Think back to elementary school. Remember how excited you were when your teacher announced you’d be going on a field trip, and the speculation that followed: Would you be going to the science museum? The zoo!?
Now remember your disappointment upon discovering you’d be visiting the town hall or the local sewage plant. Not exactly a ten-year-old’s idea of fun.
Oftentimes, remote work culture activities evoke the same reactions from employees. What should be a fun activity ends up feeling awkward and forced–with people rolling their eyes behind their screens.
But how are you supposed to cultivate a strong culture on a remote team if you don’t organize activities that involve and connect people who may never meet in person?
As a remote leader, you can’t expect your employees to willingly participate in activities that make them cringe, so you need to find ways to actually engage them. Here are 10 ideas for how to do just that, either async or in real-time.
Make remote work culture activities fun, not forced
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5 async remote team building activities
If your team is spread across different time zones, it can be a struggle to plan real-time activities—when some of your employees are making dinner while others are just logging on with a cup of coffee. But you don’t have to plan a virtual happy hour to help build your company culture. Take a look at some async activities your team can do to get to know each other better and feel more engaged at work.
1. Team member profile
Building company culture is easier when your employees know each other, but getting people to share “fun facts” about themselves at the beginning of a meeting can be far from fun. More personal information may naturally come up in conversation at an in-person happy hour or during a lunch break, so you need to create opportunities to replicate these spontaneous interactions in a remote setting.
Here’s one way to help your team learn more about the people they work with: If you send out an internal newsletter with company updates, include a “team member profile” section where an employee writes about themself.
People can either volunteer or nominate a coworker to write their story, whether that be where they’re from, their most embarrassing moment, or how they ended up in the career they’re in.
Your employees will enjoy discovering facts about their teammates, and may even find out they have more in common with their coworkers than they thought.
Bonus: Encourage your employees to include photos in their team member profiles. Seeing photos of peoples’ pets, images of where they grew up, and embarrassing childhood snapshots will help your people feel more connected to each other.
2. Shared interest Slack channels
Unless you create opportunities for remote teams to have spontaneous casual interactions, they may not know when they have common interests with their coworkers. That’s why creating Slack channels where employees can chat with each other, no work allowed, helps them feel more connected and helps you build your company’s culture.
Teams of all sizes can create interest-based Slack channels where people can bond over shared hobbies and passions. For example, create a “pets” channel where team members share cute videos and pictures of their furry friends.
Some other ideas include:
- Food: This channel lets the foodies on your team share their favorite recipes or gush about the new restaurant they just tried over the weekend.
- Travel: Create a space for your travel enthusiasts to share photos of their latest adventures and brainstorm the perfect destination for their next trip.
- Arts and crafts: Whether it’s knitting, pottery, or woodworking, this channel will let your employees share what they’re working on outside of work.
- Movies: Make a channel for the film buffs of your team to chat about the latest releases and organize virtual movie nights.
- Techies: If you have employees who are always up-to-date on the latest innovations, create a place for them to share their findings and geek over all things tech.
Have you ever asked an open-ended question in a meeting or Slack channel just to get crickets in response? Asking dozens of people a broad question doesn’t tend to get much engagement. But a poll can get everyone involved quickly and easily.
Polls help start friendly discussions that bring your coworkers together and help them get to know each other. On your team Slack channels you can ask all types of questions, from “Where do you usually work—in your home office or somewhere else?” to “Who’s your favorite singer?”
You can also send out polls at the beginning of a team meeting for fun icebreaker questions, like “How many countries have you been to outside your own?” Give meeting participants a few minutes to answer the question, then have willing team members discuss and explain their answers.
A great thing about polls is that they work with any size team, as everyone can share their answers and only a few people have to elaborate on their responses.
4. Weekly DJ
Music is incredibly personal and, for many people, forms an important part of their identity. So having your team share their musical taste and preferences can really help bring them together.
