25 Virtual Team Building Activities for Remote Teams

Want your remote team to start working together like a seasoned squad? Use these virtual team building activities and tools for better results.

How do employees who never see each other in-person become “teams”? Creating a productive environment and building a team culture is a challenge remote managers face every day. Many companies still fear that remote employees are not as successful as traditional ones, and many remote employees struggle to prove themselves at work.

However, there are many indicators that support the opposite theory. Research from MIT Sloan Review shows that well-managed remote teams outperform traditional ones. Another study by Aon Consulting shows distributed workers as more productive overall, some up to 43 percent.

The question, then, is really one of management. How can managers maintain a productive work environment and grow strong bonds within their teams? They have to get creative with virtual team building activities tailored to remote workers.

Building culture within your remote teams: thinking beyond water coolers and table tennis

Remote managers have to think outside the box. Virtual team management involves dealing with a team of people who work from home offices, coffee shops, and libraries. You have to bring them together with creative methods. As Wade Foster says in a blog for Zapier, who has a remote team, “…your culture has to be built around more than ping-pong tables.” Building a team culture takes time and effort with remote teams.

1. Encourage an environment of open dialogue and shared ideas

Managers who proactively encourage communication will have the most success at building culture. If you’re using a service like Slack or other remote working tools, share your ideas with the group every day. Work-related or not.

Create a channel within Slack for “sharing ideas.” Whenever a group member comes across a work-related article, an inspiring video, or just an interesting thought, they can post it in the channel and start a discussion.

2. Meet in-person at least once a year for an event or retreat

Regardless of managing a 100 percent remote team, it’s still important to meet in-person at least once a year. Research from Harvard Business Review shows that face-to-face contact is the most effective form of communication. Plan a retreat or event that keeps your connections strong for the long-run.

3. Donate to a cause that matches your team’s overall values

People like to work for businesses that support important causes. It unifies your team and makes their bonds stronger.

Zapier makes a point to sponsor events in their employees’ hometowns. “I imagine as the team grows we’ll be fortunate to help foster many local communities around the globe. By doing this, team members feel more like there is a local presence in their hometown,” says Wade Foster.

They’ve sponsored dev/como, several James Carr runs, and Startup Weekend Columbia every year.

4. Build trust, stay accountable and get work done

A team culture is strongest when every member is dedicated to doing good work. They should be reliable, accountable, and willing to work hard. Trust is built by teams who know they have each other to count on and encourage every day.

5. Have frequent team meetings and chats via online tools

It’s difficult to manage a team when communicating via emails and text messages. Video is your number-one substitute for face-to-face meetings. Schedule video conferences to go over important projects, update teams on progress, and cover any material that’s best done visually.

6. Pat each other on the back for a job well-done

Acknowledgment is a key factor in employee happiness and personal confidence. Working remotely doesn’t offer the same opportunities to shake hands and give a pat on the back. It requires a bit more creativity (and frequency) to show recognition.

Point out accomplishments when engagement is at a high point. Video conferences, phone conferences, and lastly chat rooms like Slack are the best options (in descending order).

7. Ask for one-on-one time every few weeks

Managers of remote teams have a responsibility to keep in touch with everyone. Not just the whole team, but individuals. Having a one-on-one conversation will help foster trust. It shows that the managers care enough to develop strong relationships on an individual basis.

Elevate your existing virtual teams to peak performance with proven team building techniques that are immediately applicable and tailored to enhance your team’s current capabilities. Learn more about business consulting, or subscribe to our Virtual Manager training courses.

Help team members feel included: building a sense of community between remote workers

Every person handles remote work environments differently. Some may love working alone from the comforts of home; some may feel a bit out of touch spending every day by themselves. Either way, feeling included is paramount to team building. Strong relationships grow from a sense of community and belonging.

1. Don’t stop the chit chat—make your water cooler a bountiful well

Small talk is something we take for granted at the office. We don’t realize how essential it is to feel like part of a team. It allows people to get to know one another, share stories, tell jokes, and grow trust.

Remote teams only get to communicate virtually. That’s why keeping in touch and using your communication services to their full extent is important. Encourage your teams to have unlimited freedom to talk and chat throughout the day.

2. Encourage team members to share pictures, videos, GIFs, and music

The best virtual team building activities are acts of sharing. Office space allows employees to gather around a desk and watch a funny video or GIF when they please. Remote teams should have these experiences, too.

Zapier loves to use GIFs as responses to comments in Slack throughout the day. “Being able to drop a relevant GIF or meme seconds after a timely Slack comment is one of the more spectacularly amusing things that happens in our little digital office place,” says Foster.

