Virtual Team-Building Exercises

Team-building doesn’t require a physical water cooler or even sharing office space. There are plenty of ways your remote team can get to know each other and gain value from virtual team-building exercises. What value is there to be gained? How does team-building contribute to productivity? It’s all about building trust.

As MindTools.com noted, “[a] team without trust isn’t really a team: it’s just a group of individuals, working together, often making disappointing progress.”

A team that has built trust learns to:

  • rely on each other to maximize resources by delegating tasks instead of micromanaging or doing redundant work out of fear that it won’t get done ‘the right way’ (or done at all)
  • empower each other by eliciting and soliciting others’ opinions and ideas and advocating for diversity in thinking and strategy
  • be vulnerable and admit knowledge or skill gaps because there’s a sense of safety, and honesty opens the door to learning opportunities and personal growth
  • celebrate both wins and failures — because we all can learn from both

Sure, team-building activities can briefly detract attention from job-specific tasks, but they contribute to fortifying your team and the long-term benefits outweigh the ten minutes it takes for employees to have a positive interaction that leads to building trust.

How does it work? Virtual team-building?
Most of the team-building exercises I’m about to share can be executed via synchronous chat, using an app like Slack. That said, several of these could also work asynchronously. You could solicit answers/input and then share in an email/newsletter, for example.

Generally, I post a new team-building exercise each Monday morning in our #team-building channel. Most of these activities only require a few minutes to participate, but there are some that span multiple days, such as the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. Virtual rock, paper, scissors?! Yep.

Here we go… 28 virtual team-building activities for your remote team:

