Virtual icebreakers and energizers for remote teams

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Three girls sitting at a table with their laptops and laughing

Can you remember the last time you’ve joined a new team or attended a conference just by yourself? Most of us feel very similar in these situations – awkward and afraid to make a bad impression. 

According to Psychological Journal, there is nothing wrong with feeling scared to communicate with new people. While one of our biggest concerns is not looking “interesting enough,” in reality, we all feel the same! Study results show that other people like us more than we actually think after the first conversation. 

Fears aside, we often need a push to start a conversation. That’s why icebreakers and similar activities are so popular during on-site meetings. 

But what about remote teams and meetings? 

It is no longer enough to invite everyone to one conference room and introduce fun games to initiate team bonding and improve communication. Remote working also means engaging with your team, and it's not as easy to bond through a video-conference call as it is in person.

Seeing a striking rise in virtual meetings, event organizers have adapted icebreakers and energizers to work well for virtual teams as well. Besides the obvious function of connecting people, icebreakers can increase your attendees’ attention span and productivity.

Below, we’ve gathered some of the best virtual icebreakers and energizers you can try out in your next meeting for team bonding in virtual, remote, big, and small teams!

3 virtual icebreakers to kick off your remote meetings

What is an ice-breaker?

Coworkers having a meeting

Historically, that is what people called ships that could break the channels through the ice. However, the modern definition of this word is completely different – it is rather a metaphor. Icebreakers are verbal and non-verbal techniques (e.g., jokes or games) that can relieve tension between people who don’t know each other and make stiff social situations more comfortable.

So how do we use icebreakers for a remote team?

First things first, be prepared for some hesitation from your participants – especially if you’re dealing with a shy crowd working remotely who can just turn off their microphones. Not to end up with a frustrated audience or awkward silence, you have to choose a virtual icebreaker carefully. 

Our tip #1 is not to focus on the names: if your team-building has more than 5 participants, it’s useless to play games where you have to memorize something. Icebreakers are supposed to make your attendees feel relaxed – not under pressure.

Instead of memory games, try to focus on personalities and experiences. The primary role of icebreakers and team-building activities, remote or not, is to build relationships. And the best ones start from our stories.

Common ground: an icebreaker for first meetings

This game is best to learn about each other’s hobbies, interests, and similar activities. 

If you’re hosting an on-site meeting

Casual business meeting in an office

Invite your team to sit in a circle and choose a moderator from the event organizer’s side in advance to lead the audience in a game. The moderator should prepare a list of random statements, e.g., “I like to binge-watch TV series.” Then, they’ll announce one statement at a time, addressing the participants. If an attendee can relate to the statement, they should raise their hands. All those who raised their hands will form a new circle – the “we have this in common” circle – and discuss the topic announced by the moderator. 

If you’re hosting a virtual team building activity

Girl typing on her laptop

If you are hosting a remote team building, make sure your participants know how to use the “Raise hand” function on a video-meeting platform of your choice. A moderator leads the audience in a game and announces the first statement. All that can relate to the statement raise their virtual hands. Using the “Show all raised hands” function, the moderator chooses a random person and calls them out.

The chosen person has to say something related to the original statement, e.g., “I like to binge-watch TV series. My favorite TV show is Friends.” All who agree with the second statement raise their hands once again. This way, the audience plays until a final statement comes up, or the moderator can set a new statement to restart the game. 

Guess who: virtual icebreaker if your participants already know each other a little bit

A few people working by a table

This game is best suited for virtual team-building activities with up to 10 participants. A moderator has to set up an online survey with some general questions (up to 5 questions) and send a questionnaire to all participants before the video call. 

When the meeting starts, the moderator selects one topic (question) and starts reading answers one by one without naming the respondents. The participants’ task is to guess which person each answer belongs to. 

If the author is guessed correctly, the team wins. If no one guesses the right person, the original owner is the winner.

Bonus: Hard level 

To make this virtual icebreaker more challenging, tell the players that they can bluff in order to prevent the team members from guessing. This way, the team might be more engaged in the experience and even use some detective and leadership skills.

Failure presentations: great virtual icebreakers for closer on-site and remote teams

A woman with a face mask giving a presentation

This game requires a bit of preparation and shows a more personal and emotional side of the participants. Before the meeting or a video call, each team member has to prepare a simple, funny presentation on one of their failures. 

We all tend to share our successes, but failures are a huge part of our lives. This icebreaker can make us all understand that even the toughest people have their lows. 

Disclaimer: make sure to introduce this task as a fun activity and encourage your employees not to take it too seriously. It will all work out if your team presents their failures in an engaging, simple, and fun way.

