How can teams bond virtually this year? It’s much easier than you might think, even with a big remote team! We're sharing 8 virtual retreat ideas your team will love (ours certainly did).May 21, 2021
If you ask us, the best way to keep your team in good spirits is by bringing everyone together. And not just for some regular Zoom team building, but to do a creative activity that makes people smile and feel more connected.
Before social distancing was a thing, there were team lunches, leisure events and a festive party to end the year with a bang. But what remote team building activities are the virtual equivalent of that?
Turns out, there are many online team building exercises! And they’re much easier to organize than you might think (yes, even with a big team)!
Continue reading to learn about eight fun virtual games and activities that your team will love. We say “love” with so much confidence because we’ve experienced them as a team, and people were absolutely stoked!
You might think: “Why adapt? Shouldn’t The Remote Company be accustomed to organizing virtual team building activities and games?”
While that’s true, we mostly relied on our real-life workations (we explain what those are on our workation page) to bond as a team. We did activities like a 10-hour blindfolded mountain hike, learned HTML, and organized internal trade shows.
Virtually, we didn’t have a lot of team bonding experience. So when the pandemic hit, we had to be creative and think outside the box to come up with online team building games and continue our bi-yearly workations. The solution was a virtual workation, named a “staycation”.
When searching for new online team building activities, we realized that actually, there were many options!
When remote work became a new reality for millions, startups were quickly founded and existing companies adapted their business models to provide virtual experiences. This resulted in a splurge of online games for remote teams.
Furthermore, we weren’t tied to the events offered at a specific location—the entire world became our playground. Hence, we took full advantage.
Time to elaborate on each activity! Hopefully, our own virtual team bonding experiences will get you inspired to host a party for your team yourself.
Here’s the honest truth: planning remote team building activities, especially for large distributed teams, can be challenging. You’ll need a team leader, a group of organizers, and to not be afraid to fail (potentially).
In our company, it’s our COO Ilma who stars as the initiative-taker for nearly all remote team activities. She’s the main driver behind our staycation agenda. In preparation for each virtual team building activity, she explores suitable ideas—either by quizzing our team, asking her friends, thinking outside the box, or doing research online.
Then, she personally approaches our remote team members and asks them to join the creative committee. Especially in a big team, it’s better to ask remote employees directly versus letting them take action when they want to participate. If you take the latter approach, employee engagement can be low and you might end up doing all the work yourself.
To make sure everyone could participate, we started our activities at a time that works for most time zones. For our remote employees in Europa, the first meetup was planned in the afternoon of their workday. In America, the activities started early. Our remote workers in Asia had an evening program planned.
Be aware that organizing virtual team building events is not a task that can be completed with a 100% satisfaction rate. Not everyone will enjoy each activity.
For example, some of us loved the morning meditation session we hosted during one staycation, while others were highly skeptical (and barely participated in this team meeting). That’s okay! It’s impossible to host an event for a big group of remote workers where everyone is equally excited. If the majority loved it, you can call it a success!
Yes, it’s totally possible, and yes you really can’t Google any answers. There are many companies doing virtual escape parties in 2020, and we picked the “Beam me up, Scotty” Moon-themed room from REASON.
With a live host and remotely controllable props, we gathered in small groups of 8-10 people to complete five stages of complex puzzles, using our knowledge and problem-solving skills. All brainstorming is done in Zoom breakout rooms.
We were surprised by people showing their crazy mathematical skills, while others took on more of a cheerleading role. Everyone got to shine in this non-traditional, fun way of virtual team building.
Fun fact: When we asked our team about their favorite activities, people voted the escape room as #1.
“Having to solve issues with different teammates really allowed us to bond and put any shyness aside. I loved to see how we humans connect when we are trying to achieve a common objective.”
“The most exciting moments happened during the escape room. It was really teamwork in a much different context than we are used to.”
As a motivational boost, we awarded the team that escaped first with their very own real star to name.
But even without this reward, our team loved this experience to the moon and back *wink wink*.
“Making sangria with drag queens.”
The first time we read this description, many of us were not entirely sure what to expect. All we knew is that we had a grocery list of items to buy, and we had to come dressed in our annual tradition: a wig (we organize wig goodbye parties during every workation).
The show, hosted by a Lisbon-based group of fabulous drag queens, was everything… and more.
