Sometime in the last twenty years, the American Dream shifted from a puppy, two kids, +1 and a picket fence to something more like, “working from home without pants.”
And with that shift, came a growing trend toward online team building.
Online team building is the intentional allocation of resources toward boosting engagement, morale and connections of remote teams. Engaging in online team building games is one way that organizations pursue this virtual engagement.
Team building online isn’t new, but until recently these activities and games had a limited audience. Now, with more organizations implementing work from home policies, online team building is more relevant and in demand than ever.
This article includes some of the best online team building ideas around.
- Best Online Team Building Activities
- Free Online Team Building Activities
- Online Team Building Games
- Online Team Building Challenges
- Benefits of Online Team Building
- Common Questions About Team Building Online
Pro Tip: Press “Command + D” to bookmark this list – I update it often.
The Best Online Team Building Activities for Remote Teams
There are at least thousands of companies around the world that provide local team building events, but relatively few that offer virtual team building activities. And even fewer that offer the same quality experience online as you would expect face-to-face.
1. 100% Virtual Team Building by teambuilding.com
Via our teambuilding™ parent brand, we provide a variety of team building activities for remote teams. These options include Online Office Games, which is a speed-series of team activities including typing tests, spreadsheet pixel art and the world’s fastest dance class. For slightly less fun and more learning we also run workshops like How to Manage Remote Teams, How to Work Remotely, and Online Storytelling Workshops. We also have a variety of experts available to run lunch and learns for you and your coworkers.
2. tiny campfire 🔥
tiny campfire runs virtual campfires for remote workers. The experience includes historic ghost stories, fun online team building games and activities, trivia, and real s’more making.
Before the event, the camp team sends each of your team members a care pack that includes a campfire-candle, matches, s’more ingredients and other goodies. Then, on camp day, we send out a link to a video conference call and introduce your team to their camp counsellor. The experience is smart, fun, wildly engaging and highly recommended for remote teams.
3. War of the Wizards
War of the Wizards is a virtual role playing game (RPG) for teams. The format is similar to Dungeons and Dragons, and very much simplified for the audience and time available.
The premise of the game is that two wizards, neither particularly good or evil, are in an ongoing battle that neither quite knows how started. Participants at the event are the wizards’ minions, and must complete games and challenges to earn resources to fuel the war effort. The game is wildly fun, smart, and story-based; perfect for both RPG noobs and advanced gamers.
Learn more about War of the Wizards.
Free Online Team Building Activities
Investing in team building doesn’t have to be with money, it can also be with time, effort and care. If you are planning your own online team building activities then consider the following ideas.
This section includes free activities and games.
4. Five Clicks Away
Five Clicks Away is a suspenseful logic game, and one of the easier to implement free virtual team building activities. To play Five Clicks Away, you start with seemingly unrelated topics: for example, the start point could be “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and the end point could be “Barack Obama.” Then, you navigate to the start point on Wikipedia and start clicking through the available links. Your goal is to get to the end point in five clicks or fewer. If you make it to the end point then you get one point, and if you do not then you get zero points.
I recommend playing at least three rounds of Five Clicks Away. For new players, the game can be a little difficult to navigate. However, as you learn more about Wikipedia’s site architecture, you will rapidly improve at finding your way to the desired topics.
5. Star Gazer
For most of human history, our understanding and recording of the cosmos was from the Northern Hemisphere. The night sky from above and below the equator is distinct, but the act of gazing into the depths of the universe is still unifying.
Choose a night for all of your team members to take 10 minutes to go outside and look at the stars. Focus your people on the scale of the universe and how from the star’s view everything we do looks so small. Noting our place in the universe is a powerful perspective to bind your people around.
6. Mister Rogers Calls
One of our favourite ways to do virtual team building internally is via something we call Mister Rogers Calls. On a given frequency, for example 1x per month, the Donut app matches our team members to setup a thirty minute video call. The only guideline for this call is that you aren’t allowed to talk about work. Giving employees paid time to talk about common interests outside of work projects is a powerful way to do remote team building and build meaningful relationships.
7. Online Team Building Bingo
Bingo isn’t just for summer camp, retirement homes and cruise ships; it’s a fun online team building game too. You can challenge your colleagues to a quick round of Remote Work Bingo, awarding points for accomplishments like hearing someone say, “Sorry, I was on mute” or trying the Pomodoro Method to stay productive.
