20 team-building activities to get remote teams through 2021
Remote work may be here for a while, but that doesn’t mean your workforce can’t bond. Use these fun team-building activities to keep employees connected and engaged.
Published June 3, 2021
Last updated June 3, 2021
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, companies were forced to adapt by starting a remote-work experiment. But for some, this new way of working is here to stay. PwC’s Remote Work Survey found that 83 percent of businesses think working remotely has been successful for their organizations. Additionally, an Upwork report found that 26.7 percent of employees will continue to work remotely this year.
While remote work brings many benefits for businesses and their employees, the lack of face time can also make maintaining your company culture and team morale a challenge. If your “quaranteam” is starting to feel the drain of working separately, it may be time for a good old-fashioned team-building activity.
We’ve rounded up 20 fun ideas to get your team feeling close—even when you’re all working remotely.
Team-building activities for sales teams
In a remote environment where salespeople aren’t working closely together, it can be easy for agents to lose sight of team goals. Use team-building activities that focus on collaboration and engagement to reignite your sales team’s energy.
1. Learn a new skill together
Learning new skills can help your team be more adaptable and likable, and group learning is a great way to bond.
There are two different ways for a sales team to approach this team-building exercise. Learn something new as a group, like the NATO Alphabet, which can be extremely helpful when making sales phone calls. Or, have team members take turns teaching the rest of the group a new skill on Zoom. Turning salespeople into teachers helps them drop their competitive nature and hone their public-speaking skills.
2. Volunteer virtually
The sales environment is often geared toward competition and winning. Have your team use that competitive edge to band together for a good cause. You could host a remote telethon or contest to see which group can raise the most money for a nonprofit.
If you want to take a break from competing, you can also volunteer together remotely. Building Impact offers care package assembly, supply drives, and online coaching opportunities for remote groups.
With these activities, your team gets to bond, and they’re more likely to engage at work. It’s a win-win.
3. Give kudos
Make a habit of starting some virtual meetings by randomly calling on team members and having them give “kudos” to another team member for something great they did that week.
The strategy here is twofold. If a team member knows there’s a chance they’ll be put on the spot by their manager, they’ll get into the habit of keeping an eye out for cool things their coworkers are doing. And taking a minute to lift up another colleague can help sales agents remember that, ultimately, everyone’s on the same team.
4. Grill the seller
Salespeople are used to driving hard deals and putting people on the spot with ease, but it’s different when they’re the ones in the hot seat. Build up group camaraderie by letting team members interview each other on a video call.
Select one member to ask the interviewee a series of increasingly ridiculous questions (like their stance on pineapple on pizza), and let other team members join in with their own questions as the interview progresses. This on-the-spot quizzing can teach you a lot about your coworkers.
5. Make hitting quotas a team sport
Break your sales team up into smaller groups and see which one is the top-performing group at the end of the quarter. Have the groups meet on a video call once a week to get to know each other and talk strategy.
The key to making this a collaborative—not competitive—activity is to switch up the assignments every quarter. This gives your team a chance to work with everyone toward a common goal.
Team-building activities for customer support teams
Support agents get their share of human interaction because they’re connecting with customers all day. But what they may miss out on in a remote environment is sharing feel-good success stories and decompressing from tough customers. These activities give your support team members a chance to reconnect and empathize with each other.
6. Shake it off
Dancing is basically a mixture of art and exercise, so it’s no surprise that it reduces stress. Having a quick virtual dance party is a great way to help your agents shake off the day’s challenges while bonding with the rest of their teammates.
Admittedly, dancing on camera for your coworkers may seem weird at first. Consider starting this tradition by telling everyone they can keep their cameras off if they prefer—but give prizes for the best dance moves of those who keep their cameras on. As long as you keep the environment supportive and lighthearted, over time, you should get more participation.
If you’re wondering how to satisfy everyone’s music tastes, don’t worry. Spotify has you covered.
7. Share one win
During team meetings, ask your agents to share a recent customer win. It gives each employee an opportunity to speak and boosts morale. Even on the loneliest of remote days, this activity can also remind support agents that they’re all working together to keep customers happy, which can make all the difference in the team’s productivity.
8. Take a personality test
Understanding your team’s unique personalities can help you support each other more effectively and work better together. This is critical in a department that’s focused on emotional intelligence and empathy.
Choose a personality test you feel will best fit your team—the DiSC assessment and Enneagram are both popular options. Have each team member take the test privately, and then come together to share results and get to know each other on a whole new level.
9. Address outrageous requests
Set up a video call where each team member writes down a ridiculous customer complaint. It can be something they’ve actually heard at work or something they make up. Some examples may be, “This software is too efficient” or “This product hasn’t made me look better.”
Then, take turns being the customer with a ridiculous complaint. Once the complaint is shared with the group, team members can interact with the “unhappy customer” to try to provide a solution. Meanwhile, the customer's job is to become increasingly irrational. The support agents have one job: They can’t laugh.
This game is goofy and fun, but it’s also useful for agents. They get a chance to practice reacting to customer concerns with empathy, even when they seem ludicrous. And the shared laughter at the sometimes absurd nature of their jobs will likely bring your team closer together.
10. Unwind with a virtual art class
A Quantum Workplace study found that one-third of hourly customer service employees are physically and emotionally drained by their jobs. During a pandemic, that stress can easily be compounded by new fears about their health and safety, not to mention the health and safety of their loved ones.
To help your support team decompress, hold a virtual art class. Research shows that creating art can lower stress and anxiety. Your art class can be as simple as having a Zoom meeting where everyone works individually to create the same image. You can also try out TeamBuilding’s Pixel Recreation Challenge, where an Excel spreadsheet becomes your canvas.
