Just five years ago it was crazy to imagine big corporations offering remote work or employees quitting if they were forced to go to the office.
Fast forward to 2023, the post-pandemic new-normal world is hard to imagine without working from home and leaders having to adapt to managing hybrid teams. As fascinating as it is to witness such a tremendous and drastic shift, we are not here today to discuss this phenomenon.
The goal of today’s article is to help you spice up your Zoom meetings (Webex, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc) that, we can all agree, are no longer fun and easy just because we’re bonding over the world’s craziness. As having online video conferences becomes a routine, we are hitting the good old issues of having stale meetings with unengaged employees.
Not all Zoom meetings will naturally be easy-going and that’s okay. There are many virtual icebreakers for the team and 1-on-1 meetings that you can use to help with that.
What is an ice breaker?
An ice breaker is an activity, a question, or a fun game that takes place at the beginning of a video call or a meeting.
Ice breakers are designed to get the conversation warmed up and going in a meeting where the people might not be too familiar with one another and not feel comfortable right away.
As the world has changed with the integration of technology, virtual icebreakers have become more popular and widespread.
Why spend time on ice breakers?
You might think – well, it’s fun and all, but it doesn’t work for my team because everyone’s online calendar planner is packed and we have no time for silly games or chit-chat.
And while yes, incorporating ice breakers will naturally bite some time off your Zoom meeting, it will give you back so much more:
- Deflate the tension
- Break up the routine
- Engage and re-energize the team
- Boost creative ideas and suggestions
- Get higher productivity levels
Ice breakers are especially important for remote teams who do not have the luxury of bonding over lunch or random office chats.
And one big reason to work on making your virtual meetings more fun is that there are now whole definitions that explain just how fed up many people are with conference calls – Zoom fatigue and Zoom anxiety. It’s hard to pretend that there is no problem when there is new slang created to reflect the experience that we are all going through.
Ice breaker ideas for online team meetings
There are countless virtual icebreakers that you can adapt or even come up with yourself. Here, we listed the top ideas that many companies and teams qualify as effective and fun.
Feel free to use any of the below ideas to kick start your virtual meetings:
#1 One word or a phrase to describe XYZ
This is an ice-breaking classic if we dare say so. It fits both a Zoom meeting and a traditional office-based session.
Ask each team member to share a word or a phrase that describes a certain topic. It can be personal, for example, their feelings on that day or general condition. Or something less intimate as ‘how was your weekend in 1 word’. It can be work-related, like a word that describes a meeting’s topic, attitude to a recent corporate change or announcement, or maybe even a word that team members feel best describes the company’s culture.
#2 One word or phrase that describes your colleague
A slight twist on the Zoom icebreaker we just talked about is the word or phrase that describes your fellow team member.
Here team members take turns and each describes the next person with a phrase that encapsulates them.
It might be a tricky one if you work in a remote team with many newcomers, so you might want to hold this one off for some time until everyone has attended at least a couple of weekly team meetings and 1-on-1 sessions. Otherwise, you’ll get boring and irrelevant descriptions that nobody cares about.
#3 Brag of the month
Depending on the company’s culture and department, bragging tolerance will be different. Plus, some people will just be shy to share their successes.
This ice breaker will give everyone a chance to shine.
Ask team members to share their top wins for the previous month. This will take a bit more time, especially if you have a larger team, so it’s best not to practice this ice breaker on shorter calls, like on 15-minute daily stand-ups in Scrum, but leave it for longer virtual meetings.
Also, don’t do this too often, and don’t pressure people into sharing too much. We want this to be fun and exciting, but if you try too hard, employees will be reluctant to speak up. And they will feel the added pressure of having to perform and come up with some cool story that will be worth sharing in addition to tackling their online to-do list, they will only experience anxiety and no joy.
#4 One question
Here you will ask every team member to answer the same question. Usually, those are silly questions that release pressure and stiffness from everyone.
- What superpower do you wish you’d have?
- What TV show are you currently watching and loving?
- What’s one book that you absolutely love?
- What do you miss about the office (for a remote team)
- What did you have for breakfast or lunch?
- What is your best productivity tip?
- What is your best time management tip?
- What’s your favorite snack?
- What were you afraid of as a kid?
#5 Fun fact
Fun fact is a great ice breaker. Just like the name suggests, every team member shares a fun fact about them that can be related to anything from any time of their life – from early childhood to the current day.
Ps, don’t allow the ‘fun fact about me is that there are no fun facts’ comments!
#6 Would you rather
Another virtual icebreaker classic is quick and fun to play with the team.
