I spend a lot of time thinking about virtual employee engagement. For two reasons:
- Our entire team is remote, and team morale is important to us.
- One of our primary business objectives at teambuilding.com is to help other organizations boost virtual employee engagement ✊
In this post, I’m sharing a list of high impact virtual employee engagement activities that work for us. Specifically, this list includes:
- remote employee engagement activities
- work from home engagement activities
- virtual team engagement ideas
- online games for employee engagement
And more fun ideas too 🙂
List of Virtual Employee Engagement Ideas
Here is a starter list of ideas for you to consider.
1. The Strangest Thing
The Strangest Thing is a quick game you can play during any virtual meeting or conference call. To play, you have each team member grab the most unusual item within arms’ reach of their desk, and then do a quick round of show and tell to learn about each one.
The Strangest Thing is one of the best work from home engagement activities because it is a low pressure way for your team members to share a little more of their unique personalities.
2. Quarterly Christmas 🎄
I sometimes joke that breakfast is one of my three favorite meals of the day; right up there with second breakfast and third breakfast. I’m not sure if other people fine me funny too.
Just like breakfast, Christmas doesn’t have to be limited to once per cycle. Instead, you can do Quarterly Christmas and celebrate the holiday spirit four times each year. For Quarterly Christmas, have your managers arrange a care package to send to each of your virtual team members each quarter. The budget could be $25 or $50; the goal is to send a thoughtful gift because it is fun getting surprise presents in the mail. For example, you could send a digital photo frame, a wireless mouse, a box of snacks or other fun work from home related products.
3. #you-are-awesome Channel
We rely on Slack for the majority of internal communication, and have channels for #marketing, #sales, #operations and more. We also have #fun channels, #random channels and a bunch that are very niche.
One of my favorite Slack channels for virtual employee engagement is #you-are-awesome, which is a place where any team member can post praise for anyone else at the company. For example, the most recent posts include our sales manager cheering on a new team member for making his first sale, and an operations team member sharing a client testimonial about one of our facilitators. Everyone else on the team piles emoji reactions on to each post.
The reason #you-are-awesome is so effective is because it is peer to peer. Managers can give shout outs to direct reports, but anyone from any department or level in the organization can praise each other too. This dynamic helps provide a unique perspective on all the accomplishments and contributions that your team members make.
4. #small-wins Channel
While we have used #you-are-awesome for remote employee engagement for nearly five years already, a newer addition is #small-wins. The purpose of this channel is to recognize and celebrate minor accomplishments for the organization. For example, one of our blog articles was shared in Japanese, or we hit a monthly sales milestone, or the first lead for a new product.
The reason #small-wins is so effective for engaging remote employees is that it directly connects the work these team members do with the result it achieves. Seeing this correlation is highly motivating for virtual teams that otherwise may not have a lot of face time with clients or other areas that show the result of work effort.
5. Company Retreat
Earlier this year we took our HQ team on a five day Caribbean Cruise. The goals of the trip included working on company values, doing some internal team building, scheming on product development and more. For a team that usually works from home and doesn’t have a lot of personal contact, this cruise was like a week of “work from home engagement activities” too; except on a boat.
No matter how effective your team bonding efforts are, there is no replacement for getting you people together in real life and spending extended time together. I recommend planning a cruise or otherwise going to an all-inclusive as it takes care of the food variable, and allows you to spend the majority of your event and planning on team engagement.
6. Company Yearbook
A few years ago, a small team of passionate folks started working on our first company yearbook. We planned and printed the book with an online printing company, and then sent the finished copies to our leadership team to sign. We then mailed the signed yearbooks to team members, and distributed some locally.
We learned that producing company yearbooks is a fun way to increase remote employee engagement, and our team has published a book every year since.
Here are some ideas for content to include in your yearbook:
- Head shots of all employees, organized by department.
- High school superlatives, such as “most likely to send you a work message at 4 AM.”
- Photos from team meetups throughout the year.
- Statistics about the company, such as number of people, products sold and other metrics.
If you can print the yearbooks at a time where you are getting all of your people together in person, then signing yearbooks is a fun way to do virtual employee engagement too.
7. Mister Rogers Calls
I talk about Mister Rogers Calls a lot, mostly because they are so damn effective for remote employee engagement. For these calls, you can randomly match conversation partners every week or two, and then encourage these partners to do a 30 minute video call together. The only requirement for the call is that your virtual team members do not talk about work. Chatting about hobbies and interests outside of work is a solid way to build relationships between remote coworkers.
By the way, we call this idea Mister Rogers Calls because the focus is on getting to know your remote work neighbours 🙂
8. Unlimited Book Buying Credit
Of the many benefits you can offer employees as part of total compensation, an unlimited book buying credit may have the highest return. When you empower your people to learn and grow, you get employees who learn and grow. This professional development is an effective way to increase employee engagement anywhere, and especially with remote teams.
