17 remote team building activities to cure work loneliness
Today, let’s talk about remote team building activities. Did you know that 20% of remote workers say loneliness is the thing they struggle with the most? Loneliness and communication problems are the top issues plaguing remote workers worldwide.
Sure, working from home lets you avoid commuting, have a flexible work schedule, and spend more time with family, but these clearly come at a cost, particularly for those of us who have gotten used to spending 8 hours a day side-by-side with our colleagues.
The office is a social environment. And, for many pandemic-affected people, being cut off from it is not an easy thing to deal with. As more and more employees work remotely, plus, with recent surveys suggesting that for many of us the remote work model is here to stay, combatting pervasive loneliness is quickly becoming a key challenge for teams everywhere.
The importance of remote team building activities
Welcoming newcomers, making individuals feel like they’re part of a team, fostering camaraderie — not only will these things help keep loneliness at bay, but they’ll also help develop friendships between colleagues, which leads to greater work satisfaction and improved performance.
With water-cooler chats replaced by…, well, nothing, it’s important to actively provide an environment where teammates can come together and spend some time socializing. Just having Slack or a WhatsApp group is not enough, although they certainly help.
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One way to provide this environment is with remote team building activities. Remote team activities force everyone to come together and interact. Whether it’s to get to know each other better or have a small competition — it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s about spending quality time with colleagues, sharing some laughs, and facilitating conversations. Without further ado, let’s dive into some online team building games for remote employees.
17 remote team building activities
In this list, you’ll find online games for remote teams, bonding activity ideas, and on-going event ideas that will make remote socializing with colleagues fun, valuable, and something to be looked forward to.
Games for remote teams
Online games for remote teams are a fantastic way to get your team involved, without having to awkwardly share personal details or sit silently for an hour as everyone does the rounds talking about themselves. Competition helps people get over their inhibitions and before you know it — everyone’s passionately fighting for the victory.
1. Remote Pictionary
Rules: One person has to draw something and others have to guess what it is. The person drawing isn’t allowed to write words or numbers, nor are they allowed to talk.
Remote Pictionary is even more fun than it’s paper/whiteboard-based counterpart because the person drawing must screen share and use some digital drawing tool like MS Paint or Paintbrush, resulting in some hilariously awful drawings.
Plus, since you’re all already at your computers, you can use tools like the Pictionary Word Generator for easy ideas. With all these tools at your disposal, you need no prep time to get started!
Objective: Pictionary is a staple among team building activities and can serve as a simple and fun exercise to lighten the mood and have some laughs. More than that, when done regularly, Pictionary can significantly improve communication, as your teammates learn to better communicate on a conceptual level and gain a deeper understanding of how each other thinks.
2. Association game
Rules: Select someone from the team who’s going to be the first judge and have them offer a word or a theme. It can be nearly anything, e.g. childhood, music, animal — the more creative the better. Then everyone else has 3 minutes to find something nearby that they associate with the theme.
Once the time is up, everyone takes turns explaining why they chose that item. The person with the best story, as judged by the person in charge, gets 1 point. The judge changes every round. The first person to get 3 points wins the game!
The game is best for teams of 5–15 people, however, if there are more of you, you can skip the point awarding part and simply use the association game to get to know each other better.
Objective: This rapid-fire association game is fantastic for getting a deeper peek into who your colleagues are. You’re going to hear some heartwarming and some downright hilarious stories that you might never otherwise learn about your colleagues. Gamifying the whole process allows for people to really dig for those stories and share things everyone will find enjoyable.
3. Aliens have landed
Rules: Split up into teams of 3–5 people. Each team has to explain what your company is and does to aliens that have just arrived on earth and who, contrary to what movies would have you believe, don’t speak your language. Teams have to use 5 symbols/pictures to try and get the message across.
Once a team has settled on the images, they must copy them together in a single file and then each team takes turns showing their results to others who have to try and interpret the message.
Objective: Beyond just having some laughs and seeing all the creative things people come up with, this remote team activity is a collaborative effort and can help initiate discussions between people that might not usually talk as much. This effect can be manufactured by purposely creating teams with people that might not communicate much in their day-to-day activities.
An added benefit is that it can help determine how employees view the company. By finding some commonalities among the answers, managers can identify what values and features of the company stand out most.
4. Online game tournaments
Rules: Decide with your team on a 1v1 game that can be played online. It can be anything from Battleships to Chess, to Pool, to any other online games for remote teams. Once people have signed up, create a tournament bracket, fill it out with participants, and off you go!
Objective: Tournaments tend to take a longer time to complete and can create an on-going and healthy competition and intrigue among teammates as people get eliminated and winners emerge. Plus, online games like Battleships and Pool don’t take too long, so they can serve as a quick break from on-going tasks.
