This past year and a half have seen the rapid rise of remote work and hybrid teams (teams that work partly in the office and partly remote). This is a major shift in the way we work、 and will doubtless have lasting effects that carry on beyond the end of the pandemic.
Despite all the benefits of remote work–like not needing to rent vast and expensive office space on the company’s side, and the comfort of skipping the commute in a crowded train and having more time at home on the employee’s side–the quality of communication decreases significantly when team members don’t have a communal workspace.
Communication now takes place via the messenger apps of our choice and the occasional video conference call. Gone are the conversations in the breakroom and quick chats in the hallway that provided a strong basis for team interaction and unity.
This decrease in the quality of communication may in the long term, affect productivity, so it is of the utmost importance that your team stays connected on a personal level so that communication can take place in a more open and stress-free manner. Team building games and activities can be a good way to increase the quality of communication and mutual trust among your team members in an entertaining way.
Below we have compiled a list of some quick and easy team building games for you and your remote team members, which will help boost communication, and ultimately productivity, while having fun at the same time. These ideas don’t require a lot of planning, which means that they can be easily implemented into your weekly work regimes.
1. “Can You Hear Me Now?”
This game is recommended by many as one of the best ways to practice precise communication, and it’s super fun as well.
How to play: One member of the group is selected as the speaker, while the remaining members of the team are the artists. The speaker picks a random image from the internet and dictates to the artists how to recreate the image, by describing it only using geometric shapes.
For example: “Draw a square. On top of the square, draw a triangle.”
Obviously, this is not the most efficient way to draw a house, but you already see that this is not as easy as it seems at first glance. Precise communication requires practice, and this exercise is a great example of the principle “Investing time is saving time”. If you allow yourself and your team to take some time to practice communication in a relaxed atmosphere, you will see results the next time you need to change the formatting of that client presentation, or you need to describe the layout you need for your design team.
2. “Never Have I Ever” (family-friendly edition)
In a remote work environment, there might be colleagues who have never met each other in person (people are still getting hired and changing jobs). So it is valuable to promote personal connections among team members to increase their trust in each other.
You might have heard of the infamous drinking game “Never Have I Ever”, which is a game where you end up learning some surprising things about your fellow players, as well as yourself. While the game as it is popularly played isn’t so safe for work, we still highly recommend the family-friendly version.
This game will help your team to discover things they have in common and provide a chance to exchange interesting stories about themselves (it also comes with the additional health benefit of fighting dehydration).
How to play: Make sure all participants have a bottle of water ready, and then start with the questions. Depending on how outgoing your team is, you might want to have a set of questions prepared or ask every participant to write a certain number of questions. And now let the question begin.
Start off with “Never have I ever” and then finish the phrase with something that you have never done. The team members who have done that thing have to drink from their water bottles. For example, if you say “Never have I ever… been to Italy” everyone who has been to Italy must drink some water. Ideally, the question should inspire people to ask about the story behind it.
Here are a few suggestions of family-friendly questions:
Never have I ever…
- been to Italy
- baked my own bread
- owned a pet
- traveled all by myself
- eaten sushi
- forgot my wallet at home while shopping
- boarded the wrong train by accident
- ordered an expensive dish/drink and didn’t like it
- been on TV
- broken a bone
- tried durian (a.k.a. stink fruit)
- seen a fox in the wild
- accidentally set something on fire in the kitchen
- ridden in a hot air balloon
- ridden on an elephant’s back
- gone viral on the internet
- repaired a car
- owned a rare item
- found a treasure
- been in a band
*If you want to make it a competition, there is a variation where instead of drinking you put down one finger each time you have done the thing. Once a player puts down all five (or ten) fingers, they are out, and the rest of the team continues playing.
**You can also adapt other classic drinking games to encourage your team members to drink more water.
3. Virtual joint exercises
When working from home, making sure you are getting enough exercise becomes more important. So doing a few light exercises together can be fun and beneficial. Motivate your team to get a little health and energy boost.
Museum Hacks recommends “Yoga Norman Neck Stretches”, which is a great way to spend a few minutes stretching your neck, increasing blood flow to your brain, and increasing your overall well being, especially since the neck is very vulnerable to pain and discomfort while working on computers at makeshift desks all day long.
Our team at Invite Japan does the NHK Radio Taiso exercise every morning before our meeting. This short three-minute exercise helps us to start the day with a boosted blood flow and the increased productivity resulting from it.
It can also be beneficial to get fitness resources from team members as well. This is also a great conversation starter. I personally was very happy to discover a quick, sit-down cardio exercise which helped me to reduce my caffeine intake by battling tiredness during the day.
4. Improve and spice up your online meetings
Meetings can be tedious, especially when working remotely. There is a lot of potential for distractions, and there have been many studies recently about how online video conferencing like Zoom is more physically and emotionally tiring than regular face-to-face meetings. Here are a few short activities which you can incorporate into your online meetings to make the meeting less exhausting and more fun for all participants.
- Dance Party Break
Play an upbeat song during your meetings and have everybody dance to increase energy levels.