It’s no surprise that icebreakers work effectively for smaller teams. From introducing a new team member to getting to know people who are already a member of the team, icebreakers can improve your team’s communication. 

But what about larger remote teams? You don’t have to give up the fun – just use a breakout room function to make the ice-breakers more comfortable! 

Why virtual icebreakers in your mother tongue are more effective

A few people working at the table with their computers

As you see, icebreakers can become really personal – especially when you get emotional and try to express your deeper thoughts about your personal life. 

If you are working in an international team or having a multilingual meeting, relationships between people can become stagnant at some point. One of the reasons for that might be the communication barrier. But don’t worry, we have a solution for this!

Before, we mentioned that remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) can boost an international teams’ productivity. Remote simultaneous interpreting can also increase the effectiveness of icebreakers and foster deeper relationships in virtual teams. By using remote simultaneous services, your team members could express their opinions simply and communicate in their native language, which is much easier than speaking in your second language.

After all, ice-breakers are not the only way to keep your teams alert, comfortable, and cautious. If your meeting is long (or it starts early in the morning or late in the evening), you can try another type of activity that can engage your audience – energizers!

3 energizers for virtual teams to increase engagement

A woman showing something to her colleague on her laptop

Do you often feel tired after or during remote meetings? You are not alone. Actually, Stanford researchers have named this condition “zoom-fatigue.” Although similar to zoombombing, this term is not limited to the Zoom video-meeting platform and can happen during any virtual meeting. 

In simple words, zoom fatigue is a form of exhaustion. It makes your virtual team feel tired and slightly impairs their brain functions.

The reasons behind it are pretty simple: we feel distracted, can’t keep our attention focused, and feel tired from looking at the camera or other speakers during virtual team meetings for hours.

As a result, our attention span becomes shorter, and engagement drops low. Happily, some energizers can fix the situation!  

What is an energizer?

Though often confused with an ice-breaker, an energizer generally refers to simple team-building activity that can help increase the participants’ alertness. Some energizers can also work as icebreakers and make interactions with new people easier.

Below are the three energizers we have hand-picked for you to try out for both on-site and virtual team games:

Physical trivia: for a quick boost of energy

A girl on a video call doing crafts

Physical trivia is one of the most simple energizers to boost the attention span. It’s best to host it during a break in the middle of a session. Before the kick-off, a moderator should prepare a list of 20 questions that can be answered with a "yes" or a "no".

During the energizer, a host will ask simple questions such as “Do you have a dog?” or “Does your name start with the letter A?”. 

Instead of answering in words, your audience has to make physical movements. A jump can stand for a yes, and a clap with your hands can be a no.

Physical trivia is an easy energizer which will only take a few minutes but will certainly help your participants feel more concentrated again.

Remote team yoga session: to rest and stretch at the same time

A girl doing yoga

We definitely recommend running a yoga session if you have a more extended break. If you’re not a renowned yogi, consider inviting a professional to your virtual meeting. 

If you can’t find a professional, you can efficiently run a desk yoga session. You can take inspiration from the Harvard Business Review and teach some simple yoga exercises to your participants while working at your table.

This energizer is good for the body and mind – research shows that even a 10-minute session can take away your cognitive load and make you feel relaxed and focused.

Touch (or bring something) blue: to increase cognitive functions

A few people pointing at the laptop screen

Even though this game is called “Touch blue,” it is not about the color exactly. 

When played on-site, the moderator asks the audience to touch something blue (or the color of your choice). The players then check their surroundings, find a blue object, and run to touch it. In a virtual setting, instead of running, the participants have to bring a colorful object and show it on camera. 

You can use any color or material, e.g., “Bring something metallic!”. Forced to think quickly, your participants will refresh their minds after a long session and will be able to learn something about other audience members. 

What virtual icebreakers fit your team?

A man sitting at his desk, having a video call with a woman

This article features just a few energizers and icebreakers you can try out during your virtual meetings and team-building activities, but the opportunities are endless. Virtual bingo, virtual scavenger hunt, two truths and one lie... The good thing about the remote teams is that the virtual world does not limit you, and you can try to adapt your favorite games to a virtual setting and each individual team member. Icebreaker activities and energizers are a good way to build team rapport and help your team members develop leadership skills.

An ideal icebreaker activity for your team will be different depending on many factors, but try different approaches to fit the whole team and encourage creativity. Icebreaker activity can go a long way: your colleagues might share their favorite movie or a book and end up organizing a virtual book club or continue their work as good friends or, in the least, better colleagues.

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Published on

Apr 18, 2022

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