15 virtual team building ideas for software teams with remote developers

Mislav Stanic
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14 minutes
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Developers often think of remote work as the ultimate perk: no office life, no commute, and no one standing over your shoulder while you work.

However, working from home presents some challenges that might not exist in a standard work environment.

For example, the team spirit that unites developers can be difficult to incorporate into group dynamics.

Fortunately, many team-building activities that help strengthen those social ties can be done over long distances.

In this article, we’ll look at some of these activities, along with some tips for making them work successfully. Let’s get started!

1. Online escape rooms

Online escape rooms—such as Coding Escape, Modern Genius or Grand Theft Escape—can be a fun way for you and your team to work together by solving riddles.

Developers can find Coding Escape to be especially interesting, considering that it uses coding to help the team to escape from a virtual room, as you can see in the picture below.

Source: Coding Escape

Coding Escape has many different games and settings you can choose from, such as a steam house, rescue mission, or returning to the 1980s.

Each game has its own unique concept, but they all have one thing in common: teamwork.

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The team must work together to solve the puzzles by communicating, writing code in their preferred language, and collaborating on the different aspects of each game.

Therefore, online escape room games such as these are not only a fun way to spend time with your team, but they also provide an opportunity for effective team building.

2. Online gaming night

If you’re thinking that online gaming night is just a way to get the team to play more games, you’re right.

But in addition to that, it’s also a fun activity that can help the team bond and improve collaboration while at the same time giving everyone some much-needed downtime from their daily work.

There are many online games that can be played competitively. 

For example, in the game Lord of the Rings Online, you can join up with other teammates and quest through Middle Earth together.

Source: Lord of the Rings Online

You can also engage in World of Warcraft, a classic among gaming titles, or League of Legends, a fast-paced strategy game that’s perfect for team building.

If you’re looking for something more casual and less competitive, games such as Sea of Thieves or Minecraft can be a better choice.

No matter what type of game you choose to play, it’s important to remember that it’s an event meant for fun and camaraderie.

In other words, it’s an opportunity for you and your team members to virtually hang out outside of work, bonding over something other than your day-to-day tasks.

3. Virtual lunch meetings

When you’re a distributed team, it can be difficult to get together for lunch and engage in casual conversations.

That’s why virtual lunch meetings can be an excellent team-building activity that lets developers connect in a low-pressure environment, take a break from work and enjoy some new or old laughs together.

In these meetings, as the name suggests, you and your developers eat lunch together while talking about non-work-related topics, as the picture below shows.

Source: Twitter

You can talk about anything from your favorite movies and TV shows to what you did last weekend.

The idea behind it is to create a casual atmosphere where developers can let their hair down and enjoy each other’s company.

This will help them feel connected and less isolated, which is a common problem for people who work remotely.

4. Typing speed race

The typing speed race is a great team building activity for when you want to challenge your developers. 

To get started, use an online typing tool like typingtest.com or another one of your choosing and set up a tournament with your team members as the players. Here, the important thing is that everyone takes the same test.

Source: typingtest.com

Then post your results by Slack or email. 

The more competitive members of your team will post their scores quickly, encouraging others to reply with their own results, starting a flurry of keyboard clacking.

Once everyone has finished, tally up the scores and find out who came in first, gaining a right to brag about being the fastest typist on the team.

If you want your remote team to work well together, adding some competitive spirit into the mix can go a long way. The typing speed race can be a great activity to get things moving!

5. Recipe swap

Creating a recipe swap as a virtual team-building activity will give remote developers a chance to get to know each other better, while also broadening their culinary horizons.

The principle is simple. Each week, everyone on the team shares their favorite recipe, and then the other team members try and prepare it themselves.

Source: Twitter

The entire group can tackle the same dish, or everyone can try their hand at something different. The choice is up to you.

Then everyone can share photos and experiences over Zoom or Slack.

This simple activity will give your remote team an opportunity to bond over good food.

