5 fun activities to engage virtual meeting participants

Fun, quick, and effective team-building activities to boost engagement during remote meetings

Dan Pupius, May 27, 2020

You're on your sixth video call of the week. It's only Tuesday afternoon. The format of this virtual meeting is the same as the last one. Someone opens the meeting and talks for a while. Then someone else jumps in and gives their questions and two cents.

Two-thirds of the way in, and you realize you haven't contributed once, the same as the last six meetings. You try not to check social media. You miss a topic shift. Someone finally says, "Ok, does everyone understand next steps?" You don't, because you're disengaged, and no one has made any effort to bring you in. As far as you're concerned, remote meetings suck. The downside of technology.

Cartoon character writing on a clipboard "I am pretending to write something down"

For some, this may not be all that different from pre-COVID-19 times. But for a lot of us, we're well into working from home and there's no respite from the monotonous stream of online meetings; no random meetings in the hallway, no chat or conversation over lunch in the cafeteria, and certainly no happy hour.

We feel simultaneously burnt out on video calls and disconnected from our teammates in the age of the virtual meeting platform. Attention spans and participation seem to have decreased along with quality.

The drag of repetitive virtual meetings

Meetings are an essential part of remote teams and collaboration. Whether it be an all-hands, collaboration session, or 1:1 meeting, they have legitimate purposes and serve important organizational needs that can't be fully replaced with asynchronous communication (email). But running meetings through a screen is hard and can feel overly transactional.

Real conversations are more than just the words used. We look at gestures, facial expressions, and body language to interpret what is being said and how people are feeling.

A lot of this gets lost over digital, which leaves you feeling less bonded to the group. This erodes trust, hinders collaboration for each participant, and can quell effective decision-making (not great for businesses).

We have to think about real-time video calls and conferences differently. That means knowing that connecting over video with attendees is not the same as meeting in person. The meeting host must make an extra effort to build a foundation of belonging and psychological afety. But, it's also an opportunity to be creative and adventurous with communications in the format of each meeting.

Aside from practices we recommend, like what you should put in your daily stand-up meeting and how to be more inclusive with check-in rounds, spicing things up with a bit of fun can keep everyone (not just the speaker) engaged and encourage feedback.

Below are a few ways to liven up your remote team meetings, make them more productive and inclusive, and better all around.

Range Icebreaker summary card

1. Icebreakers

One way to get your team and all remote meeting participants engaged in meetings is to start things off with a fun icebreaker question or activity. It'll allow all remote colleagues to feel included early in the session — almost like a physical meeting. Getting everyone engaged first thing can lead to continued engagement throughout the meeting.

  • Range's icebreaker questions are free and give you and the team a host of conversation topics to try.
  • "Traffic light" is an activity that requires the team to say whether they are feeling in a red, yellow, or green mood. For example, you might be yellow if you feel tired but have a high-energy task, like an interview later that day. Note: traffic signals vary based on where your team members are (locations), so keep this in mind.

Show and tell

Show and tell lets folks show off personally or culturally significant things. It's an activity that usually works best at the end of virtual events. What colleagues select can range from living spaces to prized possessions or weird finds. It provides a way of understanding your colleagues better, as humans independent of work, which has been shown to improve psychological safety.

  • If you were of age in the 90s, you'll recall the program MTV Cribs, one of the first shows on television to let viewers into the glamorous lives and homes of celebrities. You can put on a version of Cribs by giving team members the chance to show off their digs in video chats. It's fun, helps the team get to know a person better, lets people ask questions, and build social connections. The Range team uses it, and it sparks a lot of interesting insights. Everything from how you set up your workspace to why certain art catches your eye.
  • Sharing the story behind favorite possessions or weird artifacts is always a crowd-pleaser. It can reveal exciting details about how a teammate thinks and views the world. It can be a family heirloom, an odd utensil, some impractical souvenir from a far-off land, or a mysterious pebble with a long and sordid history. Have the presenter voice why they like the object, what it means, and where it was acquired. It's all about building connections and opening up.
  • Have each attendee explain the premise of a recent show, movie, or favorite poem to spark discussion and get the team excited about participating actively. It doesn't have to be elaborate or overly planned just a chance to unwind and connect with people.
  • If you work with a creative team (and even if you don't), set aside some time for arts and crafts. It may take some planning, like collecting the right type of paper if you're going to do origami or coloring books. Still, it'll encourage creativity and hopefully inspire discussion.

3. Low-fi games

These are pretty simple question-based games with yes or no and multiple choice answers. Think summer camp or offsite activities to get things going.

  • Have someone think of an animal and see how quickly the team can guess which one. So, you'd say, "are you thinking of a seal?" In all likelihood, that'll be the wrong answer because it's usually an elephant.
  • Two truths and a lie is a game most people know, and can also bring a bit of fun to work meetings. You may want to set some ground rules and remind folks that you're still in a work meeting. The rules are easy to follow: one person tells two truths and one lie about themselves, and the rest of the team has to guess the lie.
  • Word association takes a bit more mental acuity, but it's a great way to get people playing off of one another in a pre-agreed upon order. The game keeps going until players can no longer add words to the chain.
  • If you’re looking for a social deduction game to exercise your team’s cognitive muscles, then Werewolf is a classic that’s easy to play over Zoom. All the same rules apply with a few subtle differences, like muting when being assigned a role to preserve the mystery and using the raise hand feature to let players know you’ve not been exiled. It’s worth noting that this game does take a bit more time (about an hour), so you’ll want to schedule designated game time for your team to play as opposed to doing it in a meeting. Still, it’s a fun way to build connections with colleagues without being in the same physical place.

4. Online games

Online games have the advantage of being designed for remote play. They have features and objectives that help people engage with one another and tend to be friendlier to large teams. Here are a few great online games and game makers:

Range team plays Codenames game

5. Out of band games

Turn-based or asynchronous games are great for playing on different schedules. You can reveal the results of the game in the meeting. Games like providing a photo challenge, taking a portrait or a misplaced object, or a cooking challenge where you have to use a challenging ingredient, as fun ways to carry over the excitement from one meeting to the next. This system won't work for every meeting format, but see if you can work it into the meeting agenda one of your all-hands or team updates.

Horizontal rule

If you wanted an example of how this could fit into your meeting schedule, check this out:

  1. Start with a round-robin check-in with a random icebreaker question. Have a meeting facilitator call out people in order
  2. Review the list of action items from the last meeting
  3. Check-in on objectives using GROW framework
  4. Build an agenda with the facilitator going round-robin asking people for discussion topics, setting individual and team goals for the week
  5. Close out the meeting with 3 rounds of sketchful

At first, it may feel awkward to “mix work and fun,” but we’ve found that this is a much more effective way to keep your team feeling inspired and engaged than segmenting work meetings and social meetings.

And check out our Guide to Standup Meetings to learn more about the ins and outs of standups, and how to get them right for your team.

Funny clip of Jason Bateman from Date Night movie

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