Dispersed teams get less face-time. Without casual conversations and impromptu interactions, remote teammates may feel shy when finally meeting on screen. Virtual icebreakers can eliminate any initial awkwardness and kick-start conversation. Here are five tips to help you run effective virtual icebreakers.
1. Aim for short activities
Zoom fatigue is real. Hungry as your coworkers may be for quality team bonding time, drawing meetings out past the 30-minute mark can drain your team’s energy and focus. By design, icebreakers are short introductory exercises that warm up conversations. Ideally, these activities should function more like an appetizer than a main course.
By keeping exercises brief, you can run icebreaker sessions frequently. Ongoing team building is powerful. A series of quick icebreakers may achieve greater and longer lasting results than one extended activity.
You can run remote icebreakers in as little as five minutes, or as long as 20 or 30 minutes. When deciding the length of your online exercise, consider your team’s level of familiarity, the rest of the meeting’s agenda, and what you hope to accomplish. These parameters will give you a better idea of how much time you should devote to the exercise.
2. Keep exercises simple
Along with limiting your icebreaker time, you will want to opt for a simple activity. Explaining complicated instructions can eat into your allotted time. Not to mention, confusing directions can frustrate participants.
Icebreakers aim to facilitate conversation, foster connection, and encourage a collaborative mindset. Many easy exercises can achieve these goals. One of the fastest and simplest activities is to ask virtual icebreaker questions. You can prompt teams with a single question or a series of questions, depending on the clock. Well-known games like Never Have I Ever, Would You Rather, or Two Truths and a Lie offer another easy-to-understand and easy-to-execute option. If you opt for a newer or more unusual game or challenge, then you should ensure that rules are clear and fairly effortless.
3. Embrace technology
While virtual icebreakers lack in-person contact, performing virtual team building activities online has some significant benefits. By utilizing technological features, you can create the optimal environment for icebreakers.
Video conference breakout session rooms allow you to divide large groups into smaller sections. Your teams can hold intimate discussions that allow every participant the chance to weigh in minus the distracting background noise typical of large-scale in-office icebreakers. You can also utilize features like digital whiteboard, screen-sharing, and chat for seamless and mess-free collaboration.
When you host icebreakers during online meetings, the entire internet is at your team’s disposal. Participants can pull from a much broader research pool, which enables a deeper learning experience. For instance, perhaps your team embarks on a virtual scavenger hunt that requires scouring multiple websites for clues. Or, maybe you use internet tools like name generators or online games as part of your activities. The web also allows for the incorporation of multimedia elements like video and music. You can even interact with strangers online via social media or live chat. Technology encourages a resourceful and creative response, while in-person icebreakers often limit participants to materials in the room. Online, your teams have access to the whole world with a few clicks of a button, and you should take advantage of that fact.
4. Explore options beyond virtual meetings
While virtual meetings offer great opportunities to perform online team building activities, you do not need to limit your icebreakers exclusively to Zoom or WebEx meetings. The internet offers many communication methods, and you can experiment with icebreakers in different platforms.
A few ideas:
- Send a weekly icebreaker question in a reply-all email
- Post a social media group challenge
- Play a game or in a team chat or Slack channel
- Create a team bulletin board on a digital whiteboard app
- Curate a group playlist on Spotify
- Respond to a short writing prompt in a Google Doc
Cloud-based applications make collaboration easier than ever, offering various cooperative activity options for your team.
Meetings may provide a more immediate sense of togetherness, but these contact methods offer the convenience of allowing teammates to respond on their schedules. Self-conscious team members have the leisure of composing a thoughtful response, and shyer teammates will not have to compete against more outgoing colleagues for a chance to answer.
5. Scout impromptu icebreaker opportunities
Planning a virtual icebreaker or a remote team building exercise from time to time is a good idea, but you should also open yourself to the possibility of performing icebreakers on the fly. Because most icebreaker activities are quick and easy, you can often work them into the agenda at a moment’s notice.
A few occasions that might call for impromptu online icebreakers:
- Attendees arrive to a Zoom meeting early, or must wait for a delayed guest
- A remote meeting finishes with ten minutes to spare
- An online meeting drags, and you want to re-energize the team during a break
- The weekly check-in gets cancelled or rescheduled, but you enable the team to interact with a fun non-meeting icebreaker
- A team member shares good news and you decide to celebrate the achievement with an activity
Impromptu icebreakers add an element of surprise and excitement to your virtual office. You can keep an arsenal of quick online team building activities in case an opportunity arises. Our blog contains tons of team building resources. Feel free to browse and bookmark your favorites!
Remote teams face real challenges when it comes to mastering communication and forming bonds, but virtual icebreakers can break down barriers and ease the loneliness often associated with online offices. Short and easy icebreakers tend to have the most impact and are easier to implement. Sticking to the basics affords you greater flexibility in scheduling (or improvising!) activities. Aiming for simplicity does not mean under-utilizing the tools at your disposal, however. You should allow online tools to enhance the virtual icebreaker experience.
Connecting and engaging a remote workforce can be hard. For more online team building advice, check out our remote team building tips.