9. Video Shout-outs
When we first started doing virtual meetings with our leadership team, we would allocate five minutes at the end to thank individual team members for their contributions. Here is how the Video Shout-outs work:
- We record the session, starting with a quick intro, “Hi, here are some quick shout-outs for this week!”
- Each manager shares specific examples of team member contributions, “Thank you Carly! Carly jumped into a massive project this week and is helping to sort through the chaos.”
- Do some super quick edits on the video, just to clean it up, and then distribute to your team.
Pro Tip: You can use video editing software to speed up the video by 30% or so. People will still be able to understand the clip, and will be able to do so more quickly.
10. Virtual Hangouts
When you work from home, your schedule tends to fluctuate between self-directed work, 1-on-1 meetings with managers and direct reports, and team calls. Where is the hangout time?
You can and should schedule hangouts like virtual happy hours for your team. Get your people together and do a round of icebreaker questions, followed by trivia or something fun. No meeting agenda, no requirements, just a chance for your virtual team members to hang out and be people.
11. Breakout Rooms
A common challenge for hosts of virtual meetings is making these calls via fun and engaging for attendees. When you screen share a slide show it kills the vibe, and often causes people to surf off to other corners of the internet like Instagram, Twitter and cute photos of baby hedgehogs.
Instead, use breakout rooms to measurably increase engagement for your remote workers, and give them an outlet to participate. To form the rooms, use a tool like Zoom that allows you to allocate people to sub-calls of the existing one. You can either assign people according to who you want in each room or randomly. Then, give people an assignment and a timeline to return to the main call. The assignment could be sharing a quick story about themselves or doing a round of trivia together. In general, try to keep breakout room sessions to less than fifteen minutes.
12. Virtual Birthday Parties
In the brief time I worked in a corporate office, I learned that birthday parties and similar celebrations are something that people look forward to. Whether it is the team spirit, time to connect, or bountiful cupcakes, recognizing birthdays is a great way to increase employee engagement.
Online, it is easy to skip birthday or only acknowledge them with a quick message. For large distributed teams, birthday announcements can become a little unwieldy.
Here are two ways you can host Virtual Birthday Parties in a way that feels fun, authentic and engaging:
- Post a fun image that says, “Happy Birthday Marielle!” and encourage coworkers to share a memory with that team member.
- Join a virtual meeting and have the birthday person join a few minutes later. Shout surprise birthday wishes and otherwise have a good time.
Pro Tip: The less you personally care about birthdays the more you should acknowledge them for your team. Spending a few minutes thinking about one person can help boost one spirit at a time, which is important.
13. Photo Wall for Virtual Teams
Your team may communicate via Facebook or other platforms, and this idea for virtual employee engagement isn’t about that. Instead, you can boost virtual team engagement by creating your own organizational photo wall that shows team members and their roles. We use Trello, because the user interface is simple and looks pretty.
Here is an example:
Having a quick view of actual faces is helpful for a remote team that may otherwise communicate via text the majority of the time. The photos are also helpful for new employee on-boarding to help orient them with team structure and personalities.
14. Virtual Work Anniversaries
Similar to birthdays, acknowledging work anniversaries is a fun way to increase engagement for remote teams. For work anniversaries, the team member’s manager should post a message that highlights the team member and their contributions over the last year or longer. For the highlights, get really specific; people love knowing how the work they do supports the team, organization and mission.
15. Virtual Team Hangage
We host infrequent virtual team hangages as a way to connect with our people. The event is 60 to 90 minutes, and is specifically meant to exclude work topics. Instead, we do icebreakers, share stories and do similar team bonding exercises.
Reminder: Press “Command + D” to bookmark this list – I update it often.
More Virtual Employee Engagement Ideas
The above list of ideas is a starting point for virtual employee engagement.
You should check out this list of online team building games too.
I recommend developing your own ideas for virtual engagement too.. The more unique and customized the ideas and activities are to your remote team, the more effective they will be.
FAQ: Virtual Employee Engagement
The following are a few common questions and answers about virtual employee engagement.
What is virtual employee engagement?
Virtual employee engagement is both a qualitative and quantitative measurement of how an employee that works remotely feels about the organization and their work. Virtual employee engagement can and should be a topic of interest for companies that want to improve employee morale, retention and productivity. If you take care of your people then your people will take care of you.
What are virtual employee engagement activities?
Virtual employee engagement activities are any events or exercises you do with remote teams to help boost engagement. For example, you could do icebreaker questions at the beginning of virtual meetings to help build connections between your people.
What are some fun ways to increase engagement with remote teams?
One of my the best ways to improve remote employee engagement is to find ways to give praise as a part of daily operations. For example, you can use #you-are-awesome and #small-wins channels to celebrate accomplishments and contributions as they come up, instead of waiting for later in the year.