5 Icebreaking Ideas for Virtual Teambuilding

Posted in Talent & Onboarding

The world of work has changed drastically, and for many organizations it looks like remote working is here to stay.

That means virtual onboarding is set to play a huge role in all our lives, not just right now but in the future too.

That’s a huge opportunity for businesses to take an early lead, driving massive engagement gains for the long haul. But there are obviously challenges too.

Many onboarding processes are easily adaptable – sending company swag and laptops home, for example, or recording the CEO’s welcome message. But the social element of onboarding isn’t so easily replicated.

And the social side is critical to engagement. We all know the stat that employees with a best friend at work say they’re happier and more productive (57% and 24% respectively).

That’s where these virtual icebreakers come in. To help your new starters settle in, and connect with their team and your culture.


1 – Send a preboarding icebreaker questionnaire 

At our last EDGE event, we hosted a thought-leadership panel with some businesses doing an awesome job at virtual onboarding.

Darren Grant, Global Onboarding Manager for Cisco Meraki, shared how he’s been using icebreaker questionnaires to draw new hires out of their shell. And how well the tactic’s been received.

Cisco Meraki send icebreaker questionnaires during preboarding, then use the responses to fuel personalized, fun conversations. As Darren says, “I try to keep onboarding extremely real. We’re all experiencing the same things right now […] so I keep it light, I keep it fun, I keep it engaging.”

Our tip? Do as Darren does and keep it light. New hires have plenty of opportunity to be serious; this is an opportunity to unleash a sillier side. Think, ‘would you rather never eat ice cream again or have to eat ice cream every day, and why?’.


2- Create virtual watercoolers

Icebreaking doesn’t just mean helping new hires bond with their immediate team. Breaking the ice amongst people who they’ll interact with daily is the easy bit.

What’s harder is replicating the unconscious, effortless icebreaking that happens across teams and hierarchies in a physical office. Watercoolers and stairwells; kettle conversations.

And that’s vital. A high-functioning organization is a network, connecting seemingly disparate departments, people and processes into a coherent whole. It’s how Jack knows to ask Ellen to help with a knotty tech problem, and Stella knows not to book Zack into a meeting for Tuesday afternoon.

If office-wide icebreaking doesn’t happen, the links that form the network – the paths of least resistance to getting stuff done – are threatened. Which means productivity is threatened.

Read more: Early experiences impact long-term success for your employees – and your business 

Look to recreate watercooler moments virtually. For example, try scheduling a series of short one-to-ones between new starters and established hires they haven’t met yet.

3 – Arrange virtual workspace tours

From the minimalist to the messy; the motivational sticky notes to the movie action figurines – employees’ workspaces are an extension of their personality. Interacting in someone’s physical environment, then, is a natural icebreaker.

Recreate the same virtually, asking new starters to share a little about their home working environment. What do different objects say about them? What object best represents their working style? If they could change something, what would they change?

If you fancy something a little more gamified, try virtual workspace bingo. List common items team members might keep within sight of their desk, and whoever hits, say, ten first wins a prize.


4 – Be interactive

We’ve all experienced the part-loved, part-dreaded ‘…and share something interesting about yourself’. The problem is, the basic question and answer format isn’t amazingly engaging, especially virtually.

When everyone is in a room together, people bounce off each other more easily. There’s easy banter and laughter that lags and patchy internet make harder to recreate, especially in a large group. It’s easy for quieter people – and often your new hires, who don’t know anyone yet – to fade into the background.

For virtual icebreakers, aim for interactive experiences that encourage everyone to get involved.

For example, you could split people into breakout groups and then play a game like two truths, one lie. It’ll be much more engaging than Q&A, and the smaller groups will help new hires step into the foreground.

5 – Show you care

Saving the most important until last. None of your efforts to break the ice and foster togetherness will matter, if you don’t show new hires you genuinely care. 

Maybe that’s asking new starters beforehand whether they prefer tea or coffee, or their favorite workplace snack, then including it in a personalized welcome pack. Maybe it’s the new starters’ direct manager sending a text message the moment the offer’s signed, welcoming them to the team. Maybe it’s a personal note from the CEO after their first day.

One of our absolute favorite examples comes from Shopify, who send their new starters a handwritten, hand-decorated personalized welcome postcard from their new teams. They’ve found that the small gesture has had a mammoth impact with new hires consistently saying how much they love getting them.

It’s not icebreaking in the traditional sense, but it helps new hires feel part of the team and culture immediately. And that’s what it’s all about.

Whether it’s virtual or in-person, we’re on a mission to empower every organization to put experience first. See for yourself why many of the world’s most innovative, people-first businesses trust Enboarder, here. 

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