, this became even more important, yet even more difficult as people were stuck interacting through screens. Companies soon learned a virtual happy hour was not going to cut it (especially when the company was no longer picking up the tab). Virtual team building activities have to be events the company sponsors that are solely focused on getting the team to have fun.
How do you Make Virtual Team Events Fun?
One major problem often lies in the lack of attention virtual event organizers put on making sure their attendees have fun. We've all sat through nap-inducing icebreaker questions before so we know how to do this wrong. Virtual team bonding events (and their in-person counterparts before them) are often so focused on collaboration, teamwork, and synergy that they forget that just by adding a little joy, you'll increase employee engagement and start to boost that oh-so-important morale we discussed earlier. But how to do that in a virtual format? There are a number of ways, including hiring a professional host, making games focused on silliness and joy, and copying some of those formats that work so well in person. As you'll see below, the events that are most successful all start with the fun and go from there.
So, now here are seven of the best interactive virtual team-building activities out there:
1. Online Office Games with teambuilding.com
These folks did not bury the lede with their website. In case you can't read through these lines that are a football field apart, this is all that this company does. And they do it really well! The reviews on their site and the ones we've collected from participants all speak to how well they get folks to open up and have fun with their colleagues. How do they do it? Just look at their events page. With top events like "Murder Mystery in Ancient Egypt" and "Espionage!" they are purely focused on showing their players a good time (note the exclusion of events like "building trust and synergy among corporate drones"). All hosted on Zoom, try one of their classics like "International Monster Hunter" or go with "Just a Darn Fun Event."
2. Can You Hear Me Now?
Any fan of Pictionary, Charades, or telephone will get a kick out of this one. One of the best icebreaker games out there, all it requires is a Random Picture generator and for your coworkers to have pen and paper on hand. Simply have the facilitator generate a picture, then describe it to everyone else on the video conference call for them to draw. The catch: you can only use geometric shapes to describe the photo. For example, you could say "draw a circle with two upside-down triangles protruding from the top" instead of "draw a cat." Or maybe your clue would be better than mine...anyway it's a quick jolt of creativity to get your team laughing and commiserating as everyone shares their drawings over Zoom.
3. Virtual Escape Rooms
No, not The Matrix-style, these virtual escape rooms like the ones from The Escape Game are pretty simple. Essentially, many escape rooms have adapted their rooms to fit a virtual setting by strapping a webcam to the head of one of their employees. Virtual players then direct the "game guide" to walk around the escape room and uncover clues, move through rooms and (hopefully) escape. While not the most sophisticated technologically, it's a surprisingly fun way to get people collaborating on an adventure. And without the ability to splinter off into different areas of the room, it encourages an added level of cooperation. A bit like a virtual scavenger hunt, any fan of puzzles is sure to get a kick out of these.
4. Tea vs Coffee: The Never-Ending Debate
This one requires a bit of coordinating, but if you've upped your caffeine intake since working at home (what's one more pot of coffee?) it's time to defend your favorite morning brew. Each week, start the team meeting by designating someone to share their preferred pick-me-up and why they choose it every day to start their morning (is it tea? Or is it coffee?). Ideally, have the company pay for small shipments that go out to employees so they can sip along as that week's player makes their case in the video chat. Each person ranks the brew based on different factors like flavor, smoothness, alertness post-consumption, etc. Once everyone has gone, review the scores and crown a winner! That person gets a prize and each team member gets a small shipment of the winning brew sent to their home. For those who miss the early morning water cooler/coffee maker chat, this is a great way to infuse that aspect of company culture back into your virtual meetings.
5. MTV Cribs: Remote Work Edition
This one should be for volunteers only, as not everyone is comfortable showing off their home. But, for the teammates who don't mind a little time in the spotlight, it can be a fun way to share more of your home than just what people can see in the corners of your small box in the video call. Easy to set up, simply share the "presenters" song of choice through Zoom, and then have that person take you through their home as if it were one of the lavish cribs toured in the early 2000s pop culture sensation. Encourage people to hype things up like the dining room table that doubles as an office (oo!) or the used rowing machine that now sits by the bed (ah!), or any other pandemic addition that everyone can relate to. Bonus benefit: save time in future meetings by getting the familiar "is that a ______ in your background?" chit chat out of the way upfront!
6. Virtual Fill-in-the-blank Tasting
We would be remiss if we left this off the list. While countless companies are popping up to send remote workers chocolate and candy and snacks and alcohol, the companies that do these right pair those gifts with an expert (or at least entertaining) host who can take you through the experience together. Do a virtual wine tasting with a master sommelier. Hear from a distinguished chocolatier as you devour her delicious truffles. Remote teams inherently lack the in-office perks of a loaded workplace kitchen, and sending snack or gift cards to try and make up for that
7. Virtual Pub Crawl
No, no one's going to strap a webcam to their head and take you to different pubs (trust us, we pitched that and no one bit). In a virtual pub crawl, everyone grabs a drink and then uses a sight like Stumbled.cc to discover fun stuff on the internet. Spend 5-10 minutes on each site discussing things you learn and then stumble on to a new site. This may be one of the best virtual team building activities because it has the potential to truly never get old. Just keep stumbling!
Bonus: Virtual Trivia
Whoopsie - how did this get in here? I mean come on, when it comes to virtual team building games, you can't forget about good ol' virtual trivia. It's got something for everyone if done right, with trivia questions covering all sorts of topics like movies, politics, pop culture, geography- you name it! In the hands of a good host (like the professionals at Hedgehog Trivia) you're sure to delight everyone from the diehard trivia fans to the shyest newbs. Plus, they are exceedingly easy to set up. Just send us a date and the number of players and we'll get you going in no time.
Added tips to make your virtual team building event a success
There are a couple of tips we can't forget to throw in here to help you pull off the best virtual team building event your colleagues won't soon forget:
- Involve them in planning. Make sure to take a pulse from your team to see which of these most people would enjoy. You may be wild about murder mysteries but if your team isn't engaged, it's going to be a miss. Also make sure to plan the time and date so that everyone can join. No one wants to be the one person left out in the team meeting when all you can talk about is how Trivia Newton-John dominated at last week's happy hour.
- Send them food/alcohol. If you've got it in the budget, no one would say no to a little extra treat to make that virtual activity a delight. Sticking with a Postmates gift card or using a service like SnackNation is a good way to go in case folks don't drink or have dietary restrictions. But who doesn't love a little extra (healthy) junk food? No one we know...
- Send prizes to the winners. Another budgetary consideration of course, but with virtual trivia or other competitive games, sending folks a gift card to say congrats is a surefire way to delight any remote worker.
If you skimmed this list for some gems and didn't really absorb any of the information then you're doing exactly what I did through most of high school, and I completely understand. The top takeaway is to always add fun. Adding fun leads to building relationships leads to team bonding leads to success. Whether it's online games, a movie night, a virtual dance party, or a more creative virtual activity, focus on the fun.