- Cake or cookies?
- Winter or summer?
- French fries or mashed potato?
- Sea or mountains?
#7 Take your pet to work
If your employees own pets, ask them to show them on the call and even keep them in the view for the entire Zoom meeting if that doesn’t hurt the animals.
No one can be stiff and stale when there’s a bunch of good boys staring at you from the monitor. Will this meeting be productive though? Definitely not, but it will be the best meeting your team could hope for.
#8 Share a photo
This icebreaker activity is very self-explanatory. Ask employees to share a photo on a certain topic:
- You on graduation date
- You on your first vacation
- Your view from the window right now
This is a great icebreaker for chats too. If your company skips meetings and does chat updates instead, like many Agile teams, then you can ask everyone to send photos in the group chat.
#9 Show and tell
Do your colleagues have something interesting or peculiar in their homes? Something they’re proud of and would like to share? Ask them to do exactly that at the next online meeting.
#10 Bucket list
A bucket list is one of the interesting ice breaker questions because it can be either fun and silly or can get deep and personal.
Everyone has a bucket list of some sort and knowing the contents will shed a lot of light on your colleagues and help you understand them much better.
#11 Dance break
Dance break is one of the most controversial ice breaker activities. Whether it’s fitting and acceptable to host it is up for debate. If you feel like it would work in your team – go for it!
Here are tips on making a dance break fun:
- Keep it short and simple, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Look for hit songs that are on everyone’s mind right now (browse Tik Tok for inspiration) or go with the oldies and goldies.
- As you schedule the next meeting with the team, make sure the information about your dance plans is reflected in their weekly planners. Give people a heads up and they will be more inclined to participate.
- Kind of push everyone to join but not really. Encourage your team to shake it but not to a point where they’ll file an HR complaint.
#12 Two truths and a lie
This one can be played with a new team member every time. This week it’s Janet, next week it’s Garrett.
The idea behind the two truths and a lie ice breaker is that team members share 2 facts and 1 lie, not telling anyone which is which. What makes this guessing game fun is that all 3 statements should be absolutely ridiculous and absurd, so remote team members will have a hard time understanding which one of them is actually possible in real life.
#13 Emoji check-in
Emoji check-in is another good ice breaker if you have status updates or other catch-up meetings over corporate chats.
Simply ask everyone to send the emoji that best corresponds with their mood of the day.
#14 Work from home fails and horror stories
What have your colleagues experienced that was most horrible and/or funny?
The Internet is full of crazy and hilarious stories about what people had to go through during the pandemic quarantines. Ask your team members to share their experiences and have a good laugh together.
#15 Virtual background contest
The Zoom background contest would be a fun and very quick way to break the ice. It’s perfect for meetings where every group member gets to speak, so everyone can see them talk and study the virtual background simultaneously.
Naturally, this activity is among Zoom icebreakers that are most exciting for online meetings where the virtual team is not shy to turn on their cameras.
Zoom team building activities
If you want to take one step further, dedicate the full meeting or a part of it to a team-building activity. Divide team members into small groups and put them in online breakout rooms where they need to think about a topic together:
- Explain your work to your grand-grandparents in 3-5 sentences.
- “What if” problem simulations. Can be work-related or something abstract.
- What you’d bring on a desert island. Choose up to 3 objects and why.
- Virtual happy hour after work (make it a bigger success with vouchers for everyone to get drinks and snacks).
These days, many companies host entire game nights over Zoom, so if you have the interest and budget, definitely give them a try! Alternatively, ask for volunteers to prepare a team trivia quiz, order food delivery for everyone, and run an internal game night.
Pro tip: Don’t host Zoom parties past working hours. It is a work activity after all, even if it’s supposed to be fun. Trust us, nobody appreciates having to stay late after work for whatever reason. So instead, add this as a fun task in people’s digital daily planners for the end of the day. Trust us, productivity won’t suffer beyond repair because the team skipped the last couple of hours of active work.
Most games take 30 minutes to a couple of hours on average and become a fun way to decompress and learn something new about other team members.
Final thoughts on ice breakers for Zoom meetings
Working remotely doesn’t mean low team engagement or worse work outcomes. And remote meetings don’t have to be awkward or boring either.
With a little effort, even the shyest and the most reserved remote team will open up and become more comfortable. So try our virtual icebreakers, give it time, and you will see progress.
Remember that investing time and budget in team-building and an icebreaker activity is never a waste of time. People innovate and flourish when they are comfortable and can cooperate effectively, so don’t be afraid to spice up your Zoom meetings with a classic game and a good laugh.