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The best team building activities for remote teams

Written 10 January, 2019, 4 minutes to read

Meaningful interaction is crucial to every team. It strengthens relationships, releases endorphins and supports personal wellbeing. But how can you bond with your colleagues if never actually meet in person?

As a company that works 50% remotely, we’ve come up with some pretty good solutions. Here are our favourite remote team building activities – whether you want to break the ice, start new conversations or simply enjoy quality time together as a virtual team.

Why remote socializing matters

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The absence of direct in-person communication presents a huge challenge for remote teams. Research show that remote workers develop weaker relationships with colleagues than their in-house counterparts – which isn’t surprising when 65% of them have never had a group bonding session.

Regular team socializing needs to be a priority for remote teams. It enables human connection between remote colleagues, by building a sense of trust, inclusion and representation. And it has a big impact on company culture: interaction can make the difference between feeling like a valued, equal member of the team and a satellite observer. So protect space for it and ensure that everybody can contribute.

Remote team building activities

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We’ve found that events structured around an activity work much better than just holding big group video calls – like “remote” lunches, coffee breaks, and happy hours. It gives everyone something to focus on, and people can get involved much easier. Here are a few of our best remote social ideas to-date!

1. Revealing quizzes

Nothing scandalous, please – these quizzes are just harmelss, simple opportunities to learn more about your remote colleagues and spark new conversations. You can do almost anything with the quiz format – from multiple choice to polls. We’ve tried the following with great success in the past:

  • Match the fact to the colleague (the more unusual/unexpected the better)
  • Would you rather (but keep it tasteful)
  • Themed trivia (e.g. based around a tradition, celebration, specialism)
  • A picture of my day (match the photo to the colleague – this can get a bit abstract)

We use Kahoot for pretty much all of these, as it’s super easy to run, and everyone can access the game on their phones with a URL and game PIN number.

2. Company Eurovision

At Timely, we’re pretty lucky to have such a globally diverse team – primarily so we can host a Eurovision-style company-wide song competition. Sadly, nobody sang. Instead, everyone submitted a recent song released by someone of their nationality and ranked everyone else’s submissions. You just need a YouTube playlist to showcase all the songs, and a survey tool to gather everyone’s scores (we used Google Form). It’s simple, ridiculous, and... culturally enlightening?

3. Virtual office fitness challenge

We’ve written about this one before (here are the best apps to go about it), but the premise is simple: everyone is set an exercise goal that can be tracked using your phone, and whomever performs the best wins a prize. We stuck to the simple “step challenge”, to see who could travel the furthest over a two-week period. Our super active winner received a shiny new Apple Watch!

4. Photography competition

It doesn't have to require fancy equipment – anybody with a smartphone can participate. Photo competitions are a great way of uniting people around a popular shared hobby, while also sharing insight into each others' lives. It's a simple and enjoyable means of visual self-expression, which you can theme around pretty much anything. The prize is pretty special too; the winner gets a framed professional print of their shot! You may learn something wholly unexpected about your colleagues - in terms of their lifestyle, interests or even secret design skills.

5. Simple virtual games

A ton of very basic ice breaker games lend themselves really well to a digital format, with little to no fuss to set up. A few of our favourites include:

  • Pictionary: We’ve used Skribbl in the past, but Drawasaurus looks promising too!
  • Charades: super simple – you just need to come to the video call with some good ideas!
  • Draw the picture: a classic communication game – someone describes a picture; everyone draws what they hear; hilarity at disfigured sketches ensues.

6. Company bake-off

Ok, this technically works best as a company meetup activity, but the thought and preparation can take time! Basically, you get everyone (who wants to participate) to make something edible representing their culture or the country they live in. You don’t have to turn it into a competition – sampling yummy things from around the world is pay-off in itself – although the homemade rakı someone brought to our last Timely meetup was on another level of good…

Everyday remote socializing

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Remember: remote team building isn’t just for Christmas; it requires an ongoing team-wide effort to mean anything useful. So think about how you can bridge the physical gap with your colleagues and work social interaction into your everyday.

Remote socializing really can be anything – we have Slack channels where people can post inspiration, bloopers and photos of what’s going on in their day, and a global team-wide music playlist, so we can share what we're listening to. We also make sure we take time to celebrate our successes over video – whether that’s a product launch, the end of a project cycle, a funding milestone or a new addition to the team.

Just remember that you should still meet in-person when you can! Company meet-ups, Christmas parties, new employee onboarding, and conferences are all great opportunities to bond together as real, living and breathing humans.

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