Fun Without Borders: Agile Games for Distributed Teams

by Sandra Petrova

14 min read · Apr 17, 2019

It’s that Friday of the month here at Adeva. Some of the engineers in our network are getting ready to play .gif battles - a team-building game we started playing some time ago. Everyone gets together and competes in submitting the most hilarious theme-related gif. I will tell you more about the game later in the post.

Yes, agile games and activities for distributed teams require more creativity and open-mindedness. At the same time, they are really enjoyable.

You can try the same with your team! 

Human knots and trust falls are excellent team building activities that can bring the entire team together and improve team cohesion, but for in-office teams. When you have a remote team that’s spread across multiple continents and timezones, you need to take advantage of the technology you have available and add a splash of innovation and modification.

Let's dive into the concept of virtual team-building and explore 12 fun games and activities for remote teams. Work is all about having fun, isn't it?

What is Virtual Team Building?

Virtual team-building takes place in the online world with the support of technology. The players are not physically present in the same room, but they are using the same tools for online communication. 

Team-building games and activities can be played using a range of tools, such as Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, Confluence, or PowerPoint. It's usually the organizer who decides whichever tool is most convenient for the entire team.

You might be wondering, why someone would play games like this? Let me tell you something - these online activities are invented to accommodate remote teams' need for socialization and the need to belong to a group.

Working remotely sometimes can be lonely, they will help remote workers bond and share a few laughs.

Why Are We Wasting Time Playing These Agile Games for Distributed Teams?

It’s not wasting time. We like to think of it as investing time! 🤓

We’ve discussed the concept of “social pain” in one of our previous articles. And we still believe that this somewhat poetic and philosophical approach is crucial for people’s happiness. In a nutshell, studies have shown that social pain happens when a person feels rejected and excluded from social activities.

Meaning, not getting the social vibe of a group can harm remote employees’ mental health. And we want our employees to be physically and mentally stable so that they can have a meaningful and happy life. But also, when an employee feels included and part of a team, their engagement and productivity rates go up.

Especially now when the entire world is faced with a pandemic due to the coronavirus COVID-19, team-building games are more crucial than ever. Remote employees who were working from home and socialized with people in their free time are now sitting in their homes 24/7. 

Being confined to a small space for a large part of the day with no socialization can have a negative impact on employees' mental health. So, apart from doing home workout and meditating, another thing remote employees can do is play online team-building games to get in touch with other human beings. 

Our team-building activities don’t happen just once a year. We’re constantly looking for ways to keep the excitement going and maintain our remote work culture. Our goal is to create opportunities for remote employees to connect and interact in meaningful ways, outside of regular meetings.

What Types of Team-Building Activities for Remote Teams Are There?

Depending on how many times a game can be played, there are two types of team-building activities: one-time games and multiple-time activities. One-time activities are a great way to bring the entire team together but are not that much fun the second time you play them. But feel free to play them again when a new member joins the team. When it comes to multiple-time activities, the name says it all. As many times as you play them, they don't fail to entertain the team. 

There are also activities that a team can play using tools for synchronous or asynchronous communication. When remote employees play the game at the same time, that's a real-time game. And when employees can play the activity when they feel it's most convenient for them, then that's an asynchronous activity. 

And finally, there are activities that a team can play just for fun. They bring joy and laughter and everyone is incredibly happy while playing. But there are also games that are both fun and practical. Meaning, the team can be entertained and learn how to collaborate in a more concrete way. 

Fun Games and Activities for Remote Teams

Over the last several years, we’ve practiced many agile games and activities for distributed teams and picked the best ones for you. Let’s explore:

Virtual Coffee Chat

  • Sync. or async.: sync
  • Practical or just for fun: practical
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: video conferencing tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts

This activity only requires team members to join on a video conference call once a month. If you're the organizer, set up a time that works for everyone and start chatting.

What makes this virtual coffee chat such an amazing activity is that every meeting has a specific topic. You can get together and discuss favorite meals, most-loved places to travel, or tips for working more productively. 

We started practicing this activity when coronavirus hit worldwide and we found ourselves socially distancing in our homes. As all of us were at home, we decided to grab the opportunity to have some fun. Our topic: sharing fun facts about our hometowns or countries. 

The outbreak motivated us to start a tradition of grabbing virtual coffee with the community once every month. 

Will you be doing the same with your team?

#Travel Slack Channel

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: practical
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Slack

What makes Slack such an amazing tool is that you can have a separate channel for everything. The marketing team has its own channel, the engineering team their own, and there's also a general channel where everyone can stay up-to-date with current developments. 

But who says that all channels have to be strictly work-related? 

Our suggestion is to create a #Travel channel on Slack where everyone can send pictures and share stories of their travels. You can also exchange tips and recommend hotels and attractions.

A #Travel channel is only one idea. You have a thousand other options. From #Cooking channels and #Podcasts to #Workout and #ProductivityTips, nothing is impossible with an amazing team and a great company.

.gif Battles

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Trello board template

This team-building game may be one of the most hilarious just for fun games on the list. The only thing you'll need is this Trello board template

How the game works is that you have four rounds with a different theme. Use Gyphy.com to search for a gif that best fits the theme of the round. For example, if the theme of the first round is "remote work," start browsing gyphy.com for the most hilarious gif and attach the gif to a card. 

When all team members attach their gifs, it's time to vote for the best submission. The goal of the game is to pick an ultimate winner after four rounds. The winner will be crowned the Sommelier of Gifs. What an achievement! 

team building games for remote teams gif battles

Collaborative Podcasts

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Slack/Google spreadsheets

Do you and the team talk about podcasts? Chances are you do. Podcasts are such an entertaining way to fill up your time with knowledge. You can listen to a podcast when you're walking your dog, commuting, or enjoying a midday rest.