It will also help everyone to get to know each other better, as well as share some laughs over the mishaps and mistakes that inevitably happen when cooking together. 

6. Dev virtual summit

If you’re looking for some fun, low-stakes activities you can do with your team that also have value, consider creating a dev virtual summit.

Dev virtual summits are like mini-conferences where team members present a topic they’re interested in or know enough about to teach others.

To give your team members the experience of attending a real summit, you can use Zoom’s Immersive View feature, which will place all participants in a background resembling an auditorium, as shown below.

Source: Venture Beat

Next, as you plan this activity, ask every person on your team to think of something they’d like to present to others.

You might have developers who want to give a presentation on a technical topic, while others may want to present something more non-technical, like a mockup of their idea for the new app.

The point here is to give developers an opportunity to show off their unique talents.

This will boost the morale of your team as a whole since everyone will get a chance to shine in front of the rest and feel more appreciated.

7. Movie night

Watching movies together is a great way to build camaraderie and team spirit.

Although your team members might be scattered across the country or even the world, they can still share a movie-watching experience by using streaming services like HBO, Netflix and Hulu for this purpose. 

Netflix offers a wide range of movies for streaming, as you can see below, and you can also search by genre or director. In other words, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Source: Netflix

Your team can choose a movie to watch, and then discuss it the next day.

Everyone can watch on their own, or you can use an extension for joint watching, like Teleparty.

Team members can have a lively discussion about the movie’s themes, characters, and plot twists, which will make developers open up more and feel like they’re part of a team.

You can all also use this opportunity to learn more about each other and your backgrounds, which will only bring you closer together—making movie nights a perfect team-building activity.

8. Virtual icebreaker games

In a team with people from different time zones and cultures, it’s easy to feel disconnected, especially when you’re only starting your remote job.

Virtual icebreaker games can help developers get to know one another and build stronger relationships.

There are many tools you can use for organizing games like this, and one of the simplest ones is probably Conceptboard.

Source: Conceptboard

As you can see in the picture, the concept is pretty straightforward. 

You can ask pre-determined questions such as “Which ice cream flavor best describes you?” or “What is your favorite comic strip?” to help break the ice. 

Or you can come up with other funny, unique, or quirky questions of your own.

Then everyone adds a sticky note with their answer next to each question.

The point of this icebreaker activity is not necessarily whether the answers are good or bad—it’s simply to get people talking and getting to know each other’s personalities.

9. Virtual book club

Just like in-person book clubs are a great way to bond with your coworkers, virtual book clubs can serve the same purpose.

The rules for a virtual book club are the same as those for an in-person one: everyone on the team should read the same book within a set time frame and meet up to discuss it.

In the beginning, you can encourage everyone to share their favorite books and explain why they like them, as the team did in the tweet below.

Source: Twitter 

This can get developers excited about the idea and motivated to participate.

Next, you can set a theme for the next book club meeting. You’ll want to pick an interesting genre that everyone likes, like mystery, sci-fi, or thriller.

Of course, you can also opt for a non-fictional read. However, you might not get the same level of engagement as with novels.

Keep in mind that running a book club should be a collaborative process. 

The purpose of this activity is to encourage team bonding through the reading of a book since it can be a great way to learn more about what your colleagues are interested in and how they think.

10. Live remote coworking sessions

When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to let the day slip by without accomplishing much. 

You can get caught up in distractions and procrastination, especially when there are no colleagues around to keep you on track.

Luckily, there is a way to get around this problem. The trick is to create a virtual community of remote workers by hosting live remote coworking sessions.

For example, you can use a Focusmate online tool for this purpose. Here is a video that explains how it works:

Source: George Kao on YouTube

As the video shows, this tool is basically an online meeting room where you can host a coworking session and invite other team members to join.

During the session, you can talk about your tasks, share ideas, and set up goals. 

Then, you can work together to accomplish them, encouraging each other during the process.

