What are virtual ice breakers and how do they work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 April 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.

Virtual ice breakers help teams working remotely get to know each other and feel connected. This feeling of unity and team spirit is important for collaboration and building trust between team members who may miss out on face-to-face interaction with their team. Different styles of ice breakers are appropriate for different teams, so finding the right kind can help make meetings more engaging and build relationships between team members. In this article, we explain some of the key considerations when planning virtual team ice breakers and provide examples to try at your next virtual meeting.

What are virtual ice breakers?

A virtual ice breaker can be any kind of game or activity designed to start a conversation and help people get to know each other in an online setting. Teams often use them at the beginning of a meeting, or trainers might use them at the start of a training session to help people relax and feel more comfortable speaking freely in front of each other. A variety of short virtual ice breakers can be a useful way to add energy and interest at the start of a meeting, and longer, more detailed exercises can help a new team get to know one other. This can be particularly beneficial for teams who work remotely.

Related: Funny ice breakers to use at work (and other options)

Considerations when planning virtual ice breakers

Any virtual ice breaker game or activity used for a team has to be inclusive and something everyone can engage with and take part in without feeling uncomfortable. This usually means sticking to non-contentious topics and avoiding any activities that involve alcohol or eating certain kinds of food, unless you have explicit knowledge that an entire team would be comfortable with this. Make sure the ice breakers for virtual meetings don't cost the participants any money unless the company funds it.

There are plenty of excellent resources available online designed to help build teamwork and cooperation. Some businesses might like to get the most elaborate ones that require a charge for the activity, but for many companies, free virtual ice breakers for remote teams are a more appropriate choice.

Related: What is remote collaboration? (Tips on how to improve it)

11 virtual ice breakers for remote teams

Here are some of the best free or low-cost virtual ice breakers that a team can quickly and easily implement virtually to build teamwork and get to know each other:

1. Two lies and a truth

This is a simple virtual ice breaker in which each participant provides three statements about themselves. As the name suggests, one statement is true and the other two are false. Other people in the team then take turns guessing which statements are false and which one is true. Participants get to question the person about the statements, for example, to ask for more details or to elaborate on the story they told.

This is a useful opportunity to learn fun and strange facts about each other and to get some genuine interaction as the group tries to detect when a person is making something up. It gives the team a chance to relax and have fun, which is one of the most important aspects of an icebreaker, as it's all about making people feel comfortable around each other.

Related: 9 ways to make friends at work (and why it's a good idea)

2. Online meeting bingo

Online meetings can take some getting used to for teams who have never had to work together remotely. To keep meetings interesting, teams can play a version of buzzword bingo, spotting common online meeting clichés. To run this as a fun team-building exercise, create cards with common occurrences. For example, someone's dog or cat appearing on screen or someone forgetting they're on mute. The first person to cross off all of the things on their card is the winner.

3. Guess who?

This virtual ice breaker helps team members learn fun facts about each other. It's effectively a guessing game, but it takes a little bit of preparation. Before the meeting, the organiser sends a series of questions to everyone in the team. This could ask for fun facts about the person filling it in or things that might surprise the others. Whoever is organising then collates the responses and pulls together a fun quiz.

Questions could focus on childhood nicknames or weird hobbies. For example, you might ask team members to guess who collects porcelain elephants or who spends their weekends paddleboarding on the Scottish lochs.

Related: Team-building challenges for work in virtual settings

4. Puzzles and riddles

A quick and simple virtual ice breaker is to ask teams to solve puzzles or riddles. Good examples include 'What do the letter T and an island have in common? You can find them in the middle of water' and 'What gets larger the more you take away? A hole.' You can play this individually or in small teams.

Related: 23 team building games for happy and productive employees

5. Would you rather?

This virtual ice breaker takes the form of a series of questions put to the group to stimulate discussion. There are no right or wrong answers, but picking funny or bizarre questions can inspire debate and discussion. Examples include, 'Would you rather untangle 10 sets of knotted Christmas lights or test every single bulb in a 1km string of Christmas lights?' and 'If you had to give up chocolate or cake, which would you get rid of?'

6. Tower building

This is a hands-on virtual ice breaker, in which participants try to build the tallest possible tower from things they have near them on their desks or in the area they're working in. A time limit means this is a fast-paced way for teams to have fun and learn a bit about each other. It can also be a good energiser to break up a long meeting.

Related: Benefits of Zoom icebreakers and 11 virtual activities

7. Best background competition

Most virtual calling systems allow participants to add a virtual background, for example, a scenic view of the countryside or in front of a tourist attraction like the Eiffel Tower. It's important the meeting organiser sets a theme in advance to give team members time to plan their background and download the relevant photo they want to use. At the meeting, everyone can judge who has the funniest or best background in the category.

8. Virtual book club

Book clubs involve a group of people getting together to discuss a book they're all in the process of reading or have recently finished. This can be a great social activity for people interested in reading, so whether this is a useful virtual ice breaker depends on the personalities and preferences of the team. A proactive manager might pick a work-related book, for example, something about theories of leadership and provide each team member with a copy. The group can then discuss it during work time and at meetings.

There is a careful balance to be struck between making this purely a learning exercise and making it a true virtual ice breaker, which is something light and relatively fun rather than purely work-focused.

Related: 15 of the best icebreaker activities for groups of any size

9. Online escape room

A huge number of online team-building activities have sprung up in recent years. One of the most interactive and engaging virtual ice breakers is an online escape room. These comprise a series of puzzles and logic tests that a team collaborates on to solve and complete the mission. Both free and paid versions are available. An online escape room can be an excellent test of a team's ability to cooperate and communicate in a challenging and fast-paced environment and their ability to work to meet a strict deadline.

Related: What is time management? (Importance and how to improve it)

10. Charades

Charades is a popular party game that is easy to adapt to a virtual setting. It involves teamwork, as teams take turns to guess what action or phrase their colleague is acting out. These could be words associated with an office setting or aligned with another theme, like food, Christmas, animals or different professions. This light-hearted virtual ice breaker encourages teamwork and makes it easy to include the entire team as everyone gets a go at acting something out.

Related: 9 virtual social activities to stay connected

11. Photo competition

This could be a long-running feature for a team meeting or a one-off activity used as a virtual ice breaker the first time a particular group works together. Using a platform that allows participants to share photos means that the organiser can set challenges to test their creativity and sense of humour.

For example, a straightforward question would be to ask them to get a photo of their favourite ornament at home or set a challenge such as producing the most interesting piece of 3D artwork using only the items on their desks. Participants can then show off their work to the team and explain it, a bit like a show and tell. This gives other people in the group a nice insight into how someone thinks and feels and can be a useful way to build rapport.

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