- Assign Fun Roles
Assign roles such as “Cheerleader” or “Shade Thrower” to increase attention and focus and create some controlled mischief during online meetings.
- Hand Signs
Establish hand signs like thumbs up, thumbs down, or the heart sign to communicate approval or disapproval during a meeting while your microphone is off. This relieves some of the annoyance at having to turn your mics on and off constantly, and it helps your team bond together more through the creation of their own secret code.
- Encourage Doodling
Encourage doodling during the meeting and invite your team members to show off their drawings at the end of the meeting to increase focus and to get them to share their creative sides with each other.
Ask your team members to take a pen and a piece of paper and to write down what is on their minds before going into the meeting. Then let them rip up or throw away their note.
- Share the News
Dedicate a little time out of your video conference calls each time to ask one member of your team to present a current news story and encourage the other team members to ask any questions they may have about it.
- Surprise Happy Hour
When you have a meeting scheduled, instead of following the typical agenda, host a surprise happy hour, where you invite your team members to have a delicious drink (it doesn’t have to be alcoholic, especially when your meeting is not at the end of the day) and to play games – ideally fun team building games of course. Maybe you can find inspiration for activities on this list. These kinds of fun surprises can help relieve some of the repetitiveness that naturally happens with remote work.
5. Share knowledge with “Lunch and Learn”s or informative coffee breaks
In-house Lunch and Learn has been a common concept for many years, but it is possible, and maybe even better to host events like this for your remote team. A speaker is invited to hold a presentation of about one hour in length, while the audience eats their lunch while listening. If your budget allows for it, you can give your team a little pocket money to order food for this event. Hosting this event remotely also has the benefit that the speaker is not required to travel.
The more budget and time-friendly version is an informative coffee break. Invite your team members to prepare a short presentation of about five to ten minutes about any interesting topic of their choice. It does not need to be work-related and can be about practically anything as long as it is interesting (think of TED talks). The presentations will be held during a video conference call while the other team members enjoy a coffee or another delicious beverage of their choice.
A variation of this could be a virtual show and tell. Exactly as you might remember it from elementary school, invite your team members to talk about an interesting or precious object they own.
6. Digital tours
This kind of activity can be especially interesting for international teams. Ask your team members to become a tour guide and show their colleagues around an interesting place they know (for example where they are living now or where they grew up) from their computers. Many different formats are possible, like a slideshow, a vlog style video, or a digital walk with Google Street View.
Recently many museums have opened their digital doors for visitors from all over the world, so your team can also visit a museum together from their homes. Such a visit would tie in with an informative coffee break, where your team members can give a presentation on an exhibition piece that impressed them.
Museums open for a digital visit include the British Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
7. Happy Holidays
An interesting activity for international remote workers from different cultures to do is to celebrate holidays together. You can explain the background of the holiday, share a recipe for a traditional dish, or give an instruction on how to make a traditional item associated with that holiday.
For example, the national holiday of Germany is celebrated on October 3rd. On this day we celebrate the reunification of East and West Germany. For this activity, I could share a basic recipe for Currywurst (sausage in a sauce seasoned with curry powder).
8. Exciting Sponge
In any job, you need to think out of the box from time to time, but it can be hard to get the creative juices flowing when every day feels the same. The exciting sponge is a quick and simple storytelling game that can be easily integrated into a remote working and team building environment.
How to play: During a video call, ask your team members to grab a random object they can reach from their desk (if they don`t have a suitable object at arm’s reach they can talk about a generic sponge). The goal is to exaggerate what makes that item special. For example, a sponge could be the fossil of a popular cartoon character or your coffee mug could be, in fact, the Holy Grail.
Exciting Sponge is an entertaining and useful activity for remote teams, which can help your team members look at ordinary things from a different perspective. This little exercise allows your team to use their creativity and at the same time brings your team closer together.
9. “Improve your work space at home” challenge
There are a number of ways to improve your work space and equipment at home. Why not encourage improvements by turning it into a challenge. Here are a few points that could be improved in the framework of a challenge
- Declutter the desk
- Optimize the settings of the wifi router
- Delete unnecessary files and compare how much you deleted
10. Two truths and a lie
How to play: Each member of the team makes three statements about themselves. Two of them are true, one of them is a lie. The other team members take turns to try to identify which is which. After everybody has their turn guessing, the speaker reveals the correct answer.
*You can give this game a more competitive twist by establishing a point system.
Team building activities are helpful at providing a safe and relaxed framework in which to improve communication skills, personal connection between team members, and encourage out-of-the-box thinking. All of these benefits will manifest in more efficient teams. There are many benefits to doing some team building activities every now and then, in order to keep those channels of communication open and flowing regularly.
When working remotely, personal contact with your co-workers is very limited, so it is important to create situations where your team members have the chance to communicate with each other on a more natural basis, outside of the framework of office tasks. Hopefully, these ideas will help you find easy and simple ways to slip team building activities into the work schedule and create a more productive and effective team.
For more information on team building, or if you are looking for a longer team building program, please check out our website. We offer a range of different activities, including online team building programs designed specifically for remote and hybrid teams.