Once the tournament is over and the champion crowned, start planning for season 2 — having a fun activity always running in the background will help your remote team feel more involved.
Rules: Another classic party game, Taboo is a word guessing game that needs at least 2 teams. Each team takes turns to have one participant explain words to a teammate without using the words themselves or 5 other related words. The guesser has 1 minute to guess as many words as possible. The team that gets the most words right wins the round.
You can use this Taboo game to generate the cards with words.
Objective: Taboo is a perfect ice-breaker game since it throws people into a high-pressure situation where they don’t have the time to mince words or give in to shyness. Opening up any remote team activity evening with this will help get people fired up and ready for whatever comes next. Plus, efficient and creative communication between teammates is key to victory and any team can benefit from improvements in this area.
6. Personal quiz
Rules: The manager gathers some interesting and obscure facts about the individuals on their team and creates a quiz.
The quiz can then be conducted with pen and paper, however using digital quiz tools can feel more rewarding, as they tend to have real-time ranking features and immediate answer reveals, among other things.
While a personal quiz doesn’t necessarily have to be a game, making it one encourages people to participate more actively.
Objective: The objective is to get to know your remote team better. Bonding helps keep loneliness at bay and it is not uncommon to discover you share more with your teammates than you initially thought, be it things like playing in a band, or a passion for cooking shows.
Activities for remote teams
Some activities don’t need a winner. While it’s fun to compete against your colleagues, it can be just as rewarding to do other things together. Be it a team goal you all work towards together, or some wholesome discussions that help you get to know your colleagues better, there are all sorts of activities for remote teams that will help you bond.
7. Fitness goals
Rules: Create a shared fitness goal that the team must complete during a limited time period, e.g. 1,000,000 steps over a month or a certain distance cycled/ran.
It’s best to create a challenge that can be tracked by phones or smartwatches to ensure the authenticity of the results, however, you can also simply ask to self-report things like sit-ups, push-ups, and other exercises that might be harder to track digitally.
Objective: First and foremost, this will get the team moving. Not having to commute is great, but now we spend more time than ever sitting. Having a shared team fitness goal can, for example, be the defining push for people to go for walks, as nobody will want to let the team down.
A healthier team is a more productive team. More than that, having everyone working together on a single tangible goal is a rare occurrence in the modern company where everyone is split into divisions and departments. A shared fitness goal can foster a sentiment of togetherness with more than just your immediate colleagues, and it’s one of the more popular remote team building activities.
8. PowerPoint karaoke
Rules: In PowerPoint Karaoke, an improvisation game and an office classic, one team member has to do a PowerPoint presentation, without knowing what’s on the slides they’re handed.
Have each employee prepare 4–5 weird/funny slides and then distribute them to whoever’s up next!
Objective: Honestly, it’s just really funny to see what people come up with. Sure, there are some benefits regarding improved presentation skills and being quick on your feet, but, at the end of the day, this game is primarily and chiefly about having a good time.
9. We’re alike
Rules: Split your team into groups of 2–4 people. Each group’s task is to find 5 things that its members have in common and create a list. Once that’s done, groups come together and share and compare the lists they’ve created.
The next goal is to find common things between the lists created and discover things that many people in the company have in common.
We suggest using a randomizer when forming the teams to encourage communication between people that might not otherwise talk.
Objective: The main objective is to make friends. The typical work environment rarely gives you the option to discover what other people are into, particularly if you’re a shy person. This activity can also be a manager’s secret weapon for learning more about the team and discovering what things are universally liked, which help plan future on-site or remote team building activities.
10. Fashion devastation
Rules: This quick game takes only 5 minutes, but it will stay with you forever. The rules are simple:
- Everyone turns off their camera;
- Everyone has 3 minutes to get dressed in the most ridiculous outfit possible;
- Once done, everyone must turn their cameras back on at the same time.
Let the hilarity ensue and make sure to take a screenshot!
Objective: Beyond just lightening the mood, this activity gives you a team picture that will make any teammate smile when looking at it. If you decide to share it on social media, it’s sure to stand out among the bland seas of faces that other companies post.
Rules: There’s a fire! You have 3 minutes to grab 3 things that you would save first in the case of an emergency.
Once the team has collected the things they’d save, it’s time to do the rounds and hear the story behind each item.
Objective: This activity is the best for bonding. Lots of wholesome stories end up being shared, you learn about what your colleagues value, and you can get real personal, without it being weird. You’ll always discover something new and unexpected about someone and this activity will remind everyone that there’s a person just like you on the other side of that Slack conversation.