So, why not create a collaborative podcasts list? You and the team have two ways of doing so. One way is by creating a Slack #podcasts channel where everyone will get the chance to share a podcast they love.

Or, you can create a Google spreadsheet where everyone will be able to drop their favorite podcast. You can even have different sheets for different topics, such as "engineering podcasts," "remote work podcasts,", "travel podcasts," etc. 

You're welcome!

The Desk Photo Contest

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Slack

We love looking at our coworkers' desks. It might be a simple team-building activity, but it can reveal so much about a person’s personality and daily life.

How the activity works is you ask your remote employees to snap a photo of their desk and share it with the team. Get the person to post the photo on a Slack channel together with a short story about an accessory on their desk.

This is an easy and amazing way for team members to get to know each other better.

agile games for distributed teams
Remote Adevan working from WeWork, NYC.

A Walk in My City

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Slack

What do you do when you want to learn more about a city? You google the name and go to Lonely Planet. That’s a cool strategy, but we’ve managed to combine playing a game + gaining first-hand tips about a city. How? By playing a team-building activity called A Walk in My City.

We ask our employees to show the main tourist sights and secret spots in their city and share it with the team. It can be through uploading a photo on Slack or sending a pre-recorded video. The activity also includes writing a short story about what’s so special about the place and reasons to visit.

This team-building activity is amazing for building empathy among team members and giving each remote employee some context to understand their coworkers’ backgrounds.

And let us tell you: There isn’t a place on this planet that we don’t love!

Company Trivia Session

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: email/QuizBreaker

Another one of our favorite remote team building activities is a game called Company Trivia Session. You pick one person to prepare the questions and send them over to the team. The team will have 24 hours to give their answers.

We personally love this game because it lets us discover slices of our coworkers’ life. It makes us feel closer to each other and stronger as a team. The tool we’re using is QuizBreaker.

Here are some examples of fun questions:

  • Which team member saw Emilia Clarke at a gas station?
  • Which team member’s favorite book is “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan?
  • Who recently got married?
  • Which team member can breakdance?
  • Which team member has been working at the company the longest?
  • Who recently celebrated his third year work anniversary?
agile games for distributed teams

Write a Story

  • Sync. or async.: sync
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: group chat/Slack

If you’re looking for a team-building activity where employees can exercise their writing skills and creativity in a fun way, then try playing the Write a Story game.

The only equipment you’ll need is a computer and a group chat. It doesn’t matter if your team counts 5 or 25 people, the more is always the merrier!

The host types an opening sentence to a story. Every member takes turns (you can make it alphabetically) and adds one sentence to the story. The activity can last for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the number of people. Not only that the remote team will engage in storytelling, but it’ll also join together to share ideas.

Movie Night

  • Sync. or async.: sync
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Zoom/Google Hangouts

Who doesn’t enjoy watching a movie with friends? But this time, instead of going to the movies or inviting everyone over at your home, you’ll stream a movie via a virtual conference call with a screen-sharing option like Zoom.

This team-building activity it’s fantastic for remote teams as it lets them loosen up and take their mind off ongoing projects and tasks. To keep things more interesting, you can open a live chat running at the same time as the movie so that people can exchange comments, jokes, and thoughts.

Get Fit Challenge

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Stridekick/Spliff/My Virtual Mission

Physical health is equally as important as mental health. If only there were a way to motivate your remote employees to be more physically active in a fun and engaging way? There is! With the help of a team-building game called the Get Fit Challenge.

It’s a healthy competition that releases endorphins, strengthens relationships and supports personal wellbeing. To play the game, you need to set an exercise goal that employees can track using their phones. The employee who performs the best wins a prize! It can be a simple step challenge or a burning calorie challenge.

The best apps you can use for this challenge include:

Virtual Pictionary

  • Sync. or async.: sync
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: Skribbl or Drawasaurus

If your remote team loves playing Pictionary, surprise them by organizing a game day playing online Pictionary. But this time, instead of a piece of paper and a pen, you’ll need a steady internet connection and an online game like Skribbl or Drawasaurus. You and your team can open a private room and play Pictionary until your fingers run dry. Have fun!

Virtual Scavenger Hunt

  • Sync. or async.: async
  • Practical or just for fun: just for fun
  • One-time or regular: regular
  • Tools required: GooseChase

One way of creating an outdoor scavenger hunt is with the help of a platform called GooseChase. The team needs to follow the instructions to receive the allotted points. Sometimes they’ll be submitting a photo or video, while other times they’ll be solving a puzzle or riddle.

This fun team-building game will have your remote employees moving around, talking to each other in ways you couldn’t have even imagined. It’ll motivate them to stay connected and compete in an engaging way.

agile games for distributed teams

Conclusion

We’re continuously inventing a new world for ourselves. Once the majority of employees were working in warehouses before moving to office spaces. Today we’re witnessing another significant change: the transition from in-office work to remote work. The major driver of this change: technology.

But one thing remained a constant: we’re still social beings. We crave relationships and closeness with other people. And just because the team lives on four sides of the world doesn't mean that they can’t form professional and personal relationships with their coworkers. From Slack channels and Google documents to platforms like QuizBreaker and Stridekick, remote employees can easily share a laugh, exchange photos of their daily life, and get competitive on a Scavenger Hunt.

Bridging the physical gap has never been easier and social interaction must be included in your team’s everyday life. It’s the key to employee performance, engagement, and long-term retention.

Let the games begin!

Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated to include more extensive information.