The best remote team building activities

Everyone is still trying to get used to remote work, but the three biggest things people struggle with remote work are unplugging after work, loneliness, and collaboration and/or communication. Even now, over 18 months later, too many teams still haven’t caught on to the fact that you have to overcome these critical issues and build teamwork, trust, and empower vulnerability. In this episode, we will look at why remote team building is critical to your success and walk through some of my favorite remote team building activities I have done with teams over the years.

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Over the last few shows, we have been talking about some heavy subjects so I thought we would lighten things up a little today. For the past 18 months, the whole world was been trying to get used to remote work. As someone who has been working fully remote for over 4 years, it was an interesting swing to watch as it felt like I went from being an odd sideshow the world viewed as an oddity to within weeks something everyone wanted to learn more about.

Remote work has brought a ton of benefits, but as we discussed in episode 116, it has brought a lot of new challenges too. The top three biggest things people struggle with remote work are –
• Unplugging after work
• Loneliness
• Collaboration and/or communication

Even now, over 18 months later, too many teams still haven’t caught on to the fact that you have to overcome these critical issues and build teamwork, trust, and empower vulnerability. In this episode, we will look at why remote team building is critical to your success, and walk through some of my favorite remote team building activities I have done with teams over the years.

Why is this necessary?

We all knew that team building was important when we all worked in the same physical space, but in the transition to remote work, too many teams left behind some of the critical behaviors thinking remote work required you to change everything. I think many of us also didn’t realize how much of this was done through casual every day interactions of meetings, going to lunch, walking down the hall or just hanging out. So as we have talked about in past shows like when we first talked about remote work back in 2018 in episode 64, we need to be more deliberate about doing some of the things that used to take for granted. Team building plays a big role in building a strong company culture. Having a company culture in place, especially remotely, will help you improve internal and external communication.

Different types of activities

Before we get into some of the activities I like the best I think it is important to go over that they’re different types of activities that should be used at different times and in different ways. I will help you understand those different dimensions by breaking down each one into three different dimensions

• Real-time or asynchronous
• Practical or Fun
• Once or Recurring

Each exercise will fall into one or the other of the two options and I will call them out for each exercise we go through.

Real-time vs. asynchronous – Do you need to do this simultaneously, or can each person participate at whatever time works best for them?

Practical vs. just for fun – Is the activity intentionally unproductive (which is not necessarily a bad thing), or does it serve the dual purpose of building social bonds and improving the way you work in a more tangible way?

One-hit wonder vs. on the regular – Is the activity something you do daily or weekly, or is it something you’d do once (and maybe again when new team members join)?


Type: Real-time, Fun, Recurring
Time: 15 minutes
Tools required: Video conferencing app

Remote work is more personal than working in the office because you can see a small glimpse of where people live.

You can lean into this so that before or during a recurring weekly meeting you can ask a team member to give a short tour of as much of their house or apartment as they are comfortable with.

Ask them to point out a few of their favorite things whether it is an impressive collectible, a family heirloom, or anything that they love.

These tours can take just a few minutes and are done just by walking around your home with your phone. The benefit here is that it helps team members get to know each other in whole new ways as it gives them new insights and lets them bond over news discovered mutual interests.

Guide to working with me

Type: Asynchronous, Practical, Once
Time: 60 minutes
Tools required: Google Doc or Microsoft Word

We have to recognize that in remote work, we do lose the ability to get to know people in the ways we used to. We don’t bump into people in the hall, go out to lunch, and have the impromptu interactions that build teamwork and trust.

We have to be more deliberate in working with each other and how we build these bonds. One of the best ways I know to do this is through a guide to working this me.
This is a simple document where you will fill out a series of questions to help everyone get a better and deeper understanding of how you like to work. This is important because it prioritizes the individual and allows their style to be understood instead of everyone feeling like they all have to act like an invisible company standard.

This guide is made in a Google doc or Word file and is best used as either an exercise everyone does all at once and is reviewed together as a team, which then becomes a great onboarding tool to give to new members when they join the team.

You can customize the questions you ask people to answer but here are the ones that we use on our team.
• How to best work with me…
• When I’m not at work…
• As a Leader…
• Things I believe…
• Things I expect of my team…
• I’m human, I’ve got blind spots that I’m working on (please help me!)…
• Photo conversation starters

Create a virtual break room

Type: Real-time, Fun, Recurring
Time: As long as you want
Tools required: Video conferencing app

Another way to deal with the challenge of not having those happenstance interactions that we need is to try to recreate some of them but with remote tools.

One of the best ones I have seen is to build a virtual break room for your teams much like we used to have in the office. Think about it as an open Zoom room that anyone can join at any time.

To make these rooms work and get some momentum so they become a ritual on the team, the team leaders will need to be sure to encourage the team to use these rooms, so these rooms really feel like a community and become a part of the normal remote working day.

Some easy times to start encouraging people to gather in these rooms would be for meals like breakfast or lunch, drinks after work, an afternoon break, or any other occasion or time you want to create.

