Team-building challenges for work in virtual settings

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Team-building exercises are important because they help employees build better professional relationships and can promote success within an organisation. But as more and more teams adopt either a hybrid or full transition to remote work setups, keeping teams engaged and happy is more of a challenge. Virtual team-building exercises are a great way to help remote working employees feel more connected, involved and like an integral part of the team. In this article, we explore why virtual team-building challenges for work are important and outline 10 virtual team-building exercises that bring remote teams closer.

What are virtual team-building challenges for work?

Virtual team-building challenges for work are exercises that help remote employees build meaningful relationships with their fellow team members. By addressing common barriers that can cause employees to feel isolated, unsupported and disconnected in remote settings, virtual team building helps develop communication and collaboration even while working from home. By developing virtual communication outlets to mimic physical conditions, remote employees can feel more connected, productive and engaged and have an improved sense of well-being.

Some common features of virtual team engagement activities include:

  • virtual challenges that require team members to take part remotely using technology and software, instant messaging or online chat

  • virtual challenges that focus on developing employees' technological skills to optimise their virtual communication abilities

  • virtual challenges that utilise fun activities designed to enhance communication and listening skills, build trust and improve employee well-being.

Related: Team building skills: definition and examples

Why virtual team building matters

Traditionally, in-person team building serves several important functions like building professional relationships, confronting challenges as part of a team and developing personal strengths within the business. All of these things are still crucial in a virtual workplace environment, but the unique challenges that result from virtual work can make them even more integral. Here are some reasons why virtual team building matters:

  • It combats loneliness: one of the most acute challenges of remote working is feeling disconnected and isolated from your teammates, which can directly impact productivity, mental health and empathy. Virtual team building can improve communication and collaboration to help combat isolation.

  • It helps teams develop virtual communication skills: communicating effectively in virtual settings is a challenge for several reasons and requires developing new communication skills. Team building can help overcome the technological barriers that sometimes block effective communication.

  • It helps develop trust: virtual settings can make it challenging for employees to learn who they feel most comfortable communicating with, which can lead to disengagement and performance issues. Virtual team building can help employees get to know colleagues in a more personal way and can help promote trust.

Related: 13 essential work from home tips

How to organise virtual team building

If you're unsure about how to bring virtual employees together to partake in team-building exercises in the first place, there are a few strategies that can help. Here are three things to consider before organising a virtual team session:

1. Clearly define the objective

Begin by carefully considering the purpose of bringing virtual employees together. The first step to making remote team members feel closer together is to ensure they can come together in a virtual space with a clearly defined, common objective. For example, think of what you hope employees may take away from the session, such as better negotiation skills, improved project management skills or a better understanding of communication software.

2. Consider how long each activity may take

Because engagement may decrease more quickly in virtual settings, think about how much time each activity takes and how much time you have in total. Short tasks can encourage employees to stay focused and interested, resulting in a rewarding experience overall. For example, quick icebreaker activities can take less time than collaborative problem-solving tasks.

3. Consider the team and audience

Some team-building exercises cater to certain kinds of employees, their expectations and individual characteristics. It's important to consider whether all participants know each other, whether there are any new employees to introduce to the team and whether the team has worked together on challenges like this before. Consider introducing new employees with quick icebreakers. Also, think about the different ways employees can contribute and ensure they're aware of the different options available for each task.

Related: Everything you should know about working from home

10 virtual team-building exercises

Virtual team-building exercises can help employees feel heard, seen and recognised in a way that addresses the unique challenges of remote working, such as having less access to managers for support and not knowing how the rest of the team is doing. With these unique challenges in mind, here are ten virtual team-building exercises that can help employees communicate and work more effectively:

1. Rose and thorn icebreaker exercise

This simple exercise can help employees grow more comfortable around their virtual teams and is quick to administer over group chat or video. Allow employees about one minute each to describe one 'rose', which is a positive aspect of their day that makes them feel grateful or happy, and one 'thorn', which is one challenge or point of contention. To boost engagement, allow employees to describe one work- and one non-work-related point each.

2. Two facts and a fib exercise

If team members don't know each other very well, this exercise can provide a virtual space for employees to learn fun facts about their team. Give employees a few minutes to describe three 'facts' about themselves, two of which are true and one which is false. Then, as a group, try to guess which fact is the fib.

3. Employee video tours

One of the understated advantages of working remotely is that employees have first-hand visual access to team members' homes. Video tours are an excellent way to promote connection and break down communication barriers. Each employee conducts an informal tour of their home or workspace during a remote group meeting. These tours can take place a few at a time before weekly meetings or as a stand-alone task between a small number of team members.

4. Learning circle exercises

Learning circles, which require nothing more than a video conferencing tool, are a great way for employees to learn what other teammates do and give them a chance to learn new skills. Each week or month, have certain colleagues prepare a short presentation about an interesting topic that they know well. These circles allow employees to get to know their immediate team members better and also other experts across the business.

5. Daily snapshot exercises

Creating a group message dedicated to daily snapshots of each member's life is a great way to utilise group messenger communication platforms. Encourage teammates to upload one picture of something noteworthy about their day to the group to promote conversations, ideas and connections. By providing a regular view of their daily lives, employees can feel more connected to their colleagues and team members.

Related: 8 essential steps for building relationships at work

6. Weekly virtual workout or yoga classes

Promote employee connection through regular recreational activities that naturally form in a physical office setting by making them virtual. Gauge the team's interest and organise a virtual weekly workout such as a spin class, a yoga class or a Pilates class. Allow different employees to suggest instructional video workouts to help develop even more engagement.

7. Blind origami challenges

Blind origami team challenges over video conferencing platforms (with the camera turned off) can promote better virtual listening skills. Select pairs of employees and email one of them a set of free origami instructions and have them guide their teammates through crafting the origami using these instructions. At any point, the employee receiving instructions can request clarification or ask questions, and when they're done, they can show their instructor their completed piece.

8. Pub trivia team challenges

Pub trivia team challenges are an excellent way to get new remote team members working together and discover each other's strengths. It's also easy to administer over video chat and is endlessly varied. Try setting up a virtual pub quiz each week, allowing different employees to gather trivia questions each time. Themes may include work-specific topics or general trivia questions.

9. Live remote co-working exercises

Sometimes, simply knowing that other employees are working on similar tasks at the same time as you is enough to breach virtual loneliness, and this is where live virtual working arrangements may provide a solution. Setting up video meetings with a handful of employees who work on the same team, for example, can help replicate the physical office environment. Employees simply join the video conference and work as normal with their sound and video on, allowing spontaneous conversation and collective motivation.

10. Online team-building games

If the budget allows for it, there are all kinds of online and virtual games that team members can play together to promote communication and connection. From virtual escape rooms to virtual murder mysteries, these games are a great replacement for in-person team building nights out. You can have team members suggest ideas and cast votes for everyone's favourite, and then create a virtual event with a group happy hour afterwards.

Explore more articles