  1. The Step Competition
    Nothing creates team-building like a little competition! This one also encourages your team members to get or stay healthy through physical exercise (something with which many remote workers can struggle) and tracking steps. Although there are apps out there like Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and SparkPeople, it’s simplest to have team members track their steps weekly in a shared Google Sheet like this template. People use different devices and apps for tracking. Using a generic template and having employees manually add their steps each week allows everyone to participate. It’s device- and app-agnostic.
  2. The Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament
    Requirement: The RPS Slack Add-on found here.
    With the RPS add-on installed for your Slack team, you can easily facilitate a virtual rock, paper, scissors tournament. I recommend having a channel specific for this purpose (or a team-building channel) so the noise doesn’t interrupt those who aren’t playing. A little planning goes a long way — you’ll want to determine match opponents for the first round in advance. You can use this Google Sheet template for planning matches and determining who moves on to the next round. This exercise can span multiple days as players advance through the tournament.
  3. A Competition to Drive Awareness
    Most companies have a unique identifier for URLs that helps attribute traffic to advertisements or other referrers. You can assign each employee a unique ID that they can add to any URLs they share (e.g. www.YourCompany.com?id=123) and then track who generates the most unique visitors or pageviews for a given period of time. Turn it into a competition with a fun prize and you might generate some significant new traffic to your site!
  4. The Last Photo
    Instructions for team members: Upload the last photo you took and tell the team all about it!
  5. Interviewing Coworkers
    Instructions for team members: Find someone in the company you would like to get to know better and interview them by asking these 3 questions (share the answers with the entire team):
    1. Do you have any hobbies/interests?
    2. If you could pay someone to let you do or be anything, what would it be?
    3. Name one of your favorite songs or movies.
  6. Virtual Vacation
    Instructions for team members: If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, right now, where would it be? Share a web site URL about the place.
  7. Bizarre Talents
    Instructions for team members: What is the most bizarre thing that you can do? Capture it via video or photo and share it with us.
  8. 2 Truths and a Lie
    Instructions for team members: Tell us 2 truths and 1 lie about yourself and let us guess which is which!
  9. The Blunder Years
    Instructions for team members: Upload a younger photo of you that you regret. (You in your glorious blunder years!)
  10. Situation Puzzles
    A situation puzzle (sometimes called a lateral thinking puzzle) begins with the facilitator giving a sentence that describes a scene that is unusual or intriguing. The facilitator knows the answer to the question, “What’s going on here?” The other team members attempt to find that out, by asking only yes-or-no questions. Here are some examples:
    http://puzzlewocky.com/brain-teasers/situation-puzzles/
  11. The PowerPoint Game
    The PowerPoint Game is all about improvisational presentations! Form teams of 2 and battle it out for the funniest unplanned presentations. Jump on a Zoom.us call, share screen, and have each team present their slide deck (which they’ve never seen before). For more information visit: http://www.group-games.com/stationary-games/the-powerpoint-game.html
  12. Virtual Office Tour
    Instructions for team members: Take some photos or videos of your office space and show us where you work!
  13. Favorite Phone App
    Instructions for team members: What’s your favorite phone app? Provide a link to it and tell us why it’s your fave.
  14. Set Up Regular ‘Coffee Talks’
    Donut is a Slack add-on that automatically pairs people in your company up for a non-work-related 1-on-1 call. These are fun calls that give an opportunity for remote employees to get to know people they normally wouldn’t be working with on a daily basis. Create a channel like #tea-time, #coffee-buddies, #lunch-pals, or #donut-friends-forever. Install the Donut Slack add-on and invite team members to join the channel. You can set the cadence for having the chatbot pair channel participants. Once randomly paired, team members can schedule a 15-minute chat to get to know each other better. Anyone who wants to take part can join the channel (or leave the channel when going on vacation). Learn more here.
  15. Favorite Video
    Instructions for team members: Share a link to your favorite YouTube video.
  16. Create a Company Spotify Playlist
    Create a public Spotify playlist to which others can add songs. This works best if you have a theme in mind related to work, such as the release of a new product or a campaign. Ask team members to add a song that’s in line with the theme.
  17. Favorite Song
    Instructions for team members: Share a favorite song or soundtrack that energizes you.
  18. Decorate Your Work Space
    Instructions for team members: DECORATE YOUR WORKSPACE — Who can decorate their workspace as creatively as possible? Decorate and share a photo/video and we’ll vote!
  19. Prized Possessions
    Instructions for team members: Find an object that you’ve owned for 15+ years, take and share a photo of it, and tell us: 1) How long have you owned it, 2) Where did you acquire it?, and 3) Why have you kept it for so long?
  20. Baby Photos
    This activity requires having a facilitator who collects all the photos and shares them anonymously with the team. 
    Instructions for team members: Share a younger photo of you (baby thru teenager age) with the facilitator and the facilitator will post the photo. Everyone try and guess who it is!
  21. Cast Away
    This exercise requires a little more planning and participation. Divide your team into groups of 5. Create a Slack channel for each team so they can discuss strategy. The goal here is to rank a list of 15 items’ importance to your survival. Team members first do this individually, then they must collectively rank the items in agreement. The team that ranks the items most similarly to the U.S. Coast Guard’s ranking of the items wins.
    More information about this exercise can be found here: https://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/team-building-problem-solving.php
    You can also use this template for each team to help track individual ranking, team ranking, and overall score.
  22. Favorite Hobby
    Instructions for team members: Post a picture of you enjoying your favorite hobby — skiing, beer brewing, fishing, knitting, etc.
  23. Company Cookbook
    Create a company recipe book (PDF) with submissions from your team. Instructions for team members: Post your favorite recipe, complete with pictures and directions. Team members who submit a recipe will receive a copy of the company cookbook! With a simple search, you can find an existing cookbook template for Adobe InDesign or other programs and populate quickly. E.g.: https://pagephilia.com/suriblossom/simple-life-cookbook-template-PP6TB1FP
  24. Bring Your Pet to Work
    Some time around June 22nd, is ‘Take Your Dog to Work Day’ — that’s a good time for this activity. Instructions for team members: It’s bring your pet to work day! Share a photo of your pet(s) with the team!
  25. Best Burger Ever
    Give everyone homework to go out and find the best local burger (meat, bean, veggie) EVER — the more toppings the better! Provide pictures and location details. Vote on the burger pics!
  26. Your Intro Song
    Instructions for team members: If you were going to give a presentation in front of a large group at a conference, what song would you want played as your intro while you’re walking up to the stage? Share a link to the song!
  27. Day Trip Adventure
    Instructions for team members: Use Trip Advisor to find the number 1 rated attraction within 15 miles of your house. Go there and take a selfie. Post a short description about it.
  28. Calling All Poets
    This one will require giving your team members some time to write. Instructions for team members: Write a poem about the company. Share it with the team!

For competitive activities, it’s always fun to give away some company swag as prizes. If you’re working with a small budget, you can enlist the help of a Designer and give intangible goodies away such as: photoshopped images of the winner with a company mascot, company-themed desktop wallpaper, screensavers and other digital prizes.

Have another idea for a virtual team-building exercise? I’d love to hear it!