Distributed teams are more important than ever. As businesses reimagine work, they’re leaning into the strengths of remote work to stay competitive and access the skills they need.
Research into labor market trends by Upwork found that:
- 58% of companies continue to be fully remote or hybrid
- 78% of companies have worked with remote freelancers in the past year
- 47% of companies say they expect to rely even more on remote talent over the next two years
But one important obstacle can get in the way of remote work: It’s harder for remote team members to get to know each other. Virtual team celebrations won’t replace face-to-face interactions, but they can be a more accessible and practical option for regular meetups.
In this post, we’ll look at virtual celebration ideas such as:
- Virtual happy hour (or coffee break)
- Online trivia
- Interactive games
- Team travel
- Cooking class
Virtual celebrations can seem light and even trivial, but the potential impact is far from it.
Given the option of flexible work, 87% of people will take it—but 80% of employees also report that they feel, or have felt, lonely at work.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can impact both well-being and productivity of remote workers. Virtual events counter those feelings with opportunities for team building and creating important social connections with the people they work with every day.
Your team may need time to settle into a comfortable groove, particularly if team members don’t know each other. An icebreaker is an activity designed to avoid awkward silences and get a virtual party moving in the right direction.
Use an icebreaker to warm up for an activity or build an entire event around them. A few classic examples include:
- Two truths and a lie. Each person shares three things about themselves, two facts and one thing they’ve made up. The rest of the group tries to spot the lie.
- What do we have in common? Each team member shares one thing they enjoy—maybe a hobby, favorite food, or TV show—which reveals something about them and hopefully sparks a connection with someone who shares their excitement.
- Would you rather…? Start with any “this or that” style question, such as “Would you rather have a pause or a rewind button in your life?” Ask the same question or try different ones as you go around the group.
- Rose-Thorn-Bud. This prompt invites participants to share a success (rose), a challenge (thorn), and an idea they’re excited about (bud).
2. Virtual happy hour (or coffee break)
”Happy hour” is workplace shorthand for a relaxed and casual get-together. In the office, it’s easy to get everyone together to celebrate the end of a project, a work anniversary, or the end of the year. With a little planning, you can capture that informal office party vibe online.
Robbie Samuels, a virtual event design consultant, reported in Harvard Business Review that even a casual call is better with a plan. “This isn’t like an in-person event where guests can flow easily from one conversation to another,” he said. “You’ll need to provide some structure.”
A template that’s worked well for Samuels’ virtual happy hour events includes:
- Introductions, particularly when attendees don’t know each other
- An icebreaker to get the conversation started
- 1-2 topics to prompt new discussions if the momentum slows
If you decide to plan a social event, consider:
- The number of attendees. A group of 5-10 generally leaves enough space for people to jump in and out of the conversation without the pressure of speaking the whole time. Larger teams may want to consider breakout rooms.
- How hosting will be managed. Designate a host for your happy hour. This could be a rotating position.
- Predetermined icebreakers or a theme. As Samuels suggested, it can take time for people to relax. Have a few questions on hand or set a theme to help everyone engage and feel included.
3. Online trivia
Online trivia is challenging, engaging, and all but guaranteed to bring out your team’s competitive side. Choose a theme such as:
- Your company—its history, processes, and people
- Popular brand slogans, logos, and mascots
- Misheard lyrics from iconic songs
Trivia can also be a fun way for a remote team to learn about each other. At Upwork, we’ve used icebreaker questions to fuel “get to know you” trivia games that have become a staple for our virtual celebrations.
To pull the questions together:
- Team members are asked to answer 3-4 questions and submit three facts about themselves
- Responses can be sent to a game coordinator or compiled anonymously using a shared document
- Using a trivia app like myQuiz or Kahoot!, choose a selection of responses as questions with multiple-choice answers populated with team member names
- As teammates are revealed, ask them to share the story behind their fact
Pro tip: Each response can get your team talking, so be selective about your trivia questions and keep the rest of the information for future events!
4. Interactive games
The options for interactive online games are practically endless. To help narrow your virtual team party ideas, consider:
- Do you want cooperative or individual play?
- Is everyone familiar with the game or is it easy to learn?
- Does everyone have an internet connection that’s fast enough to participate?
