Icebreaker ideas for virtual meetings (that employees won’t hate)

Remote meetings are weird! Large groups of people get together on a little screen with awkward camera angles and jittery microphones. People don’t interrupt each other because audio glitches mess everything up, so they politely wait for others to finish before jumping in. Imagine all the spontaneity that’s sapped by just being polite.

Like it or not, for many employers team meetings won’t likely shift back to in-person anytime soon. Is there a way to make them less weird? Maybe not, but who says they have to be? A little weirdness can help with building connections and fostering a collaborative atmosphere—things businesses need for teams to work effectively.

By now, most of us have experienced at least one attempt at a virtual icebreaker, be it a virtual scavenger hunt or a round of two truths and a lie. Turns out they work pretty well, not because people are dying to show off their skills at lying, but because we welcome a dose of occasional silliness.

All it takes is one great icebreaker to distract online meeting participants from the awkwardness they may be feeling. Once they settle in, business can carry on as usual.

Let’s talk about icebreakers and how they can help start your meeting off on the right foot.

Difficult People D

Why icebreakers are important

Getting team members engaged is always a challenge, no matter the work environment. In remote teams where people don’t see each other face to face, engagement depends on bonding in virtual ways.

Fun virtual icebreakers help people overcome some of the initial barriers to team engagement. They’re also great for promoting inclusivity, as many icebreakers get people to answer interesting questions about themselves.

Finally, icebreakers inspire creativity. As team members ask and answer questions, they get to hear from their peers and get a more complete picture of how others think. Sometimes this is all it takes to get creative juices flowing and help your team be more productive.

Show & tell

One undeniably great thing about working in an office is having a desk you can organize the way you want. Coworkers who come by get a glimpse into your personality, and you become part of the little team neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the remote office throws all that out the window (or, keeps it inside?). Unless you decorate the wall behind your laptop with books or paintings, there’s not that much to show off. People end up using virtual backgrounds or just blurring the space behind them.

Why not have everyone share a peek of their workspace? It’s interesting for people on the call, and it gives them a chance to talk about themselves. Camaraderie is forged over little things. Seeing a poster of your favorite show on someone’s wall may be all it takes to strike up a friendship.

Show and tell extends beyond the workspace as well.

Here are some things people love to show off during video calls:

  • Pets (always a hit)

  • Collector’s items like sports memorabilia

  • Hobby creations like paintings

  • Items people sell on the side

  • Books people are reading

You often hear that people like talking about themselves more than anything else, but there’s a caveat—people like bragging about themselves, so unless the prompt lets people toot their own horn, it may not have the desired effect.

Some managers put people on the spot in hopes of having some fun, only to find that the person becomes anxious and quiet. Not good.

Virtual icebreaker games

Games are a great way to see others in action. Escape rooms, for example, are super popular because they force groups to solve problems, delegate, and use teamwork to find clues and win.

There are some logistical challenges to video conferencing that can make games harder to play, however. Zoom calls don’t permit people to casually talk or direct attention to an individual. Questions get lost in the audio mix as the software tries to determine who has the floor.

The best icebreaker activities are ones where people can take turns talking, then pass the mic off to someone else. Take advantage of virtual hand-raising and breakout rooms that let people type to each other.

Here are some great game ideas for your next meeting:

  • Pictionary. Virtual whiteboard apps exist where people can draw using their mouse. It’s a horrible way to draw, which makes the game both hilarious and fairer to those of us with abysmal drawing skills.

  • Virtual murder mystery. Puzzle games murder mysteries let people work together on a set of clues to solve a puzzle. Separate chat rooms can also create chances for people to share their personality and contribute.

  • Jackbox Party Pack. Being entirely video and text-based, Jackbox games are great for virtual setups. Everyone receives a clue, then gets to make up answers in hopes of earning votes. All in all a lot of fun.

Trivia is also a quick and easy game for groups. Teams can set up their own chats and confer with each other on an answer. Hopefully, the prize they win will be something they can enjoy later on in person. Platforms like Kahoot or Quizizz can help facilitators create fun quizzes that not only break the ice but also bring an element of excitement to the meeting.

Keeping games under control

Playing games with friends is fun. Playing games with coworkers, however, runs the risk of feeling a little forced, possibly to where people get distracted and find other things to do. Meeting facilitators have to keep games brief and concise. Give people a warm-up round, then play for about 15 minutes before people get bored.

