Remote team socials are hard.
When you’re in the office with your coworkers, it’s easy to spend quality time together over lunch, coffee breaks, or ping pong.
Yet those kinds of organic opportunities don’t often arise when your team is working remotely. As a result, you have to be a lot more intentional about building team culture.
It’s not as simple as hosting a video call with eight people.
As we’ve all surely experienced, there’s something unnatural about how we interact on a video call. Where in-person get-togethers are alive, video calls are closer to an open mic night with one speaker at a time. (In other words, highly awkward.)
That’s where activities—and games—come in. Games are an easy way to anchor and liven up virtual team events, so people can connect naturally.
In this article, we discuss criteria for selecting games—and share our 7 favorite games for remote teams to play.
How to pick a game for your virtual team building event
A few weeks ago, I volunteered (ahem, was volunteered) to host our team happy hour.
I decided we could play some games—but, to my surprise, I struggled to find a good selection of games that can be played with a remote team.
So I started researching, evaluating games based on six criteria:
- Multiplayer: Yes, we can all cheer Matt on as he (literally) crushes in Candy Crush, but the goal is to involve everyone.
- No learning curve: There’s no point in spending 45 minutes of a 60-minute happy hour teaching your team how to dance in Fortnite. (Unless, of course, that’s exactly the point.)
- No installs: “Does it work on Mac? Our firewall blocked downloads.” No, thanks.
- Easy to join: We all have that one colleague who bursts into the social 20 minutes late, yet still expects to join the game. (It's usually your boss.)
- Free or budget-friendly: “Hey, could you set up our next team social?” is rarely followed by “Here’s your giant budget.”
- Safe for work: It’s much rarer that people get fired after a remote office Christmas party than an in-person one. Let’s keep it that way.
- BONUS: The whole point of a social is to get to know your team. So try to pick a game that helps you learn more about your teammates.
While using these criteria can help narrow your options, you will still have a wide array of games to choose from. Be sure to select one that fits your team and event goals.
Game ideas for your next virtual team event
Atop our list of favorite games is Scattergories, which is hilarious and might teach you a little bit about how your team thinks.
How it works: You receive a letter (e.g., “J”) and several categories (e.g., “a fruit” or “a country”). Each player then has two minutes to come up with a word for each category starting with that letter (e.g., "Jackfruit" and "Jordan").
After the time is up, you go through each category and all players vote on whether or not a word should belong in a category. The twist? If two players use the same word, the word is disqualified. So your goal is to come up with unique words and then defend your choices if other players start poking holes.
This free game was made by Anthony Kenzo Salazar.
2. City Guesser (Virtual Vacation)
City Guesser is among the most impressive games we've found, and the perfect antidote to lockdowns and the stay-at-home blues.
How it works: In the multiplayer version, you are shown several first-person videos of people walking through a city; then, you guess where the place is on a map. The closer you are, the more points you get.
A fun byproduct of playing the game is that you’ll learn a lot about the places your teammates have visited or lived.
(Note: The multiplayer login user interface can be a bit confusing, so it's best to do a dry-run first.)
This free game was made by Paul McBurney Jr.
3. Pictionary (Drawasaurus)
An all-time Hopin favorite, Pictionary is great if you’re looking for a simple game that most of your team probably already knows how to play. Make sure to turn your video on to live comment on each other's drawings.
Pro Tip: Make sure your room is password-protected or other players may join your room. Could be fun, but, for a team social, it's best to keep things private.
This free game was made by Darcy Glennen.
4. Photo of your life
How it works: Before the happy hour, ask every team member to bring a photo of their choice (or, if you prefer, you can make it themed) as well as a short story they can tell about their photo.
Then, simply take turns sharing your screen with the image and tell your stories. It’s a great way to learn something new about your team. Just beware of lots of childhood, pet, and travel photos!
5. Two truths and a lie
This game is especially fun to play with new hires—and is a great way to surface some lesser-known facts about your team.
How it works: Simply ask each team member to prepare three statements about themselves: two facts and one lie.
Once a team member has shared their three statements with the group, the group has a set amount of time to interrogate the team member about their statements. After that, the team votes on which statement is the lie, before the big reveal.
Taboo is a classic that most team members will likely already know.
How it works: At the basic level, players take turns prompting teammates to guess as many keywords as possible in the allotted time. Each keyword, however, comes with forbidden words that may not be spoken.
This free online version also features a timer and a score sheet, though you can also track the game separately. Taboo is always a big hit, but be aware that speakers who are not native/fluent English speakers might feel disadvantaged.
7. Jackbox Games
Jackbox has an array of virtual party games, including You Don't Know Jack, Quiplash (available in five languages), and Fibbage.
In addition to being a riot, Jackbox games also have the highest production value among any of the entries on this list. Prices range from a $7-10 for individual games to $18-30 for party packs.
Working remotely doesn’t mean you have to forego opportunities to build rapport and community within your team.
Although the way your team socializes may look different in a remote environment, with the right approach, you can make remote team building events as lively and rewarding as in-person events.
Games—and other activities—are a natural way to close the distance, so your team can get to know each other outside of the video call.