Working this way can keep your team focused and productive, even if the members are not in the same physical location.

11. Something in common

In the Something in common team-building activity, your developers are split into small groups and given a few minutes to come up with three commonalities between them all.

For example, such a commonality can be sharing a love for Al Pacino movies. 

Another example might be having experience with going to camp as a child or burning their tongues off on spicy Cheetos. The more ridiculous, the better!

Source: Shake

If you want to up the ante, you can make the game more challenging by excluding common categories like movies, books and food. You’re bound to get interesting results.

The point is just to get your developers interacting in an easygoing manner that breaks down barriers and fosters teamwork.

This will help them become more comfortable with each other, which can lead to more open communication and more effective collaboration.

12. Guess who—emoji edition

A game of Guess who can be a great method for getting to know your teammates better.

Players are asked to take screenshots of their most frequently used emojis and send them to the moderator.

Source: Museum Hack

The moderator then shares them and the rest of the team takes turns trying to guess which screenshot goes with which developer, earning points for correct answers.

The game continues until everyone has had a chance to share screenshots. The player with the most points wins!

Although this game is relatively simple, it can help facilitate some fun and lighthearted moments in remote teams.

It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about your coworkers: the emojis they choose may give you insight into their personality or sense of humor.

13. War of the wizards

The war of the wizards is a virtual team-building activity unlike any other.

The game takes place over the course of 90 minutes, during which time players will encounter puzzles and challenges that require teamwork in order to solve.

In that case, the game can be seen as a mash-up of RPG games and escape rooms.

Source: War of the Wizards

In a nutshell, wizards have been at war with one another for so long that no one remembers what started the fighting.

You and your team members are the wizards’ minions. You tell stories, solve puzzles, and complete challenges to earn sparkle points—and with those spells, you can help bring a peaceful resolution to the war.

Insanely fun and smart, this game is designed to challenge your way of thinking and help you work together as a team.

14. Virtual debate club

Encourage your software development team to engage in debate, and you will help them develop their communication and teamwork skills.

By conducting debates in a virtual environment, the pressure of speaking in front of a group is removed, and teams can work together on developing their arguments while having fun.

First, you’ll need to decide on a topic. 

If you’re short on topic inspiration, you can draw inspiration from the following ideas.

Source: TeamBuilding

As the ideas from the list suggest, it’s preferable to have lighter discussions rather than more serious ones so that developers don’t feel overwhelmed at the end.

Next, to start to debate, schedule a 45-minute video call, divide your team into two groups, and let them present their arguments.

You can expect to get a lot of laughs from both sides as they present their arguments, but also be prepared for some heated discussions as well.

If you’re looking for a way to spice up your developer team’s culture, then a debate club can be a way to go.

15. Online fitness club

It can be hard to keep the habit of exercising regularly when you’re not in an office setting, surrounded by co-workers who are pushing themselves to stay active during lunch or after work.

Switching things up by holding an online fitness club can help keep your remote developers on track and make them feel more motivated about their exercise routines.

For that purpose, you can use popular apps like Strava or any other tool which you find to be more convenient.

Strava can particularly come in handy because it has a feature that allows you to create and host challenges, as you can see in the picture below.

Source: Lara Hamilton

You can create your own challenge on Strava or use one of their pre-made ones and then share the link with your team.

Your developers can then enroll in the challenge, track their progress in the app and see how they stack up against their peers.

The app also makes it easy to motivate each other by sharing photos of workouts, which is a great way for people who work remotely to stay connected.

Conclusion 

When you’re working with a remote team, it can be easy to feel like you’re missing out on the camaraderie that comes from being in the same office.

But with the right team-building activities, there’s no reason you can’t have a similar experience in your remote environment.

That’s why in this article, we’ve rounded up some of the best team-building activities for remote teams.

Whether you’re looking to build rapport, boost productivity or just have a little fun with your team, these activities are sure to help you get there.

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