Team-building through ice breakers for remote teams
Engagement 6 minute read

Team-building through ice breakers for remote teams

Megan Orr | September 8, 2020

Ice breakers for remote teams are a valuable tool to help employees get to know one another and share a sense of camaraderie, even while working from home.

The term ‘ice breaker’ comes from the idiom ‘to break the ice’, meaning to become familiar and comfortable with another person. In the workplace, ice breakers are an essential part of team-building and should be a key factor in remote work plans. With many teams still working from home, the majority of operations are happening remotely, including hiring. This brings a host of new and interesting challenges when it comes to onboarding and helping break down barriers between new hires and pre-existing teams. 

That’s why it’s important to have creative and engaging ice breakers for remote teams. Ice breakers for remote teams can help to ensure that your employees (new and existing) feel connected and engaged with one another, even as they continue to work apart. Not only are employees more likely to participate during a meeting if they’re given the chance to engage at the beginning, but ice breakers also play a valuable role in relationship building and communication. 

Although it may seem like remote teams are at a disadvantage when it comes to any sort of ice breaker activity, virtual ice breakers can actually be an easier sell. In person, ice breakers can often mean awkward or stilted conversations, remembering everyone’s names, and the pressure to ‘perform’. Virtual ice breakers, on the other hand, allow for a more relaxed approach. 

This post is the second part in our series on remote team-building. We previously discussed virtual happy hour ideas, and will continue to explore a variety of topics, such as virtual team builds. Continue reading to learn more about ice breakers for remote teams and how you can engage employees through virtual team bonding.

Ice breakers are important for two reasons. First, they help to relax the atmosphere, and second, they help with interpersonal skills, which are essential for team-building.

Miro defines an ice breaker as “a fun, interactive game that acts as an informal introduction and creates a personal connection among the team.” Additionally, Miro notes: “It is best to keep the choice of game appropriate for your meeting and for the team involved” and that topics should be inclusive to all employees, including those who may be working in a different time zone. 

Here are some general tips for successful ice breakers:

  • Invite chit-chat at the start of the team meeting. This is a good way to get conversations flowing and allow people to warm up to one another.
  • Facilitate discussion but don’t force people to ‘keep on topic’. The purpose of an ice breaker is to help people get to know each other.
  • Ice breakers shouldn’t be complicated and have a number of steps or detailed instructions; instead, they should be easy to follow and highly engaging. 

Fun ice breakers for virtual teams can often be pretty quick and easy to set up. There are plenty of ways to incorporate tools your organization is already using into an ice breaker.

For example, you can download IceBreakers by LarkApps on Slack. The app allows employees to “build up your team camaraderie” by answering a series of fun, rotating questions. 

There are a number of downloadable virtual ice breaker games available. Choose one (or more) based on what will work best for your team and be the most user-friendly. Additionally, you can use your video conferencing software (e.g. Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet) to host ice breakers at the start of your virtual meetings. The focus doesn’t have to be on the ice breakers, but they can be incorporated into the beginning of the meeting to engage team members and ‘shake things up’ as it were. 

Traditional ice breaker questions can be done over video call, as a simple way to warm employees up for the meeting or for the rest of the day.

Here are some fun options for ice breaker questions:

  1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
  2. What’s your favourite smell?
  3. What’s the last movie or show you binged?
  4. If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
  5. If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
  6. What’s your most (over)used emoji?
  7. If you had your own talk show, who would be your first guest?
  8. If you didn’t have to work for money, what would you do instead?
  9. What was your favourite vacation spot and why?
  10. What is the background image on your phone and why?

Ice breakers for virtual meetings don’t need to be complicated, but they should be creative and get employees excited to work.

Ice breakers for remote teams should also help get team members thinking and ideas flowing. Here are some examples of fun ice breakers to try that don’t take too much work to organize:

Compliments to… 

You can start the meeting by having everyone go around and pay a compliment to a fellow employee about their recent work. This is a good way to encourage team members and get them thinking about their coworkers and the work they do together. 

If you’re leading the session, make sure you have some compliments ready so that each person receives one. 

Fashion show

Encourage employees to show off their favourite work-from-home outfit. Be sure to let employees know about this ice breaker ahead of time so they can wear something fun/fashionable that they want others to see. This type of ice breaker is an easy way to get employees interacting with one another and requires very little effort or investment. 

Consider getting physical 

Since working from home often means sitting in front of a computer the majority of the day, this ice breaker is a good practice whether it’s a part of a remote meeting or held on its own at lunchtime. Have someone lead a five or ten minute stretch to get people moving. You can also encourage intention setting at this point, asking team members to think about what they hope to get from the meeting and which goals they’d like to accomplish. 

Additionally, you can also give employees the opportunity to host different short virtual ice breakers themselves each time you have a remote meeting. This will allow team members to be in control of the topics and introduce different games, meaning it will all be more engaging for your employees and a fun way to connect them with one another and encourage teamwork. 

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