Online Team Building Bingo is a quick, fun and easy option for free remote team building activities. If you do want to and are able to make a small investment in the game, then you could also add real world prizes like an Amazon gift card or something more fun and unique to your group.
8. Icebreaker Questions
You can and should start most of your virtual meetings and happy hours with a quick round of icebreaker questions. Setup the experience by stating the prompt, then telling the next person up to get on deck, and then sharing your answers to the prompt. For example, you could have participants share their name, role or responsibilities, and why they prefer cats or dogs. If you are new to using icebreakers for remote team building then choose prompts that are easy to answer and share about, otherwise the quieter folks in your squad are going to be pretty damn nervous.
Check out this list of virtual icebreakers to use at your next team meeting.
Icebreaker questions are an entirely free way to get started with online team building, and it only takes a few minutes. Try it!
9. Lightning Trivia ⚡
Team building activities for virtual teams tend to be more engaging when they are fast pace. For your next video conference call, you can incorporate a Lightning Trivia round as one way to boost energy and spirits.
For Lightning Trivia, fire off rapid trivia questions and award points to the first person to shout out the answer. The speed and anticipation of the event will keep your people on their toes and ready for the next round.
You can also use a platform like Kahoot for the trivia questions.
Pro Tip: I recommend pausing for about 1 minute between rounds to give your people a moment to catch up with the pace of the game.
10. Virtual Show & Tell
To add an element of fun to your next virtual call, try doing a quick show and tell. You can either have participants plan to bring an object in advance, or just grab the nearest unique object within arms reach. For the actual share-out, give a simple framework to help ease nerves about sharing something personal. For example, you could have people share what the object is, where they got it, and why they like it.
11. Chinese Lessons
Learning to read, write and speak Chinese is one of the most empowering skills I’ve ever built. I started learning in college with two semesters of introductory Chinese that covered the basics of pronunciation, grammar and simple vocabulary. Those two classes were enough to allow me to functionally live in China and keep studying on my own.
Studying a language together is a powerful bonding experience. You and your remote team members can work with a teacher to learn the basics, practice together, and do quizzes to make sure you continue to develop. If you are a remote company that does in-person retreats, then a future trip could be to China to visit the Great Wall and Emei mountain. Studying, learning and travelling together will bond your people and ramp up engagement.
12. Bon Jovi Karaoke
Three things unify bars across America:
- Bon Jovi.
- Occasional Karaoke Nights.
Also, drunk college kids.
You can combine at least two of these elements with Bon Jovi Karaoke, which is exactly like it sounds. For Bon Jovi Karaoke, shortened to BJK, challenge your team members to record themselves singing a Bon Jovi song. I recommend Shot Through the Heart, which is different than “You Give Love a Bad Name.” A strong alternative is “It’s My Life.”
Here is the music video for inspiration:
Your remote team members can decide whether they want to belt the anthem, do a dramatic reading of the lyrics or anything in-between. Record each song, and then have the most techy person on your team string the recordings together into a music video. Creating a music video together, or really any creative projects between peers, is a great way to bond people.
13. “Don’t Stop Me Now”
“Don’t Stop Me Now” is a version of Bon Jovi Karaoke except specifically limited to the Queen song of the same name. “Don’t Stop Me Now” is a powerful, motivating anthem that will bring high-spirits and energy to your team. Recording your own version of the song will unify your people around one of the greatest songs ever performed.
You may want to use other songs by Queen for your music video, and that would be against the rules. Instead, record “Don’t Stop Me Now” and keep havin’ a good time.
14. Praise Train
When it comes to praise at work, people tend to respond in one of three ways.
- Soak the praise up like golden rays of sun on a Bali beach.
- Accept the praise and “keep cool.”
- Aggressively deflect that praise on to literally anyone else, AKA the Michael method.
Each member of your team will likely fit into one of the above categories. However, one thing will secretly unify your people regardless of category: they love getting praise. Start a praise train where each person compliments each others work in succession and watch the employee engagement take off.
For example, you could praise someone on their work ethic, and that person could praise a colleague on a great client call, and that person could praise someone for writing a great blog article and so on.