Team-building activities for newly remote teams
If remote work is fairly new for your company, your team may feel disconnected from their former office culture. A Qualtrics study found that newly remote employees are 30 percent more likely to report declining mental health than those in other work settings. To ease this transition and provide extra support, consider team-building activities that mimic in-person experiences.
11. Have a virtual campfire
To regain that long-lost, pre-pandemic kumbaya feeling, consider hosting a virtual campfire with your team. Go DIY with a Zoom meeting where the host has a campfire background, and all the team members come prepared with their favorite fireside snacks.
If you want to up your game, consider letting Tiny Campfire do the hosting. The company’s virtual campfire includes icebreaker games to bring colleagues closer together, ghost stories to entertain, and tiny s’mores kits to get in the spirit.
12. Play remote-work bingo
Introduce a little levity into your work-from-home environment with a tongue-in-cheek remote-work bingo game. This can help your remote employees see the humorous side of their “new normal.”
To increase engagement, consider giving a prize to whoever makes “bingo” first, with the caveat that they have to share what events led to their win. For example: “Phil said, ‘Can you hear me?’ three times in the first two minutes of our team call this morning.”
It may sound like a strange way to get your team interacting, but the lightheartedness pays off. An article in UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine found that humor on the job can lead to higher job satisfaction and strengthened social bonds.
13. Do a fitness challenge
One of the best ways to keep your remote team engaged is to encourage them to start a fitness routine. Exercising regularly can reduce stress and improve your mood, and getting to work out in the middle of the day is a perk of remote work.
To incentivize their remote employees to get moving, Memory hosts virtual fitness challenges. Team members agree on a trackable fitness goal for a set period of time (say, the number of daily steps), and the winner earns a prize. This activity engages employees in some healthy competition and gets them moving in the world beyond their home offices.
14. Host a virtual coffee chat
If you and your team are missing your ritual gatherings around the office coffee pot, bring coffee hour to your virtual meetings. Each week, host an optional 15-minute virtual “coffee chat” to give people a chance to step back from their work and casually socialize over a cup of joe. You can also set up a “coffee chat” Slack channel for employees to take a quick breather and shoot the breeze.
For a unique experience, check out Tea vs. Coffee, a tea and coffee tasting event that’s all about TEAm building. The company sends each employee various tea and coffee samples before the event, then the facilitators tell stories and educate the group on the origins of the samples.
15. Harness VR technology
To cut back on Zoom fatigue, consider upgrading your software so you can have a virtual-reality (VR) meeting instead of another video chat. VR meetings can add a huge boost to ideation sessions where you can use a whiteboard to collaborate. They’re also helpful in situations where it’s beneficial to see someone’s entire body, like during a demonstration.
Team-building activities for experienced remote teams
At the beginning of the pandemic, teams that have always worked remotely didn’t have to adjust to setting up a home office, competing for Wi-Fi bandwidth, or being with their pets or kids 24/7. But a pre-COVID Buffer report found that many remote employees struggle with feelings of loneliness. So, instead of focusing your team-building activities on completing a task, prioritize team members getting to know each other individually.
16. Riff off of MTV Cribs
Help Scout piloted a unique way for employees to virtually “meet” several years ago with its own version of MTV Cribs. Because the company has a fully distributed workforce, many employees will never meet in person, so they have no idea how their coworkers live.
The initiative was a surprising success, with many team members volunteering to film tours of their own homes to help their coworkers get to know them. While spying on colleagues’ homes can seem like a strange way to build team rapport, getting a glimpse into what they’re doing the other 16 hours of their day can lead to some great conversations.
17. Do a virtual pub crawl
To help longtime remote workers come out of their shells, host an online “pub crawl.” In Zoom, create several breakout rooms, with each one exploring an interesting website that can be discussed over drinks. Every 10 minutes or so, switch up the room assignments so different people are together and have a new site to check out. If you need some website inspiration, check out BuzzFeed’s list of 21 super interesting websites.
18. Play “Where in the world are you?”
This is a simple activity that can take place on a Zoom call, on Slack, or even through email. Have each team member take a photo from their home office window, anonymously share the picture with the rest of the team, and let the team guess whose window it is. It’s a fun, interesting, and easy way to open up conversations and connections about hobbies, home decor, and locations.
19. Host randomized water cooler chats
To make the virtual workplace feel a little smaller, host randomized water cooler chats where employees are matched up to have a casual (nonwork-related) conversation for a few minutes each week. If your organization uses Slack, its Donut extension can easily set up these meetings for you.
20. Start a check-in channel
Even work-from-home pros need to be checked on every once in a while. To keep tabs on your employees’ mental health and open a line of communication during the pandemic, create a check-in channel on Microsoft Teams, Slack, or whatever tool you use to communicate as a group.
Invite team members to check in daily by sharing a single emoji that reflects how they’re feeling. This might sound silly, but to someone who isn’t comfortable being vulnerable, it’s often much less intimidating to post a frowning face than to tell a group, “I’m pretty down today.”
An important note: If a team member has the guts to post that they’re not doing well, make sure your environment is receptive and supportive. Open up the conversation, and continue offering that employee support to ensure they’re getting the help they need.
Teamwork hasn't died—it's just evolved
There’s no doubt that workplaces changed in 2020 and will likely never be quite the same. But that doesn’t mean teamwork is no longer possible. Think outside the box with these team-bonding activities to encourage camaraderie, maintain a sense of collaboration, and boost engagement—no matter where your employees are working.