To collaborate with team members who are scattered across the globe, you basically have two options:
- Use communications technology, like instant messaging or video conferencing, to bridge the gap.
- Use aviation technology, or other modes of transportation, to meet in a central location and collaborate in person.
So which do you choose?
Making Team Building Less Remote
By many measures, communicating in person is just flat out easier. When your team members are sitting directly across from you, it’s more straightforward to give them your full attention, pick up on nonverbal cues, and build rapport via shared experiences.
But meeting in person also comes with some major downsides: Airfare and hotel accommodations get pricey, flying back and forth between cities eats into work time, and each flight will add about 0.5 metric tons of CO2 to your carbon footprint (and hasten the apocalypse).
On the other hand, relying on the internet to communicate can be difficult. Up to 92% of communication is nonverbal, and current technology can only partially translate the spectrum of human expression.
Even video conferencing, which allows you to pick up on facial expressions and some body language (which constitutes 55% of communication), has its limitations. When the person you’re talking to is a two-inch-tall disembodied head that magically transforms into a buffering wheel every 15 seconds, deciphering facial expressions and body language can be a challenge.
But remote meetings don’t have to be that awkward. Building rapport and understanding helps fill in the communication gaps during those technologically-challenging moments. Here are five icebreakers to help your team kick off your next remote meeting on the same page.
Easy (Not Cheesy) Remote Team Building Exercises
1) Point Your Camera Out The Window
One of the great aspects of videoconferencing is that it allows you to catch a glimpse of an unfamiliar city in real time, without ever leaving the comfort of your office.
If you live in Minnesota and someone is joining your meeting from New Zealand, you’re going to want to peek out their window. Will it overlook a spectacular Lord of the Rings-style vista or an ordinary Wellington street? The opportunity to play tourist for five minutes will be fun for everyone involved and will help the team get common perspective of their surroundings.
A variation of this can be done in group chat using still images. If people in the meeting don’t know where everyone joining is located beforehand, you can turn it into a fun guessing game.
For instance, below is a picture outside my office window. Where am I?
It kind of looks like I live somewhere Scandinavian, doesn’t it? In fact, I live in Waterloo, Ontario (Canada’s Silicon Valley and—more importantly—the historic birthplace of Joseph Schneider, founder of the Schneider hot dog company).
See how fun that was?
2) Desk Show And Tell
Another major advantage of videoconferencing is that everything in your office is always within reach. Chances are you’ve decorated your workspace in a way that reflects your personal taste. Explaining the story behind a piece of artwork or an accessory on your desk can be a good way for other people to get to know you better.
Alternatively, you can use the objects on your desk as the basis for a game: Which item within reach would you take with you if you were stranded on a tropical island? I already know my answer: My laptop charger. In lieu of a proper rope, it would be the ideal instrument for rappelling up trees to pick coconuts.
3) Two Truths And A Lie
This is a popular segment on Jimmy Fallon, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be popular during your remote meetings. The rules are simple: Write down three statements, two of which are true and one of which is false. Read all three statements out loud and give everyone else a minute to guess which of the statements is false.
In Fallon’s version, the game is limited to just one true statement and one false statement. But reading two true statements will help to get to know people better. You’d be surprised how many times you can play this before you run out of fake things to share.
4) Team Coffee Or Team Lunch
It’s scientific fact that eating together promotes bonding. Most companies that pride themselves on having a strong company culture have picked up on this, and just because your team can’t physically meet at the same restaurant doesn’t mean that this tried and true team-building ritual is off limits. It’s fairly straightforward to hold team lunches remotely via videoconferencing: Have food, eat in front of camera. It may feel weird, but it works.
If you have a group of foodies, you could try all making the same recipe for lunch and then give it a live group review. If you’re into jokes, have milk or cream on hand and ask everyone if they’d like some in their coffee, then pretend to pour it down your webcam.
Breaking down virtual barriers by breaking bread is simple to organize and something everyone will have in common.
5) Summarize Your CV In 60 Seconds
Everything becomes more exciting when a time limit is involved. For instance, listening to an academic summarize their PhD dissertation is hardly the stuff of high drama, and yet one of the most popular public events at universities is the 3MT, a competition in which PhD students attempt to whittle down their thesis into an easily digestible three-minute-long sound bite.
Substitute PhD dissertations with CVs and change the time limit from 3 minutes to 1 minute, and you have the basis for a pretty good team building exercise.
Your colleagues are going to want to know a bit about your background, but they’re not going to want to know about it in Proustian detail. By forcing everyone to summarize their careers in 60 seconds, you’re not only sharing information that will help cement bonds between team members, but you’re doing it in a way that would nab solid ratings if your meeting were broadcast on TV.
Team Building Basics
These five activities are just a small fraction of the hundreds of possible meeting games out there, but they’re ones that are less likely to get groans from your screenmates. If there are any remote team building exercises that have worked well for you, please share them!