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
8-minute read Yellow Squiggle
Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

You're on your sixth video call of the week, and 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 to ask questions and give their two cents.

Two-thirds of the way in, 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.

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 catch-ups in the hallway, no conversations over lunch, 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. Attention spans and participation seem to have decreased along with the quality of our online gatherings.

The downside of repetitive virtual meetings

Meetings are an essential part of how remote teams work together. From all-hands to collaboration sessions to 1:1s, many meetings have legitimate purposes and serve important organizational needs that can't be fully replaced with email or other forms of asynchronous communication.

However, running meetings through a screen is hard, especially because it can feel overly transactional. A lot of nuance gets lost over digital, which leaves team members feeling less bonded to the group. This erodes trust, hinders collaboration, and quells effective decision-making.

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.

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 safety. At the same time, virtual team meetings are an opportunity to be creative and adventurous with communications and meeting format.

In addition to practices we recommend, like efficiently structuring daily stand-up meetings and being more inclusive with check-in rounds, spicing things up with a bit of fun can keep everyone (not just the speaker) engaged.

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

1. Icebreakers

Use team-building prompts to get to know your coworkers

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.

  • "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: your team members may be used to different traffic signal colors depending on where they are located, so keep this in mind when you introduce the activity.
  • Range's icebreaker questions are free and give you and the team a host of conversation topics to try. You can also try the Range app to weave icebreaker questions and mood-sharing moments into your team's daily work. Use Range to check in with your teammates, run great meetings, and stay in sync. (Free for 20 users).

2. Show and tell

Encourage your virtual team to share and connect

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.

  • MTV Cribs (as you'll recall if you were of age in the 90s) was 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.
  • Stories behind favorite possessions or weird artifacts are always crowd-pleasers. They can reveal exciting details about how your teammates think and view the world. The possession could 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.
  • Discussing favorite movies, shows, and books can be a great way to engage your team. Have each meeting 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.
  • Setting aside some time for arts and crafts can be an effective way to liven up your meetings If you work with a creative team (and even if you don't). 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 you can host a virtual "gallery walk" to showcase everyone's work and inspire discussion.

3. Group energizer games

Engage your team with fun activities that get everyone involved

These are pretty simple question-based games with Yes/No or multiple choice answers. (Think warm-up activities at summer camp or an offsite).

  • Take turns thinking 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.
  • Werewolf is a classic social deduction game that's a great fit for teams looking to exercise their cognitive muscles, and it'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

Connect and compete virtually with your team

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. Asynchronous games

Strengthen team culture anytime, anywhere

Turn-based or asynchronous games are great for playing on different schedules. You can reveal the results of the game during a team 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 are 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 for one of your all-hands or team updates.

Make your team meetings meaningful

For an example of how these activities 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

Lastly, while team-building activities are a great way to boost engagement, morale, and connectedness on your team, fleeting moments of fun won't necessarily strengthen team culture in the long term. Tools like Range can help you build moments of connection into meetings of all kinds, keeping your team in sync both personally and professionally.

Strengthen team culture today with Range

Run your next meeting in Range to keep your team connected and engaged.

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