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10 tried and tested remote team-building activities, recommended by Reedsy

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Reedsy, the company I work for, helps authors assemble a team of publishing professionals who can refine and polish their book prior to publication. To achieve that, we rely on our own internal team, fully remote even before the pandemic. To get to know each other through our respective screens, my colleagues and I have tried a whole bunch of virtual team-building activities, from a book club to online games.

We didn’t do these things to “team-build”, we didn’t put ourselves through excruciating icebreakers, and of course none of these activities were mandatory or imposed on us by management (thanks, guys). We just had fun, learned new things about each other, and in that process, we happened to do some serious team bonding.

In our experience, letting people’s interests lead the way is a far more effective way of organically building trust and friendship than dragging people into an HR-ordained icebreaker requiring you to build a 3-foot pyramid out of pasta (an utterly delightful prospect, but no thanks). After all, everyone’s interests add up to your remote company culture, so it makes sense to follow where team members are naturally inclined to go.

So what’s worked for us, and what virtual team-building activities would we recommend? In this post, you’ll find both asynchronous and real-time team-building activities for remote teams.

Asynchronous team-building activities

Reedsy’s remote employees are scattered across the globe and across time zones, based in the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Portugal, Spain, Italy, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Kenya, India, Russia, and Vietnam. For teams like ours to be able to include everyone, asynchronous team bonding that doesn’t require video chat is key.

Here are our favorites:

1. Share informal bios

It began when a new team member shared a short note telling us about his previous experiences, where he was based, and a bit about his hobbies and interests. What was particularly fun about this informal bio was that he sent it to the company’s wider Slack channel, so those of us not in his immediate team got to know more about him and our shared interests.

We liked his initiative so much that we took weekly turns sharing a few paragraphs about and photos of ourselves—don’t worry, these weren’t LinkedIn style exercises in self-branding. We talked about travels, kids, pets, favorite karaoke songs, donuts, Spotify playlists, emojis, gifs, where everyone is from, pandemic baking, pandemic crafting, you name it.

Dialpad instant messaging chat

The key with this sort of virtual team-building activity is to keep it chill. In a work environment, it’s easy for people to feel pressured to put forward their best selves, job interview-style, so if the first few volunteers of your online team are willing to be informal, humorous, or even a bit self-deprecating, you’ll find this helps set a relaxed atmosphere. Try it!

2. Play a guessing game

At some point, we ran out of bios—we’re a company of under 40 remote workers, after all. So our next asynchronous activity was a fun game: those of us who were up for it sent photos of the views outside our windows or our home workspace to a team member who volunteered to run the game.

Every week, she’d share a photo in our general Slack channel and ask the group to guess who had submitted it. The scavenger hunt got intense, and required teamwork. We analyzed vegetation, any visible cars’ plate number styles/steering wheel positions, weather conditions, nearby architecture, our own memories of what our colleagues’ work areas looked like from team meetings… Some of our developers looked at photo date and time stamps to geo-locate photos, so we had to resort to screenshotting photos instead of sending in the originals. Sometimes, the photo’s owners tried to bluff and pin the photo on someone else, other times we overthought people’s bluff potential.

Apart from leveling-up everyone’s coffee break, our guessing game became a fun way for people from different teams to start feeling more comfortable around each other—the next time I had to ask a developer something, he wasn’t a stranger, but the guy I was collaborating with as a detective the day before. 🕵🏻‍♀️

3. Get Wordle-obsessed

This is a recent one, as you can imagine. The last few months have seen the Reedsy team caught up in the global Wordle frenzy—and though I’m not playing it myself, seeing everyone messaging each other their scores, disappointments, and reactions to the game’s acquisition by NYT in our general Slack channel has been very entertaining.

From a non-player’s perspective, I especially appreciate the low threshold of entry for this activity: I don’t feel left out because I don’t play, and even as a shy person, taking part wouldn’t be stressful, which is why Wordle is unexpectedly inclusive. It’s pretty much a perfect team-building game and there are even versions in other languages!

4. Organize a gift exchange

Not everyone in our team celebrates Christmas, but anyone who feels like giving and receiving a present is welcome to take part in our annual Secret Santa gift exchange. Every November, we list a few of our interests and hobbies, then draw a name online, and send someone a present within the pre-set budget by a specific date.

You can organize a video call where everyone opens their gifts and finds out live who their Santa is, or you can simply send in photos of gifts in your team messaging tool, like Dialpad or Slack. For countries where it’s hard to get things delivered in time, don’t forget digital presents exist! Ebooks, digital music downloads, tickets to virtual events, or fun activity vouchers are all great solutions.

Further reading 📚

Looking for more fun virtual team-building activities? Check out this list of virtual celebrations to hold with your fellow remote team members.

Real-time virtual activities

When it’s time-zone-convenient, we have a lot of fun organizing team-building activities in real-time as well, usually over video call, though going camera-on is optional. From virtual games requiring teamwork to some slightly more eccentric virtual activities, here are a few fun ways to get to know each other better over a coffee break or after work:

5. Set up a monthly book club

Book club remote team building

Some of our recent book club picks

Given that our work is all about books and self-publishing, it’s maybe not surprising that we love to read here at Reedsy. Last year we set up a monthly book club, and it’s still very much going strong.