15. Pancakes vs Waffles
Pancakes vs Waffles is a fun game I learned from Ethan. The game mechanics are focused on friendly debate and unanimous decision making, which can be helpful for team building with remote workers.
To play Pancakes vs Waffles:
- Announce the great debate; either pancakes or waffles is going to disappear from existence and your team has to make the choice.
- When the team decides, anyone can nominate a new contender. For example, if pancakes survived the first round then someone may suggest cabbage.
- The nominations tend to scale up into existential questions quickly. Bunnies or love? Love or humanity?
Here is an example game of Pancakes vs Waffles that demonstrates how it might go.
There is no definitive end point to the game, so you can play until your team is ready to move on. Pancakes vs Waffles is a great way to engage the introverts on your team, because everyone has an opinion about some of the more trivia subjects of debate. You can play Pancakes vs Waffles over Zoom, Webex, Google Hangouts and other virtual meeting platforms.
16. Never Eat Alone
A wildly popular book that I haven’t read is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. My assumption is that you can get the entire point of the book from the title, which is to eat with other people. Sharing food may be one of the oldest human bonding activities, and you can adapt it for the virtual workplace too.
With Never Eat Alone, schedule a time on your company calendar for an Open Seat Meal. Anyone on your team can attend a video conference call during this time, with no specific agenda. Instead, team members can enjoy a meal and chat with each other about whatever comes up. Never Eat Alone is effective for remote team building because it simulates the casual down-time you have in offices.
Pro Tip: Schedule your Never Eat Alone sessions on a recurring invite, with at least one session per week.
17. Five Minute Book Talks
One way to increase engagement with remote teams is to have your people participate in running meetings. Five Minute Book Talks is one way to curate and add structure to this participation.
For Five Minute Book Talks, invite one team member at each meeting to make a short presentation on a favorite book. The genre of the book can be anything in the world of fiction, non-fiction or otherwise. If you encourage your remote workers to make a quick slide show about the book, then you also help them build useful skills for online communication. It’s win-win.
Here is a list of books for inspiration.
One of the reasons Five Minute Book Talks are so effective is that people like supporting their peers. When you setup portions of the meeting with this peer to peer interest, you optimize for engagement.
18. Virtual Pen Pals
When I was 18, I found a Geocities site that connected people around the world as pen pals. I wanted to use the site to make new friends, practice languages, and talk to girls. My confidence was low, but my positive attitude was high. Fast forward 17 years, and I’m still friends with one of those pen pals.
For Virtual Pen pals, connect people at your organization that work in different offices or even different countries. The more limited the relationship the better, so try to make connections where none already exist. These team members then have the task of sending handwritten letters to each other each month. The practice of handwriting, and the feeling of receiving actual mail are both joyful experiences that will contribute to close connections for your virtual team.
Since mail costs money, you could put this idea in the category of “nearly free” virtual team building activities. However, your invest will not only help build connections between your remote workers, but also contribute to the continuation of a dying art, so it’s worth it.
Online Team Building Games for Remote Teams
Similar with activities, the plush woodland of online games gives way to a virtual tundra when you add the “team building” criteria. I believe the reason for this gap in the market is that online games are typically designed for either the mass market, ardent gamers, or as a trick to steal your credit card information. Compared to these consumer markets, B2B online team building games look like a unicorn at Christmas; cute but out of place. Still, there are some online team building games for remote teams that you can play.
This section includes online games for virtual teams, virtual meeting games, and other fun virtual game ideas.
You may have played Werewolf at summer camp or on one of our recent company retreats. Werewolf is a game of wits, deceit, and skilful manipulation as you seek to survive the night. The entire game is based on speaking, careful listening and voting, so you can run the experience in a virtual conference room.
To start the game, players draw cards that assign the role of werewolf, villager, medic or seer. Werewolves do the eating, villagers vote werewolves off the island, medics can save a player and seers can peer deep into another player’s soul to reveal their wolf-status.
Once everyone has a role, the game master announces that night has fallen, and everyone closes their eyes and makes pitter-patter noises to mask other sounds. The game master then asks the werewolves to wake-up and select a victim, followed by the medic who points to one person to save, and the seer who points to one person to reveal. Finally, the game master announces the sun is rising and reveals whether a villager became wolf-grub during the night. Unless the medic saved the right villager, the answer to the “did someone get eaten” question is generally “nom nom yes.”
