Getting to know new coworkers is relatively easy when you work together in a physical office space. When you spot a new person at the water cooler, you can walk up and say hello, chat about weekend plans, and become better team members and collaborators as a result. But if you’re working from a home office, it can take a long time to get acquainted. Try out these icebreakers to break down barriers and build great working relationships, even if your team members are located on different continents.
What Makes a Good Virtual Icebreaker
Not all icebreaking activities are created equal—what works for a team in a physical office simply may not work for a distributed or partially distributed team. The best icebreakers for distributed teams possess the same three characteristics:
We don’t need to tell you how busy you are. Who has time for a day-long training session in the middle of a busy week? Icebreakers for a distributed team need to pack a lot of punch in a short amount of time. Consider activities that take about 20 minutes to integrate your new team members swiftly without building frustration within your existing team. Nobody wants to spend an entire afternoon introducing themselves when they’re on a tight deadline.
Stick to icebreakers that don’t involve too many supplies or too much prep work. If it’s something a stranger who wandered in off the street could participate in, that’s a good thing. Some (or all) of your team members will be joining this bonding session virtually, and they need to be able to participate with whatever they have sitting in front of them.
3. A “Get to Know You” Element
If you work in a distributed environment, it’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s Dan! I don’t know much about him. He lives in California, so we’ve never talked.” And, especially if Dan’s the only distributed team member (or one of a few), that’s a surefire way to exclude him from the team’s culture. If everyone is distributed, that means you’re all strangers to one another, which isn’t exactly useful for collaboration.
Because of this, the most fruitful icebreakers are conversation-heavy and involve a “get to know you” element. There are plenty of team exercises that focus on problem-solving or collaboration (and you should definitely do them!), but it’s key to begin by helping your team talk to each other to develop a sense of trust, understanding, and camaraderie.
Sample Icebreakers for Distributed Teams
With these three characteristics in mind, here are four icebreakers that will help your distributed team get to know their colleagues behind the screens.
Two Truths and a Lie
You’ve probably heard of this one, as for years it’s been used everywhere from corporate retreats to beginning acting classes. It’s easy to do and makes for great conversation.
Each person takes a turn sharing three facts about themselves—one of which is actually a lie. The other members of your group then debate which two facts are true and which one isn’t.
Play this game in Sococo: Make sure the person who is sharing their truths turns on their video to replicate how this game would be played in a physical environment. Fellow team members will have the opportunity to observe their body language and tone of voice to make more educated guesses about which facts are actually tall tales.
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
“Favorite Things” is a great icebreaker because it’s low stakes, a lot of fun, and provides little nuggets of information that make good conversation starters later. The game is played exactly how it sounds: Team members share their favorite things (movies, TV shows, desserts, animals, etc.) and explain why. You can also pick one category and have each team member list their top five favorites within that category (e.g., “Top Five Favorite TV Shows of All Time”).
Play this game in Sococo: Send your team to a conference room in the center of your map. Then, quickly rename smaller, breakout rooms with different possible answers, such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Parenthood for TV favorites. Count to three and have everyone pop into their breakout room of choice to “vote” for the best TV show. This gives team members a chance to use the tool and see who else on the team they share a common interest with.
Whose Office Is It, Anyway?
This icebreaker requires just a touch of planning ahead, but not so much as to exclude it from the list. Have each of your team members take photos of their home offices, views out the window, etc., and have them email the photos to you in advance. Share each photo with the group and have everyone guess whose office is whose. It’s a great way to get a peek at everyone’s physical space (something you probably take for granted with your co-located teammates).
Play this game in Sococo: Ask several moderators to post up in breakout rooms and screenshare photos from each individual office space. Your team members can “tour” the home offices by popping from room to room and flipping through the photos with the moderator. Afterward, everyone can come together and share their guesses for which office belongs to which coworker.
The Best Moment of Your Life
If you’re looking for an icebreaker that digs a little deeper, “The Best Moment of Your Life” is a great option. Ask everyone to close their eyes and spend 30 seconds thinking about a life highlight. This part gives them the opportunity to reflect on their successes and sources of joy throughout their life. Then, ask them to distill it down further. Ask them to pick (and share) one 30-second moment from their entire life that they would choose to relive if they had only 30 seconds left on earth.
Play this game in Sococo: Participants should turn off their audio and video while they reflect on the “highlight reel” of their life. That way, they can truly focus. This can be done by retreating to individual office spaces or by having everyone simply switch off their audio and video in the group conference space. Then, when they are ready to share, bring everyone together in one space with media turned on so they can talk through their best moments.
Keep the Fun Alive
Icebreakers are a simple way for distributed teams to break through the screen and get to know each other better. But your team can’t be expected to bond with their teammates in a single day. By fostering a culture of connection and regularly playing games with your colleagues (not just when a new person joins!), you’ll encourage self-organization and help teammates build individual connections with people they otherwise wouldn’t talk to. To learn more about bringing your team into Sococo to build connections and work more effectively, click here.