12. Photo competition
Rules: Give your team a theme. Give them a deadline (it can be 30 minutes, or it can be 2 weeks — up to you). Have them send in the best thematic picture they’ve taken. Hold an anonymous vote to determine the winner. Crown the champion!
Then, set a new theme and you’re ready for round two!
Objective: This is one of the more creative remote team building activities and it enables people to showcase their talents and abilities and simply have some fun.
13. Virtual happy hour
Rules: Just grab a drink and unwind with colleagues over a video call.
Objective: An activity best saved for a Friday evening, the virtual happy hour can serve as a casual socializing space without the requirement of jumping through hoops or doing other silly activities. Colleagues can have an open environment where they can just catch up about work or non-work stuff and spend quality time together just being themselves.
On-going activities for remote teams
While activities and online games for remote teams can help people interact more and have a lot of fun, chances are you won’t be playing them every day. This, in turn, means that loneliness will remain a factor, despite your bi-weekly photo competitions.
For this reason, it’s essential to have some on-going remote activities or events that can regularly bring the team together.
14. Coffee time
Coffee time is one of the more mellow remote team building activities and is simply a daily or weekly 20-minute virtual call where your team is encouraged to take a break together and have a chat, without feeling guilty about not working. Taking a breather is important for productivity, and if you can combine it with some socializing, it becomes doubly valuable.
You can swap out coffee time for lunchtime, but since everyone tends to eat at different times and it’s harder to talk with your mouth full, then coffee tends to be the more lively event.
15. Donut chats
Particularly useful for larger teams, the Slack plug-in Donut can be a wonderful socializing tool. It pairs up participants in a separate chat and encourages them to get to know each other better. This can spark conversation between people that might not otherwise ever talk and helps make for a friendlier team environment.
With discussion partners being switched up every 1–4 weeks, you’re always meeting new people and forming new relationships.
16. Regular retrospectives
Most teams already have remote weekly meetings. While they’re valuable for understanding what everyone’s up to, they’re not particularly social nor are they intended to be.
Having monthly retrospectives (a look back at everything that was achieved over the month) and framing them as celebrations can help combine work with pleasure. Think of it as a monthly work meeting with drinks.
Retrospectives can help with tackling big issues — the kind you don’t usually have time for in the rushed weekly meetings — and do so in a casual atmosphere. Plus, they can involve multiple teams, which would serve to catch everyone up on what is happening in the company and foster a sense of camaraderie.
17. Friday wind-down
A common issue cited by remote workers is difficulty in switching off after work. A Friday wind-down could help solve that. Schedule a virtual call for every Friday 30 minutes before the end of the workday, to just unwind with colleagues.
It’s an open setting and people are encouraged to talk about anything from weekend plans to work stuff. Friday afternoons tend to be slow anyway, and people will be happy that work technically ends half an hour earlier and be glad to spend those 30 minutes with colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps you can combine Friday wind-down with the Virtual happy hour for a fun start to the weekend?
BONUS: further ideas
Here are 51 further ideas for team building activities. Admittedly, they’re not specifically for remote teams, but if you ever run out of ideas, or if you’re OK with outdoorsy team building events — these can be a fantastic source of inspiration for your team’s next fun activity.
5 things to keep in mind for organizers of remote team activities
Organizing remote activities isn’t easy and can be a draining experience. That said, it’s for a great cause. The team will grow to appreciate the effort and it can be the difference-maker between a happy and unhappy team.
Here are 5 principles that will help make your remote activities a success:
- Ensure regularity — it’s not a one and done thing, but rather an on-going effort that will only bear fruit with time. Having weekly or biweekly online team building games for remote employees will signal to the team that you actually care.
- Lead by example — If you’re a manager, you have to be there for your team. Since it’s likely to be the first encounter with remote activities for much of your team, take charge and show people how it’s done, be it a game or virtual coffee time.
- Make memories — Like with regular team building activities, take pictures. Having a gallery of all the fun and silly stuff you get up to will help make these events memorable and produce some real gems.
- Have prizes — Prizes are great as they can motivate people to compete. Material rewards are always nice, but even a self-made certificate can be enough to give people something to fight for.
- Be ready to invest — schedule (most) activities during working hours. Don’t look at remote team building activities as doing your team a favor — it’s an investment in their wellbeing and happiness, which is likely to lead to better business performance.
Remote work is great, but it comes at a cost. The two biggest issues faced by remote workers are loneliness and communication problems, both of which are in-part remedied by regular remote team building activities. If remote work is here to stay, as it seems to be, the importance of such activities will only grow.
Nobody should feel lonely. So make use of the activities presented in this article to stay ahead of the curve and keep your team happy, open, and ready to tackle anything together.