Anyone the werewolves eat becomes a ghost and cannot speak for the remainder of the game, which is more frustrating for the quiet ghost than anyone else. The survivors debate who might be a werewolf, and then vote to either eliminate someone or skip the round. Rinse and repeat until you only have villagers or wolves left.
Werewolf is highly tactical and makes for fun online team building games for remote teams because it fuels a lot of discussion. Also, FYI the werewolf is almost always Kate.
Here are more detailed instructions on how to play werewolf.
20. Water Cooler Trivia
Water Cooler Trivia provides weekly emailed trivia questions for remote teams. The system then collects answers from your people, awards points and winners. The goal is to spark conversations and friendships at at the office via an ongoing and fun virtual game.
Learn more about Water Cooler Trivia.
21. Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Matchmaker is a game we play at the museum via Museum Hack. Essentially, you pair up team members and then have each person choose a favourite image. You can use famous paintings, historic figures, nostalgic cartoons or presidents. Then, the pairs create a story about how the two characters met, if they fell in love, and where they are at now. This game is meant to be an exercise in storytelling, improvisation and creativity. Matchmaker is an easy way to get started with online games for virtual teams.
22. Something in Common
One of the quickest online team building games you can play is Something in Common, which is a challenge that encourages your remote teammates to learn more about each other. For this game, assign your people into small groups and then have each group identify the three most unique things they have in common. For example, a group might find a common love for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, experience with childhood violin lessons, and a disdain for fiery Cheetos. If you want to do multiple rounds then you can make the game more challenging by removing broad categories like movies, books and food.
23. Guess the Emoji Board 🤔
A few years ago, emojis were a quaint part of the internet that you weren’t quite sure if it was okay or not to include in professional messaging. Now, depending on your industry and colleagues, you may have a 50:50 shot; or if you are me, liberally send hearts and sun-shines to nearly anyone.
With more frequently used emojis comes a record of your most frequently used emojis, which you can snap a screenshot of and upload for your team to see. If, like me, you and the folks on your remote team gravitate toward shrugs, flexes, Canada flags and Pokémon balls, then it is fun to see the record of it.
You could also play a quick online team building game like “Guess the Emoji Board.” Here is how you play:
- Distribute a list of all players to each player.
- Everyone has five minutes to guess the five most used emojis by each person on the list.
- Reveal the answers and award points both for “having it in the top 5” as well as “having it in the right order.”
Guess the Emoji Board is a quick game and therefore will entertain your team for a quick amount of time. However, if you are looking for ways to make a virtual meeting fun or engage a virtual team, then a quick round of emoji ranking can help.
24. Multiplayer Battleship
The advertised phrase, “you sunk my battleship!” should ring nostalgic to anyone that grew up in the 80s and early 90s. That nostalgia is something you can play off of with your work from home team building games. For example, you can introduce a game of Battleship to your team as part of a culture initiative for the month.
There are two main ways you can adapt Battleship is a virtual game for remote teams.
First, you can organize a round-robin competition where players compete to knock their colleagues out of each bracket. The competition should become increasingly fierce the further you get along, and you can ultimately reward the top players with lavish praise, virtual high-fives and maybe real world prizes.
Second, you can play multiplayer Battleship which is similar to playing Go Fish with multiple people. To organize the game, each player has a board and you take turns in a rotation. On each turn, a player announces who they are firing at, as well as the square they are targeting. Multiplayer Battleship introduces game mechanics like short term alliances and defensive pacts to help vanquish the competition.
If you need a refresher on how to play battleship, then check out these instructions.
Pro Tip: You don’t need an official Battleship board to play multiplayer Battleship. Instead, you can use a printout board with ships and a marked to cross boxes off.
25. Solitaire Tournament
Anyone that got their first family computer in the 90s, definitely played at least one game of Solitaire on it. Today, two groups of people play solitaire: my grandma, and no one.
You can organize an epic Solitaire tournament for your people and see who can race through the deck quickest. This digital team building game takes patience, precision and thoughtful risk taking; which are all good attributes to develop for remote team.
You can play Solitaire 100% free online by searching “play solitaire” on Google. You don’t even need to access a website or download software, because Google has a built in version you can play instead.