Empower your people to share their favorite artists and songs with a “Weekly DJ” activity. For example, every Monday, someone shares a song or playlist that highlights their musical taste or favorite new finds. You can set themes, like “songs you grew up with” or “all-time favorite artists” to give your employees some inspiration. Next Monday, the next person takes over. Taking turns like this makes it seem less of a chore and more of a fun opportunity to share and get to know your coworkers better.
This activity helps your team members share an important part of themselves while connecting with other coworkers over shared musical taste. Plus, it gives your people a new playlist every week to put on in the background while they work.
5. Book club
A book club helps you foster a stronger company culture by creating a common topic for discussion that doesn’t have to do with work. If you have a small team, it’s easy to agree on a book between you, set a time limit to read it, and then discuss it in a Slack channel. If you want to also make it a real-time activity, you can set up a dedicated room in your virtual workspace and get together to dissect the book.
You can even create multiple book clubs fit for employees with different interests. That means you can have sci-fi/fantasy, classic novel, non-fiction, and even comic book clubs to fit the unique reading preferences of your team members.
And because reading an entire book is a commitment that not everyone’s schedule permits, you can expand the definition of a book club to encompass articles or even podcast episodes. That will make this activity accessible for employees with busy home lives that don’t leave them time to read a new novel every month.
Pro tip: Create a permanent “book club” meeting room in Switchboard so your team always has a place to hop into and discuss what they’ve read, even if it’s just for a short coffee break.
5 real-time team building activities
Now we’ve had a look at async activities, let’s see some ways you can build culture and engage employees on your remote team in real-time.
Remote team building exercises can often feel like “forced fun” so here are five ideas that will help your team feel connected without feeling like they’re being required to do so.
1. Red, yellow, green check-in
On a remote team, you may not know if someone is going through a hard time unless you ask. That’s where “red, yellow, green” check-ins can help.
At the beginning of a team meeting or 1:1, each team member shares how they’re feeling using the following system:
- Red: Having a rough day, need some support
- Yellow: Doing ok, but could be better
- Green: Having a great day, feeling energized
Use this meeting opener as a springboard for getting people to dig into the why behind how they’re feeling. Encourage “red” employees to share what’s going on if they feel like venting and “green” employees to talk about whatever personal win is making them feel so great.
This activity fosters trust and communication among your employees and also helps set boundaries for you when running your meeting. If the majority of participants are “red” that day, it may not be the best time to bring up a change in their workload or announce the loss of a key client.
These check-ins also help support your employees’ mental health and prevent remote work burnout, as they help you make the conscious effort to check in with your people on a regular basis.
Because it can be such a vulnerable activity, “red, yellow, green” is best for meetings with a small number of participants who collaborate often and feel comfortable around each other.
2. White elephant
If you’ve ever attended an uncomfortable in-person holiday party, it’s not hard to imagine the cringe potential of a remote one.
However, a white elephant exchange is a fun holiday activity your employees will actually want to participate in. The activity consists of team members buying a fun, inexpensive gift beforehand, then randomly selecting a wrapped gift or stealing one that’s already been opened during the exchange (the stealing is where the game gets exciting).
By using a remote work collaboration space like Switchboard, each team member can upload an image of their wrapped gift into the meeting room ahead of time. At the beginning of the game, each team member is randomly assigned a number to determine the order in which they’ll pick out their gifts.
Whoever draws number one gets to pick which gift they want based on the images in the meeting room, and whoever purchased that gift unwraps it so the recipient can see what it is. The next person in order can either steal that gift or open a new one, and so on until the last participant.
See how we did it for the holiday season here.
If you have the budget for it, pay for shipping costs for your employees to send their gifts to the recipient, which will be an added incentive for participation. Alternatively, you can play virtually by using an ecommerce or swag platform and then having the gifts shipped to people.
Note: Each gift can only be stolen twice in a white elephant game, so have a moderator keep track of the number of steals per gift on a note or document in your meeting room. Also, the ideal number of participants for a white elephant exchange is 7 to 15 people, so this activity is best for small to medium-sized groups.