Live remote co-working

Type: Real-time, Practical, Recurring
Time: Up to you
Tools required: Video conferencing app

Another variation of the remote break room is live remote co-working. This is another shared virtual workspace for everyone but where the break room is more of a drop-in room, live remote co-working looks to more directly recreate the office environment.

Teams log on in the morning and work like normal over video. This means that casual conversation can flow while your teams are working and employees can feel motivated by seeing each other hard at work.

Maybe think about it like a war room where a team who is working on a project all works together or like a department where people of the same discipline all work together. You can also rotate through these different compositions as you want.

It will be awkward and a little weird at first because everyone is so used to only doing meetings over Zoom so think about an ice breaker or maybe even some deliberate small talk to make people more comfortable.

Weekly AMA

Type: Asynchronous, Fun, Recurring
Time: 10 minutes
Tools required: Messaging app

This is one that my team down every week and I really love it.
Every Monday morning we post a brief overview of a team member including
• A few photos they provide
• Hometown
• Current location
• Favorite food
• Favorite place you have traveled
• Fun fact
• Role on the team

Once that is posted then the team will dive in to ask anything and everything they want. We have found the funnier and sometimes even the crazier the question the more fun and useful the activity is

Some example questions from this last week are:
• What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
• If a song played every time you entered a room, what song would it be?
• You can only eat one food again for the rest of your life. What is it?
• What’s is the one thing your teacher has said or done that you’ll remember forever?

Learning circles

Type: Real-time, Fun, Recurring
Time: 30-60 minutes
Tools required: Video conferencing app, study materials as needed

It’s always a little too easy to get lost and caught up in just getting work done and you forget about building teamwork and expanding your skills. This has gotten even worse thanks to the fact that remote work can be isolating.

Learning Circles came from the Atlassian Team Playbook (if you don’t know what that is I will put a link in the show notes but it is a massive resource of amazing team processes, knowledge, and exercises).

This is something they will do with 6-12 team members who choose a topic they want to learn more about. Then each month they get together to talk about the subject, talk about a book they read on the subject, a good article, an interesting video, or anything else.

The best part about learning circles is that you can extend them beyond your immediate team and connect with people across the entire organization.

Learn more about Atlassian Learning Circles

Theme days

Type: Real-time, Fun, Recurring
Time: As needed
Tools required: Video conferencing and Snap Camera app

One of the more light-hearted team-building activities that I love is theme days. This is where the team will pick a theme like a holiday, or something fun, and everyone will dress up or use filters to bring that theme to life in meetings.

Video filters are the most fun and easiest to implement through an app like Snap Camera from Snap. It lets you put Snap filters over your Zoom video and just makes everything more fun.

It is usually best to do it on a Friday kind of like a new age funny shirt or tie day that used to happen.

Learn more about Snap Camera here

Take personality tests and discuss the results

Type: Asynchronous and real-time, Practical, Once
Time: 60 minutes to take and 60 minutes to discuss
Tools required: Personality test of your choosing

One of the core problems we are all trying to overcome is that it is hard to make a real connection with people through a screen.

The ‘Guide to Working with Me’ is a good place to start but one of the weaknesses of that exercise is that the quality is dependent on well the person making the guide really knows themselves.

A great next step after that guide is for you and your peers to do a personality or strength finder test or exercise. This will give you some great insights into yourself that you may not know and will also give you a much deeper understanding of your peers and teams.

My two favorite ones are 16 Personalities and Gallup Strength Finder.

16 Personalities is a personality test that goes much deeper and is much more useful than I was expecting. The free version offers a lot but for just $30 you can get a 200+ page analysis that is full of great information

Learn more about 16 Personalities

Gallup Strength Finder is a more traditional leadership and team analysis that will help you better understand yourself and your team make much deeper bonds.

Learn more about Strength Finder here

Health monitor

Type: Real-time, Practical, Recurring
Time: 60 minutes
Tools required: Video conferencing and virtual whiteboarding apps

Health Monitor again comes from Atlassian and is a variation on the classic agile retrospective.

It prompts the team to look at how they are working together, instead of what you’re working on.

Through extensive research, Atlassian has identified 8 attributes that healthy, high-performing teams have in common, then developed the Health Monitor as a framework for assessing how your team is doing in each area.

It looks at things like do you have the right balance of skills on the team? Are you making decisions effectively? Do you understand the dependencies around your work?

Even better they have tailored them for leadership, project, or service teams.

With your team, read the definition of each attribute of healthy, high-performing teams out loud. On the count of three, each person rates how they feel the team is doing compared to each definition (thumbs-up/green, thumbs-sideways/yellow, thumbs-down/red). Record the results of each attribute team rating on a Health Monitor grid.

Choose one or two of the attributes rated yellow or red and get to work over the next month on improving them.

Learn more about Atlassian Health Monitors here

Final thought

Even if you don’t like any of these there are a lot more out there you can easily find through some research. The biggest point here is that focus on trust, team building, and things that empower vulnerability. I have talked before about how isolating remote work can be and how easily your team can put on a performance where they look happy but feel incredibly isolated.

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