26. Minesweeper Online Team Tournament
Minesweeper is another online game you can magically play on Google. You just search for “minesweeper” to play. Challenge your remote employees to a cutthroat round of the classic online game, and time your scores to see if you can beat each other and me.
I recently finished a round in four seconds, unsuccessfully, so the bar is both high and pretty darn low.
Whenever I visit home in Canada, two things happen: I can read the speedometer on the car again, and I play a lot of Scrabble with my mom.
Lexulous is a free online Scrabble-type game you can play with remote teams. The game follows the same rules as Scrabble, with the major differences being that you have 8 tiles instead of 7 and some of the letters have different point values.
Lexulous and similar programs work well for virtual team building because they provide an asynchronous experience. One player can make a move, and then wait for the other player to make a move. This style works particularly well for people that work from home in different time-zones. You don’t need to be playing or even awake at the same time, and instead you can login when it is convenient for you.
Learn more about Lexulous and consider it for a future round of online team building games.
28. Risk With Friends
In high school, Jay, Dave and I would play Risk for hours and then go sit in a hot tub. It was great, except for Dave’s strategy of only fortifying Australia and then only attacking me. Jay won every time, and not just at Risk, but also pool. We played for a title, and my understanding is that Jay still has the title of “sexiest man alive.”
Risk is an epic strategy game that is heavily trademarked. You can play an online version totally free if you are willing to call it Warzone instead. Warzone is an online game platform that virtual teams can use to compete in strategic operations to conquer the world. Your remote team members can form alliances, trade resources and other collaborative elements while also planning to take each other down. Warzone, AKA Risk, is a fun way to get your people working both together and against each other.
Learn more about Warzone, which is a fun game for virtual teams.
29. Nintendo Tournament
Emulator.Online is a website that I both love and would cringe to defend in a class-action trademark infringement case. The website catalogues at least hundreds of games from platforms like NES, SNES, Gameboy and Sega Genesis, which is both cool and legally problematic.
For as long as this website remains online, you and your colleagues can use it to play fun online team building games together. You could host an Excitebike race, Punch-Out! competition, or Rampage challenge. With retro games, Emulator.Online is your online team building oyster. Choose a game, choose a challenge and get started with some fun competition.
Check out Emulator.Online for your next round of remote team building activities.
Online Team Building Challenges
One way to do bond remote teams is to engage your employees in fun challenges. This section includes fun ideas for virtual challenges for remote teams.
30. Inbox Zero Challenge
Anyone that works on a computer knows the feeling of mild tension that comes from having dozens of emails sitting in your inbox. You can help relieve that tension and do a little team bonding with an Inbox Zero Challenge.
For this challenge, do a 10 minute training session on how to clear an inbox, including tips like archiving, boomeranging to a future date, and letting go. Then, give your people 30 minutes to clear their own inboxes and award prizes for both individual achievements as well as group goals. If everyone hits inbox zero then everyone gets a prize.
31. Hydration Nation
The first summer I visited China, Igor and I would eat salty food and then wander around in the sun for hours. The result was two parched Canadians, and the creation of a fun challenge I call Hydration Nation.
For Hydration Nation, create a shared spreadsheet with all participant names in the first column, and the days of the month across the top row. Each day someone drinks at least three large cups of water, that person gets to mark an “x” off on the sheet. At the end of the month, tally the “x” marks in each row, and award a well hydrated winner.
32. Do Literally Anything Active Challenge
A full lock-down in the Canary Islands means that I go outside once per week for groceries, and am partly out of breath after twenty minutes of walking. I can and should improve my fitness by doing literally anything active throughout the other six days of the week.
Get your team on board for a “move your body” challenge, and track it in a shared spreadsheet. At the beginning of the week or month, each person chooses an activity to commit to, and then marks an “x” off on each day they complete it. Your people can choose jumping jacks, a quick walk, yoga, tai chi, and literally anything that gets them up and away from the computer.
33. Identify the National Anthem Challenge
For Identify the National Anthem, one person on the virtual calls takes the role of DJ and makes a playlist of 10 national anthems from around the world. On the call, the DJ starts a song and participants can shout out which nation the anthem belongs to. You get 1 point for your team for being the first to guess the nation right, and if no-one guesses by the end of the song then all teams lose 1 point.
