Missing the Water Cooler? 10 Creative Ideas for Virtual Team Connection

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Principal Science and Innovation AdvisorEmployee Engagement, LeadershipLeave a Comment

The last few weeks have been about figuring out the changing landscape of work, as COVID-19 has required many employees to shift from being onsite to working remotely.  And while there may still be logistics to work out, many people are starting to settle into this new reality.

The longer this new normal of remote working goes on, the more important it will become to find to ways to build relationships and create meaningful connections. In fact, Newmeasures’ 2020 White Paper on engagement trends found that a sense of belonging and connection was one of the top drivers of engagement. Ironically, the rules for connecting have been shaken up, and so leaders and teams need to consider new ways of fostering meaningful connections.

Newmeasures has been operating as a virtual team for many years. Even though we do have physical offices, in many ways we have had a relatively easy transition to everyone working from home 100 percent of the time. Because our team is remote, we are intentional about creating meaningful ways to connect virtually.

One of our favorite ways of connecting is via a 30 minute, monthly meeting we have named “The Cooler,” after the proverbial water cooler. The purpose of our meeting is to make time for fun and connection. Each month we rotate who will be the host and decide on the activity we will do. The only rule is that we don’t talk about “work.” Our activities have ranged from doing virtual workouts, to naming our spirit animal, to show-and-tell about a teammate’s recent vacation.

Because we have found this time to be a valuable and refreshing way to connect, we wanted to share some of our favorite Cooler activities to inspire connection on your team.

  • Break the Ice: Get started with some fun icebreaker questions. We used this poster in the link below and asked people to choose two questions to answer and share with the team. From favorite bands to discussing our “collections,” we had a blast learning about one another.
  • Murder Mystery Game: Want to put your team’s detective skills to the test? This murder mystery game had us laughing and inspired by one an others’ acting skills (or lack there of!).
  • ‘Tis the Season:  When approaching a holiday, we’ve asked team members share their favorite holiday tradition and/or what they plan to do for the upcoming event. It’s a great way to hear about what makes holidays meaningful.
  • What’cha Reading?  Ask team members to share the last non-work-related book they read (or article or podcast). I was inspired by the variety of interests and the fun learnings from our team.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Easily done from home, ask teammates to share their favorite coffee mug, refrigerator magnet and wall art.
  • Need to Let Off Some Steam? Try setting up a “rant” wheel! Each person submits a topic they want to “rant” about. Take turns spinning the wheel and guess who’s rant it is. Then give that person a minute to share why that topic grinds their gears.
  • Feeling Nostalgic?  Ask teammates to share their favorite sentimental T-shirt or sweatshirt and the story behind it.
  • Pictionary. Virtual Pictionary using the white board tool in Zoom puts drawing skills to the test! Or, grab a pen and paper and hold your drawing up to the camera–we have played both versions!
  • Two Truths and a Lie. This classic teambuilder is always fun. Ask teammates to submit two truths and one lie about themselves to a moderator. The moderator reads the clues and teammates guess which statement is not true.
  • Drinks Anyone? One of my favorite Cooler events is a good ole fashioned happy hour. Consider meeting Friday afternoon and ask teammates to bring their beverage of choice and make space to catch up or discuss the weekend. Even seeing people’s drink selections can be conversation worthy!

We hope that these ideas spark meaningful connection, conversation and even a few laughs!

And we’d love to hear from you…what best practices does your team use to stay connected while apart?