If you want to jump into a virtual game, check out party game creators like JackBox, interactive online games like Skribbl, and ubiquitous subscriptions like Netflix Games (which includes Exploding Kittens) to find a game that fits your team’s culture.
For more traditional board games, browse libraries on sites like Tabletopia and Board Game Arena. Or to put your team’s creative problem-solving to the test, hire a company to host a virtual murder mystery or virtual escape room.
Pro tip: Encourage your team to participate using multiple screens—one to interact on a video call and the other to play the game.
5. Team travel
Sharing travel inspiration can be particularly fun for teams that love to explore as well as groups that are spread across multiple locations. Consider a few ways to pull together a virtual road trip:
- Ask for contributions. Invite team members to share a highlight from their current home bases, such as a favorite trail, historical site, or unexpected piece of history. Compile the submissions into a slideshow.
- Explore with an on-location tour. Professional tour guides offer interactive virtual experiences in destinations around the world, finding creative ways to share history, unique sites, local insights, and other interesting facts.
- Start a Flat Stanley project. Some teams pick a travel mascot while others opt for a Flat Stanley—a paper cutout that’s easy to send in the mail or by email. This movable character then visits different team members, reporting back with experiences and selfies.
You can also use travel as a theme for other activities, such as cooking classes or trivia.
6. Cooking class or tasting
Food experiences require some prep work; when ingredients can’t be delivered it can take effort to help people source what they need. However, nothing brings people together like food!
Here are a few different approaches:
- Highlight the diversity of your team. Ask each team member to share a favorite dish and recipe, then show how they prepare it at home.
- Get a professional involved. Engage a chef to help your team learn to cook a special dish, ask a sommelier to lead you through a wine tasting, or explore hosted tastings with other treats such as cheese, chocolate, coffee, or tea.
- Get your meals to go. The most direct way to share a meal together is to treat everyone to takeout from a local restaurant, then come to the table together over Zoom.
How to plan a successful virtual party
Distributed teams rely on strong collaboration, good communication, and trust among people who may never tap each other on the shoulder to ask a question or share a laugh over lunch. A virtual party is dedicated time for your team to celebrate successes, get to know each other, and have fun! Let’s start planning.
Define a goal
Virtual team celebration ideas might include:
- Recognizing accomplishments and milestones
- Helping your team get to know each other better
- Supporting team building with new collaboration skills
- Reinforcing your company’s culture
- Having fun together in the midst of a lot of hard work
- Marking holidays and other celebrations
Whatever the motivation, knowing why you’re getting together can help you plan a virtual celebration that supports your goal. Keep cultural differences in mind, as they could influence your goal, theme, or activity you choose.
Set a date and time
Whether you plan your virtual celebration in place of a regular team meeting or schedule it outside of the regular workday, choosing a date and time isn’t always straightforward.
For example, to include as many people as possible, you may need to plan around remote team members’ personal schedules or time zones. Or select an asynchronous activity, like creating a playlist or reading a book and sharing highlights in a Slack channel.
Determine the invitation list
A team event implies everyone will be invited, but that may not be ideal. For example:
- How distributed is your team? You may want to consider smaller regional events that enable everyone to fully participate.
- How large is your team? You may need support for breakout rooms, so participants have a chance to connect in smaller groups.
- How many hosts do you need? Co-hosts can help share organizing duties and, during the event, can help guide the conversation, lead breakout rooms, and keep the schedule on track.
Choose an appropriate platform or app
A standard tool such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, or Skype may be all you need, but at times you may require other apps or technology. Give your team a heads-up if they need to do any setup ahead of time.
Plan your virtual team-building activity
Once you decide on your virtual team party ideas, be sure to share your plans so the team knows what to expect. Team members may not know the same activities—or the same rules. Clarity will help the online party proceed as smoothly as possible.
Grow your virtual team with Upwork
Virtual team celebrations contribute to a stronger remote work culture that can help your team feel valued, acknowledged, and better connected to each other and the work they do. Another way to empower your team is to ensure they have the support and talent they need to accomplish great things.
That’s why so many companies are growing distributed teams through Talent Marketplace on Upwork. With a job post on Talent Marketplace, you can connect with the global talent pool on Upwork. With 8,000+ skills represented by talent on Upwork, you’re likely to find talent with expertise that can help your team reach its goals and keep getting stronger. Create your next job post today.
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