Drag Taste is an experience that’s entertaining from start to finish. There are the dazzling outfits, dance party and karaoke breaks, impressive performances, and the hilarious banter between Áfrika and Teresa al Dente. And oh yeah, you’re also making delicious Portuguese sangria (and you learn some kitchen life hacks along the way).
By the end of this online team building activity, the majority of us were so hyped that we didn’t want the night to end.
Many people did not leave the video conference call and kept happily staring at their screens before someone took the initiative to host a virtual afterparty. Then a group of us chatted for hours more, drinking our sangria and listening to a party playlist.
“I already told many of my friends about the Drag Queen party and sangria (actually shared some of the sangria, everyone loved it)”
“LOVED the drag queens as well, we should invite them more often :)”
“Sangria party with Drag Queens, I wish we had more parties like this. It was brilliant!”
“For the next in-person workation, we should do drag queen hair makeup lessons with a dress-up party.”
Ah, a universal classic! Another one of our favorite team building events is to gather in teams and enjoy a night of good old trivia.
The nice thing about this team activity is that you’re in total control of what trivia questions you want to ask and how long the team building activity will be. At The Remote Company, we organized two trivia nights.
Our first edition was hosted on video conferencing tool Zoom, using the main room to ask the question via screen sharing and then sending each team off to breakout rooms to discuss their answer. We asked general and work-related questions.
Apart from some technical difficulties, we also concluded that Zoom might not be the ideal environment to create the right atmosphere. It screams work environment and doesn’t have that laid back, pub quiz kind of feel.
For our second edition, we organized our trivia night in Gather—a platform where each participant can create an avatar and walk around in a virtual space of your choice. Every time your avatar comes close to someone else’s, they’ll see your video and you can chat.
We designed our Gather town to be a pub-like setting, complete with team tables that people could “sit down” at. As the quiz teams were seated around tables, the group chats were limited to only the people in their team (you can manage this by setting the radius).
One facilitator (we had two organizers for this fun game) asked each question via the public microphone in Gather. To answer the trivia questions, we used the quiz software Kahoot. This is an interactive software where people can answer questions in real-time via their phones. Each answer should be given in a limited amount of time, and the first person to submit their answer gets the most points (of course, if you submit the correct answer).
You can read about our virtual pub quizzes in detail below.
When new people start at The Remote Company, we have a tradition called Pecha Kucha. We ask everyone to create a 20-slides-for-20-seconds presentation to introduce themselves. It’s a great way to get to know new colleagues and build relationships.
Over the years, there have been MANY slides about cats, dogs, and food. So much that we now joke that any presentation without cats is wack (just kidding).
After realizing that many of us are epic chefs, we created the Slack channel #foodies.
If your office team also loves to whip up a good meal, we highly recommend organizing a food night as a virtual team building activity.
Since our remote team is spread around the world, we asked people to host a cooking night where we all-together cooked a meal from a specific country.
The hosts got creative and team members could sign up to cook/taste:
Middle-eastern fattet hummus
Portuguese “Bacalhau com natas” (cod fish with cream)
Irish leek and potato soup with freshly baked bread
Mexican tacos, guacamole and cantaritos
Lithuanian “Šaltibarščiai” (cold beetroot soup)
“I liked the food night so much (the vibe and recipe) that I made the hummus for my friends and family once again! It was amazing :D”
“The food night was a truly exceptional experience, eating the same tasty food together in three different continents.”
“Thanks for this experience! We should have activities like this more often.”
“I can’t believe I managed to do this and it’s actually delicious, thanks so much Lana, it was a great food night!”
“Thank you for making my dream come true team! Had a blast!”
For one of our virtual team workshops, we invited the lovely folks of the Museum Hack to teach us about storytelling. This fun activity challenged everyone to think creatively, improve their communication skills, and collaborate as a team!
The two-hour-long workshop started with learning the key ingredients to creating a compelling story. Packed with new knowledge, each team was then sent off to Zoom breakout rooms to craft their own story. Then we had around 20 minutes to write a story together to present to the group afterward.
This virtual storytelling team building event was great because it made people get out of their comfort zone and think differently. To build a complete story in that short amount of time, you needed all hands on deck and work together. Plus you got to hear the rest of the team’s cool stories!
There are many different virtual retreat ideas that can calm your mind and de-stress, like meditation or yoga.
A more unexpected method is rock balancing.