Check-in periodically to make sure people are enjoying themselves or, at the very least, still engaged. If momentum starts to die down, that’s a perfect time to move on to the next thing.

Everyone loves a fun game, but virtual meetings can make it tough to play them easily. Take a little time to consider those challenges so your game is a success.

Icebreaker questions

The whole point of an icebreaker is to connect. Direct questions do that quickly, though they can be intimidating if someone isn’t ready for it. Prep people for questions so they have a chance to think about what to say. Answer the question yourself first, too, to provide an example of the direction you’re going.

Here are a few timeless questions to try out:

  • What’s near the top of your bucket list?

  • What culinary style houses your favorite food?

  • What’s your favorite movie or TV show?

  • Which superpower would you pick if you could have one?

  • What five things would you bring with you to be stranded on a desert island?

It doesn’t take long for a fun question to get the whole group brainstorming about how they would answer. You’d be surprised at the strong opinions that surface when asking about a favorite TV show.

Also, asking for nothing more than a fun fact or guilty pleasure is perfectly fine. Meeting icebreakers don’t have to scrape the entirety of the imagination to be effective. Any conversation starter will get the job done.

Asking the right questions

Questions to remote team members groups should spark curiosity more than invite controversy or provoke heated debate. Keep it light and friendly. Save the political debates for… actually, maybe never invite political debates.

It’s good to consider the vibe of the virtual team at hand. If you’re presenting to a bunch of tech enthusiasts, a tech-related question might be a better way to break the ice. Good questions help everyone to feel included and excited to chime in.

Lastly, keep it concise. No one wants a dissertation for an icebreaker. Short, sweet, and snappy is the best approach to getting people engaged.

Be mindful of group size

There are different dynamics when it comes to large versus small groups, and facilitators should tailor icebreakers accordingly. Small gatherings let people chat comfortably and form stronger connections, while large meetings tend to drown voices out and fragment communication. It’s easy for individuals in large groups to feel less connected and engaged.

So, what does this mean for icebreakers? For smaller settings, facilitators can get more personal with their prompts and team bonding ideas. Participants have an easier time sharing things childhood stories or favorite hobbies when there’s not a big group watching.

In larger settings, however, icebreakers still need to invite participation from everyone. Virtual polls or quick-fire yes/no questions can get everyone thinking without requiring much of a response.

Using technology effectively

Breaking the ice is a whole different ballgame once technology gets involved. Myriad opportunities exist to boost engagement and get brains ticking with stuff you can easily find online.

Some digital tools let participants respond to questions in real time, introducing an interactive element into your icebreaker. Digital polling platforms like Mentimeter or Slido are a fun way for people to use their cell phones to instantly answer group questions.

Breakout rooms help to simulate smaller group settings within a larger meeting. Participants can chat among themselves in localized teams to have better conversations and foster deeper connections. This can work especially well for companywide meetings where teams compete against each other.

Embrace multimedia

Who doesn’t love a good YouTube video? It’s hard to think of a better icebreaker than idly watching and laughing at someone else’s video goldmine. Plus, a video clip or a meme related to the topic at hand can help to kickstart conversations and lighten the mood.

Platforms like Gatheround offer meeting setups with interactive activities designed for remote team meetings, from virtual charades to collaborative drawing games. They have templates, even, to take the guesswork out of facilitating.

Don’t sleep on social media, either. It can be a goldmine for icebreaker ideas. Companies dedicate entire hashtags to meetings so their participants can share their thoughts on platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn. This not only increases engagement, but can also extend the conversation beyond the meeting room and into the real world.

In a nutshell, technology can turn mundane meetings into dynamic and engaging experiences. It’s easier than you think to make your conference call an exciting, lighthearted hangout.

Closing thoughts

An icebreaker is one of those interesting things humans do—a way to alert others to our presence and let them know we’re all on the same team. At the end of the day, we all just want to be acknowledged as individuals who matter.

Virtual meetings are a different variety of social settings. Where before it was easy to meet your new team face to face and gauge personality through body language and inflection, remote work requires that you take a few extra steps.

Use icebreakers as a shortcut to get people talking about themselves. The more people get to know each other, the easier time they will have to gel and work together.