3. Schedule meetings to discuss personal goals (chat room, conference call, or video)

Goal setting is a cornerstone for successful teams, regardless of physical location. Set aside time to discuss goals during a phone conference every week. Everyone shares their goals for the week, where they stand on current projects, and what to do next.

4. Throw an online movie night and chat outside of work

Remote teams should get to know each other “outside of the office.” Fun virtual team building activities allow them to experience something together, such as watching a movie. Hold a video conference and watch each other’s reactions during the funniest or scariest scenes.

5. Share published content about your industry and spark discussion

SlackHipChat and Trello are great tools for sharing content that’s relative. Maybe it’s a resourceful blog post, magazine article, SlideShare presentation, or a video on YouTube. Upload it and share with the team.

Build a sense of community with existing virtual teams to peak performance with proven team building techniques that are immediately applicable and tailored to enhance your team’s current capabilities. Learn more about business consulting, or subscribe to our Virtual Manager training courses.

Tools to use for virtual team building activities and productive work

1. Constant communication: Slack and HipChat

Every remote team needs a central communication hub. Tools like these are like instant messenger programs and chat rooms combined, and allows you to see who’s online, and talk about specific projects or clients. It’s where everyone signs in for the day, says good morning, shares updates, and chats between tasks. It’s an essential piece of team building on a day-to-day basis. It keeps teams in touch and makes the day much more enjoyable.

2. Collaboration on projects: Basecamp and Trello

Having a tool that helps remote workers collaborate is priceless. They can brainstorm ideas, get things down “on paper”, and customize their workflows on the spot. Once one task is complete, the whole team gets updated, and the next person in line starts their portion of the project. You can help employees be accountable and stay on top of their schedules with Hubstaff , an easy way to track time and manage payroll.

3. Video calls and conferences: Skype (and now Slack!)

Video helps build better relationships within distributed teams and offers opportunities to engage on a personal level. It brings the group together on a regular basis and gives a stronger sense of community when seeing the faces of their team members.

4. Sharing documents: Dropbox and Google Drive

All the documents and presentations a team works on should be easily accessible. Dropbox and Google Drive make this possible. Cloud computing and storage makes file sharing simple for remote teams. No more sending emails with downloadable attachments.

5. Giving perks and rewards: Uncover

Uncover is a unique tool. It allows managers and fellow employees to hand out “perks” and “rewards” for hitting milestones. You can give access to Spotify, Amazon gift cards, Uber rides, and WholeFoods credits. It’s a useful tool for virtual team building activities that focus on giving rewards and makes it easy for managers to show recognition.

6. Social sharing: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook

The three main social media sites for employees are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Gaining visibility over these channels requires support from fellow team members. Sharing content, commenting on videos, retweeting—all of these actions show support in a public space.

How to keep it fun: virtual team building activities that turn work into play

1. Mapping out locations

Maps are an excellent way to visualize where team members live and work. If the team is distributed across the country (or the globe), each map marker represents where a team member resides. Send out maps to new employees with all the accessories to mark up the map in the appropriate locations.

2. Video Charades and Pictionary

Once in awhile, it’s fun to plan a game like charades virtually. It’s the same rules as playing in the office with a group of people, but instead, it’s through a camera lens. These games help build friendship and foster teamwork in a light and funny way.

3. Digital coffee talk (on you)

Use Venmo to buy your team a coffee at their local coffee shop. Once every few weeks, send everyone out to a local place and set up shop for a video conference.

4. Virtual walk-throughs of workspaces

People in offices know what their colleagues’ desks look like. They see the pictures, the quotations, the tack boards, and all the little trinkets that make a person’s workspace their own. Why not do that virtually? When a new member arrives, have them give the team a virtual tour of their home office space (and possibly meet their pets in the process).

5. Building story narratives in five minutes

An easy and fun game to play is building plot lines with your team. Via Slack, one person gives a basic premise of the story, and it goes around to every person until you end up with a hilarious story. It’s one of the virtual team building activities that takes a matter of minutes and gives everyone a good laugh.

6. Matching favorite quotes with funny pictures

Create memes is always a goofy game to play. You can run a competition for the best combination of quotations and pictures by taking a vote at the end of the day. Set parameters so nothing gets too inappropriate.

7. Pairing up with team members for an hour or two

Pair-ups are an easy way to get your members to know each other. You can share screens via Join.me and work together on a project throughout the day. The goal would be to pair up with every person in the group at least once over a matter of time.

Let’s hear your opinion: do you have any thoughts about building remote teamwork? Share your stories and experiences in the comments!

Elevate your existing virtual teams to peak performance with proven team building techniques that are immediately applicable and tailored to enhance your team’s current capabilities. Learn more about business consulting, or subscribe to our Virtual Manager training courses.

Photo by Windows