Here’s how it works: every month, a different team member shares a shortlist of 3-5 titles they’re interested in reading. It can be anything, from startup books to captivating selections, where book club members take a vote, and the book with the most votes is discussed in our next session.

Everyone reads in their own personal way, so by chatting books with your colleagues you not only get to consider different aspects of the book at hand, but also learn more about your fellow remote workers, the way they think, their beliefs, aesthetic preferences, and what they do after the end of the workday. (As you can imagine, the latter is pretty handy if you then have to pick a gift for them as part of a gift exchange.)

If you need some ideas on aspects of a book to touch on, the following should be easy places to start from: the story’s opening, ending, character development, themes, any unusual choices relating to form, even the contrast between the expectations created by the book’s cover design and your actual reading experience. If these are still not enough, have a look at book club templates online—Google is your friend, and can be a great source of book trivia as well.

6. Play a virtual escape room

If you’re a problem-solving, puzzle-loving team like us, you’ll already know the popular escape room game, but did you know that you can play it in a virtual meeting? Some options are free, some are paid, but with enough interest you can work your way through them all, and decide for yourselves which version you prefer. After all, you can only solve each puzzle once.

You may find that one of you has to act as the game facilitator, to help everyone in the video call be heard and communicate other bits of information to run the game. Many options allow multiple teams to compare time scores, so you can compete to find out who makes the best virtual team—why play Pictionary or icebreaker games when you can skip the excruciating drawing or icebreaker questions?

7. Run a writing group (or equivalent)

A subset of our book club also likes to write, so we started a writing group where we share our creative writing with each other and offer feedback.

We aren’t book editors and could certainly never replace the professionals, but this group gives each writer the chance to see how their work is received in isolation, without supplying any contextual explanation.

In your own team, you can swap out writing with any shared interest that benefits from other people’s feedback. Regardless of the activity it’s about, the workshop format is not only immensely helpful to the person who gets feedback on their work, but it’s also inspirational for everyone else to get a sense of what people are privately working on, so it makes for great team bonding.

Miro whiteboarding

The key difference between an activity like book club and a workshop-style session—where one of the members receives feedback on their own work—is that the latter should involve some brainstorming and teamwork to develop solutions for any problems they identify.

Constructive feedback doesn’t just point out the problem, but offers some degree of problem-solving, and with Dialpad’s integration with Miro, you can use the latter’s whiteboard function to scribble down ideas and suggestions without ever leaving Dialpad.

8. Put together a quiz night

Remote team game quiz night

From a recent Reedsy quiz

Honing your skills is great, but so is having fun. Quiz nights make for less innovative team-building, but they’re reliably entertaining and inclusive to those too shy to engage in workshops that demand exposure or vulnerability.

If you’re in a team as diverse as our own, you’ll probably find that everyone’s trivia knowledge differs a little bit (I have no problem confessing my total ignorance on all things British TV, for example). An easy solution to that is to ask everyone to contribute a question round, or to get everyone to pick a subject they’re passionate about for the gamemaster to feature. That way, even if someone knows absolutely nothing about one topic, they’re guaranteed to be able to contribute when their topic of choice comes up. Bonus points if you include a GIF round!

Whether or not there’s a prize at the end is up to you—helping out team members usually gives people enough momentum to want to win, even without a prize.

9. Organize educational hobby sessions

Remote educational activities reedsy

Martin’s bread

Some hobbies are all about getting technical or practical details right—think cooking, baking, woodworking, macramé… If a member of your team is highly skilled at something similar, ask them to give the rest of the team an educational session over virtual coffee, or hold a virtual tutorial where everyone’s attempting to get the same thing done from a different location.

One Reedsy team member used the pandemic’s lockdowns to become a baking connoisseur—so it was only natural that this was followed by a cupcake cook-along. Aesthetically speaking, some of our creations were a little questionable, but we all emerged proud. Plus, the best thing about remote work is not having to share your cupcakes with anyone else!

10. Have a good ol’ chill social hour

Given that you’re reading a post about team building activities for remote teams, I imagine you’re doing some planning or feeling nervous about bonding with your colleagues outside the virtual office. So as a final piece of advice, I just want to remind you that you don’t need to go overboard with elaborate plans if your team just vibes with a nice, easygoing social hour over video chat.

Have a cup of coffee (or your alcohol of choice, if this is about to become a virtual happy hour) and just relax. Chat about anything non-work-related: your weekend plans, how you’re spending your evening. You can talk about football, online games, movies, or the latest murder mystery release. Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and remember that every remote employee is just sitting at home, probably surrounded by pets or family, living an ordinary life, just like you.

Don’t overthink your team-building

If trying to come up with innovative remote team-building ideas is becoming a source of stress, just take a step back, clear your head, and have a simple, watercooler-style conversation—that might be the best of team-building events or activities to be devised yet. And if it’s still not enough, you can consider organizing a face-to-face get together so you can all meet up in person, with no time zones to separate you.

Reedsy remote team building

From a not-so-remote Team Reedsy moment

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