To start our Tuesday program, we invited Travis Ruskus to host a rock balancing workshop for us. Ruskus is a California-based rock balance meditation artist that can balance like no other (just look here).
In the workshop, everyone had to bring some items of choice—like lemons, oranges, rocks, and crystals. We’d then balance each item on top of each other, as high as we could.
Though these zen practices weren’t for everyone (“Argh, they fell AGAIN”), it did have most of us completely focused, even if it only lasted for a few seconds or minutes.
And surprisingly, we had some really gifted rock/fruit/potato balancers in our team as well:
“That was soo cool, thank you this is a new hobby I think!!”
“As a spiritual person, I truly value activities like the rock balancing one, that’s definitely a topic I’d also love on the next workation.”
“I found the opening rock balancing workshop incredibly useful. The concept is simple enough but being led by an expert who can encourage and motivate you makes a big difference! The breathing exercises and release methods are useful life hacks that I will use from now on!”
Admittedly, when you first enter this virtual beer garden-esque park it feels like you’ve entered SimNation, but on a very hectic day (especially with a team of 100+ people). Everyone’s little avatar is running around, trying to see what this virtual park is all about.
Gather.town is the name of this innovative online meeting app. Team members can move around, and every time you’re getting close to another person (or several people), your video chat will pop up so you can talk.
The app comes with different environments, such as school buildings, conference halls, and parks. The park setting includes picnic tables where people can gather around to play virtual team games like chess, Pictionary, and Tetris. We also created a photo exhibition showing our favorite company moments.
The beer garden featured a stage that people can enter to make public announcements, which serves as a great virtual icebreaker. In our case, these public announcements quickly turned into a challenge of “Who can tell the best dad joke?” (yes, we even created a new Slack channel named #dadjokes after this event).
“Meeting new people online is always awkward for me. This time the meetings/bondings were in a different virtual environment. It felt much more cozy and comfortable to start talking with a new colleague.”
“It's amazing how you can still connect with the team virtually without leaving your house. Also, thanks for including chess in the welcome party game arsenal :D”
Would you like to take part in these fun team bonding activities? Chances are, we’re hiring. Explore our current job openings!
There are a few things that the majority of our team loves, namely: cats, dogs, coffee, and traveling. Yet very few of us managed to go anywhere due to the pandemic.
With our wanderlust at an all-time high, we decided to theme one of our staycations and collectively go on a virtual journey to Tokyo, Japan. All week long, we encouraged our team to change their Zoom video call backgrounds into something Japanese and get creative with accessories.
We kicked off our travels with a taiko Japanese drums performance by Mugen Taiko. The pumped-up rhythms and vibrant energy of the drums got everyone awake and excited! It didn’t take long before everyone was involved and drumming.
Then, for one of the evening activities, we booked four different Airbnb Japanese food experiences. People could choose from making sushi or mochi, or learning about sake or whiskey.
Team sushi created the most beautiful creations, while the mochis were a little more challenging to get right. The beverage groups walked away with a ton of new knowledge, like how to read a sake bottle and know whether it’ll be a good one.
For our recurring virtual happy hour party (hosted at the start of each staycation) in Gather, we added some fun games for people to participate in. For example, in one corner you could learn how to create origami. There was also a scavenger hunt to find a sacred sword and hunt down the sun goddess Amaterasu, who was hiding in a cave (and would only come out once people found all the clues).
We hope this article inspired ideas for your own online team event—whether it’s for your monthly meet up or annual holiday party.
To quote drag queen Teresa al Dente: “There are apron guests and popcorn guests”. We’ve learned that It's much more fun to be an apron guest (participating) than a popcorn guest (viewing). Your company culture will grow much more when everyone joins in.
“I loved how creative all of the different activities were. I was often so immersed in the experience that I forgot we were online, and it's amazing to see how much fun we can all have together, even when we're spread all over the world.”
When looking for the right virtual team building activities for remote teams, don’t forget about your local entertainers. Many artists are happy to create an online experience and earn some extra income. Similarly, your own team is probably filled with (hidden) talent too!
And lastly, though we’ve packed this article with virtual team building games, let’s not forget that the real secret to great team spirit is not what you do, but who you’re doing it with. It’s much better when everybody gets involved!
As our Partnership Manager Jessika said: “For me, the people made this event memorable.”
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