3. Spotlight on a team member
Add a personal touch to your company-wide meetings with a team member spotlight. This activity is the perfect way to close out an all-hands and only takes 5-10 minutes (and zero planning). Plus, it’s fit for teams of any size.
The selected employee (who agrees to participate ahead of time—no need to put anyone on the spot) simply fields questions from fellow team members about anything and everything people want to know. For added intrigue, keep the name of each team member's spotlight a secret until it happens!
This activity helps team members get to know each other, asking questions they wouldn’t normally in normal work-focused conversations. We recommend encouraging your employees to prepare some questions ahead of each meeting to maximize participation. These can be random, according to what they most want to know, or you could set a theme.
4. New employee welcome
It can be hard for new team members to jump right into a meeting with a bunch of people they don’t know yet and ramble off a blurb about themselves. To avoid putting pressure on the newbie, establish a new employee welcome prompt for everyone on your team to answer.
This could be a question like “If you could travel anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?” Try to choose questions that help the new employee get a glimpse into their coworkers’ personalities (and vice versa).
And to give the new employee the chance to warm up, get everyone else to share their answers first. This activity is a better fit for smaller groups (think 5-15 people) and can be really helpful for helping new team members feel like they’re involved in your company’s culture from day one.
5. Virtual trivia
Nothing brings out people’s competitive side like trivia, but you don’t all have to head to the local bar to get some friendly rivalry going. Instead, encourage your team members to grab their beverages and snacks of choice and participate in a virtual trivia activity.
Split your team into groups of up to 4-6 people, establish a moderator, and let the games begin! You can also have participants vote on pre-established categories or a theme before the game.
And if you’re using a virtual workspace like Switchboard, you can create dedicated “breakout” rooms for each group where they jump off to and discuss their answers with their team members before coming back to the main game room.
This activity is the best for medium-sized teams, and it’s a fun, interactive way to build camaraderie among coworkers. Keep a running record of how each team scores to get a long-term competition going, and reward the winning team at the end of the year with unlimited bragging rights (or whatever prize you see best fit).
Get the best platform for remote work culture activities
Organizing activities that connect your team is especially important when you may never meet each other in person. But your remote work culture activities will only be as effective as the platform you run them on, which is why it’s important to choose the right software to engage your employees.
Using traditional video conferencing tools can make these events feel forced, cold, and detached. And while video call tools like Zoom or Skype can work well for less collaborative meetings, you need to use a platform that helps your people feel like they’re in the same room and not behind a screen.
One option is to use a virtual employee engagement platform for team members to collaborate and connect with each other, and another is to use Switchboard. This virtual team collaboration tool and workspace lets you create persistent meeting or games rooms and makes it easy for participants to share images, files, and even GIFs. Plus, you can upload any browser-based app or game to run team trivia nights or virtual employee engagement games.
You can also create permanent spaces, such as a book club discussion room where employees can discuss their latest read without having to set up a new meeting room every time.
Switchboard makes it easy to integrate team bonding activities into your company’s culture without it feeling forced. And Switchboard’s persistent rooms save everything, so nobody’s notes or chat histories are lost when they close out of a meeting.
Switchboard: Stop forcing the fun and start planning remote activities employees actually enjoy
Just as your young self didn't look forward to a school field trip to the local sewage facility, remote teams don't always get excited about virtual team-building events.
But, done right, remote work activities are a fun escape from the daily stresses of work and life and can play a big role in developing a strong company culture. This is especially important for remote teams that wish they had more spontaneous interactions. Helping your people feel connected to each other boosts team morale, making your company a more enjoyable place to work and even increasing remote team productivity.
Being intentional about making these activities happen is key, as remote workers don’t have a water cooler to hang out around and chat about their hobbies, interests, and personal lives.
Switchboard helps you create remote work culture activities that are genuinely fun—and don't feel uncomfortable or forced. Its persistent rooms make it easy to organize activities and its multiplayer canvas keeps employees connected, building a cohesive team and a culture they’ll want to be part of.
Make remote work culture activities fun, not forced.
Switchboard helps you organize events that engage and connect your team.
Sign up for free.