Here are some recommendations of national anthems to include:
- Canada 🇨🇦
You can find all of the national anthems on YouTube.
34. The Price is Almost Right
Bob Barker will go down in history as the face of The Price is Right. Aside from bold statements about the legacy of a man, the game show is also inspiration for the next virtual team challenge.
The Price is Almost Right is a game where the host of a virtual conference call holds up household objects and other attendees shout out prices. The first person to guess within five cents of the actual retail price without going over gets 1 point for their team. If you guess over the retail price then you are out for that round, but your team members may continue.
35. The Longest Word
The Longest Word is a sometimes quick game you can play on video chats and conference calls. To play, arrange your people into teams and challenge them to spell a very long word.
For example, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is as hard to say as it is to spell. The team that gets closest to the correct spelling, judged by an arbitrary eyeing, wins. The winning team can then bet double or nothing by guessing the meaning of the word too.
The Benefits of Online Team Building
Sometime in the last twenty years, the American Dream shifted from a puppy, two kids, +1 and a picket fence to something more like, “working from home without pants.”
And this desire for rolling out of bed, turning on a screen and being at work is totally understandable. You save hundreds of hours a year in commuting time, the only people stealing your lunch are those you choose to live with, and pants are for the most part completely optional.
Yet, for as long as people have been fawning over the dreamy grass on the other side of the remote work fence, they have also been underestimating the unique challenges that come with it.
For example, loneliness. Before I started working remotely, I took for granted the social aspect of work. Strolling into the office, nearly on time, saying hi to a few folks and then hanging with mostly Dennis was an important social outlet. We didn’t have a water cooler, but we talked.
Remote workers do not have this basic social support system. If you live alone, and even more so without furry friends, then socializing becomes something you need to plan and execute on deliberately. Multiply this requirement by 10x for introverts and 100x for me, a known recluse. The result is lonely days, lonely nights, lonely weekends, and putting End Game on as background noise for the 47th time.
Online team building activities are like rays of sunshine is an otherwise cloudy, seasonally affective disordered day. When you get together with your remote work colleagues, you can have meaningful conversations, do team activities together, play games and build strong relationships. With time and intentional effort these co-working relationships become genuine friendships and sometimes life partners.
More benefits of these online team activities include:
- Increase engagement for remote workers
- Play online team building games that build skills like communication and collaboration
- Fun activities for remote teams contribute to job satisfaction and retention
- Digital team building is a way to invest in company culture
There are more benefits of these investments too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions about remote team building and my answers.
What is online team building?
Online team building is an effort by distributed organizations to improve engagement, morale, productivity, connection, retention and other factors for remote teams. Online team building is synonymous with virtual team building and remote team building.
What are online team building games?
Online team building games are activities that remote teams use to connect with colleagues. For example, you could do simple activities like ice breaker questions or include a game like Pancakes vs Waffles in your next virtual meeting.
How do you make a virtual meeting fun?
To make a virtual meeting fun, include virtual team activities. For example, you can play a few rounds of Werewolf or include icebreaker questions that let everyone share a little about themselves.
How do you build team morale remotely?
If you want to build team morale remotely then you need to start with the same principles of local in-office morale building. Show strong leadership, give your people the clearest expectations you can, and do internal team building activities that give your remote workers a chance to relax and build meaningful relationships with colleagues.
How do you engage a virtual team?
One way to engage a virtual team is to make virtual meetings more participate. For example, use call out questions to encourage people to share thoughts and ideas with the group. You can also do breakout rooms during the call that put people into smaller groups where everyone has more opportunities to share.
Why are virtual teams important?
Virtual teams are important because many offices around the world are moving toward remote work. For people that have worked from home for years, this transition is relatively easy. People that are new to remote work will likely need more support, and virtual teams help provide this.
Final Thoughts on Team Building Online
I am a firm believer in team building: in-person, virtual, remote or otherwise. I believe that online team building games and activities are a way to unite your people in a way that feels genuine, engaging and playful. Your team wants to do their best work, and virtual team building can help unlock this productivity and potential. Online team building is a really nice way to connect with the people you work with and build connections.
As I learned as an isolated remote worker, friendships are pretty f***ing important.