Virtual team bonding: Fostering connection and company culture

The landscape of work has shifted drastically. While remote work was once the domain of tech companies employing overseas coders, it’s now commonplace. This shift has opened up new opportunities for businesses that excel at virtual team bonding, as they can attract and retain top talent regardless of location.

However, this new landscape creates a challenging task for managers. Some aren’t convinced it’s even possible—at least, not to a point where remote workers collaborate as well as in-person teams, but this is a myth. Remote teams perform just as well as in-person ones, even outperforming them in some categories. Employee engagement is no longer an in-office trait.

Creating synergy within a virtual team starts with getting them together and aligning them toward a common purpose. This is the same approach as in-person teams but with different tools. Specifically, cloud-based tools and activities aimed at helping virtual teams bond.

Let’s talk about some of them.

Cloud Apps for Groups

Everyone has been on a Zoom call by now. It’s common practice in remote work, and while some annoying technical glitches can interrupt momentum, video conferences are a great way to get people together.

Zoom is just an operative term—many companies offer group video conferencing capability, including Slack, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and more. However, Zoom rolled out many of the features used in today’s video call apps.

Many virtual team-building activities can take place over a virtual meeting, including:

  • Baby pictures: Invite each team member to provide a baby picture of themselves, and then let the group guess who is who
  • Show and tell: Basic elementary school stuff—people get a chance to show off something important to them, and people get to ask questions about it
  • 6-word memoir: Each person writes a summary of their life in six words or less, giving their teams insight into how they view themselves
  • Bucket list: Members of the group share things they hope to do or achieve before they “kick the bucket”
  • Favorite GIFs: Share a favorite GIF

The fact that Zoom lets people hide their faces and names also provides some potential to explore new areas. Get creative!

Slack Attack

No group chat app is more beloved than Slack. It has personality and provides a fun way for people to express themselves in what might be less-than-productive ways. Companies can add emojis, GIF libraries are abundant, and privacy settings give employees a certain degree of needed secrecy.

One benefit of Slack is the natural pace of writing messages back and forth. Unlike in-person meetings, you don’t have to possess a razor-sharp wit to play along with whatever the group is doing.

Here are a few fun remote team-building activities for Slack:

  • Songbook club: Post a topic and invite people to share links to songs they like that pertain to said topic, and build a Spotify playlist people can check out later
  • Icebreaker questions: Create a Slack channel asking basic introduction questions
    • Favorite book?
    • Favorite album?
    • Five items to bring to a desert island
    • Fun fact about yourself
    • Favorite car
  • Trivia: Ask teams some interesting questions, and score their answers if you want to introduce some friendly competition

There are plenty of cloud chat apps out there, and Slack isn’t the only one with great channel features. If the funds are available though…

Stretching Team Imagination

Now, with apps out of the way, let’s talk about some games virtual teams can play to get creative juices flowing.

Games are great virtual team bonding activities, not just because they can be fun, but because mandatory teamwork can forge friendships and build camaraderie among remote team members. It’s good to be intentional with the games you select so that they push people to communicate and connect.

Some great virtual team-building exercises include:

  • Fortunately, Unfortunately: This is an improv game where team members listen to each other and build out a story with their imagination, where one person starts a sentence with “fortunately,” after which the next person starts one with “unfortunately”
    • 1st Person: Fortunately, I found my kid after losing him
    • 2nd Person: Unfortunately, he was into his third tub of ice cream
    • 3rd Person: Fortunately, he got full eventually
    • 4th Person: Unfortunately, he’s lactose intolerant
  • Jackbox Party Games: Jackbox is a paid game service (similar to a gameshow) that invites creative answers from people, usually eliciting some outstanding imagination
  • Codenames: This boardgame can get a little complicated due to its requirement of high communication skills, but once people get the hang of it, they learn to communicate through as few words as possible
  • One Word at a Time: Teams take turns adding a word to a story until it reaches a finishing point
  • Caption This: Someone posts an image, and the rest of the team shares caption ideas
  • Pictionary: Draw a picture and let teams guess what it is before time runs out
  • Charades: It’s not always easy to act on camera, but those who aren’t afraid of the challenge can get teams to guess a word by acting it out
  • Two Truths and a Lie: This is one of those hallmark icebreaker games that everyone knows—fool your coworkers into wondering what has happened in your life
  • Smashkarts: This free online game is a lot like Mario Kart, letting team members race and shoot items at each other for an undoubtedly good time
  • Krunker: A free first-person shooter

Improv games are unbeatable virtual activities. They push people to stretch their imaginations and share ideas even though they might not be fully fleshed out. A combination of acceptance and vulnerability creates strong bonds between team members.

After all, what people want to see is personality. Knowledge and wit are only as powerful as a person’s willingness to use them.

Virtual Team Bonding: Group “Outings” That Actually Work

Another way to get people to bond is through directionless chit-chat. It’s more important than you might think—when people have the freedom to sit around and gab. They discover things to like about their teams, making them more open to working together.

Teams that like each other have more energy, alignment, and openness to new ideas. All of this leads to better work, making it essential for managers to make time for their teams to become friends with each other.

Some popular team meeting ideas include:

  • Virtual happy hour: Consider sending out a particular wine or other beverage to all your team members (legally, of course) and have them share screens over a glass or two
  • Virtual coffee: Alcohol may not be appropriate for your situation (especially for teams in distant time zones), so consider gathering earlier over coffee—not too early, however!
  • Karaoke: Some audio wizardry may be required, but if you can pull it off, karaoke is one of those lighthearted activities that endears performers to their teammates and friends
  • Virtual book club: Some people love to read and talk about it, making a virtual book club a great place for socializing and getting to know each other (note: this may not apply to the whole team)
  • Virtual whiteboard drawing: One of my favorite memories at one job was drawing on a group whiteboard and watching as each doodle was seen, reacted to, and responded to in real-time
  • Cooking class: Send online teams a batch of ingredients for, say, a donut, and have an instructor show up to teach them how to make it

Virtual outings can be creative. Some teams have even played Call of Duty together, even though they knew many participants had never played the game. Random, spontaneous virtual outings are some of the most fun, so try out something new.

Virtual Team Bonding Group Projects

Memories are some of the best fuel for getting teams to work together. Photos, videos, and written notes are powerful reminders that even though you don’t always get along, your teammates are lovely people you enjoy being around.

Some remote teams invite workers to film themselves doing something they love, and then build a simple montage that can be enjoyed for years to come. It’s surprisingly beautiful.

Photos are also great—ask people for funny photos and put them together in a collage that everyone can enjoy. You probably don’t need to frame anything, but just sending out a friendly reminder of each person’s fun personality can provide a little boost throughout the workday.

You may also consider making a movie together. Ambitious, I know. Start brainstorming on a plot line involving everyone, then plan a few days to shoot some scenes. The editing doesn’t have to be perfect (the worse, the better), and your team will have many quotable inside jokes afterward. It’s a fun activity that will provide all kinds of memorable moments.

It’s easy to get carried away with productions. They don’t have to be high-effort problem-solving exercises, just something fun people can enjoy later on.

Face-to-Face Meetings

There’s no faster way to build camaraderie than through in-person team-building events. If team members live close to each other, managers should try to get them to meet and hang out.

Companies should also shoot for an all-hands meeting once a year if possible. Teams that get together and have some fun are far more receptive to each other’s needs and requests.

Virtual Team Bonding Takeaways: Key Strategies for Success

The best thing you can do for your team (and company culture) is uncover the throughline that connects them. Getting them to work together doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking—a little effort goes a long way. Make sure they have time to become friends and get to know the kind of team they’re working on.