Remote work and meetings are now common, forcing companies and facilitators to adapt in order to create productive remote meetings. This frequently results in a lack of personal interaction and office activity, which can easily be overcome in a physical office setting. Remote work lacks the in-person interaction found in traditional office settings, where colleagues can easily connect and get to know one another through exchanging plans or activities such as having lunch together.
Research has shown that remote work can often lack in-person interaction that can help to build rapport and establish trust among team members. According to a survey, around 55% of remote workers aged 18-34 reported that mental health issues and the challenges of regularly switching contexts impacted their job performance.
This means that remote teams must put in extra effort during the work week to connect, celebrate wins, solve problems, and establish trust through online meetings. Due to the lack of face-to-face communication, even long-term remote workers may not know their colleagues personally, including their hobbies and family lives.
Building Connections Among Diverse Teams
Online meetings have become a daily routine for many software development companies. Facilitators are constantly trying to improve and create agendas for each meeting. At Techstack, we even have a guide on 'How to Lead Efficient Remote Meetings'.
Have you ever thought about how to properly start a remote meeting? Have you ever encountered an awkward silence at the beginning of a meeting, or found that people are not actively participating? To address these issues, we use different approaches. For example, if we need a couple of minutes to get into the right mental space when starting a remote meeting, we might use small talk or icebreakers to fill any awkward silences. The approach we use depends on the type of meeting and team.
What Does Icebreaker Mean?
Icebreakers are the go-to method for warming up remote teams and making them feel more comfortable and connected. It can help energize your team and engage people in order to build social connections.
Using an icebreaker activity for remote teams is a good tip for Scrum Masters to increase productivity during remote meetings, as well as increase engagement, interactions, and focus.
As a result, icebreakers can assist us in resolving the following issues:
- focusing teammates
- reducing stress
- creating atmosphere
- creating empathy
- involving each teammate
- getting to know each other
- building a sense of togetherness in teams
Understanding Individual Differences
We have been working with many teams, and each is different. These are the people who create a daily internal environment based on individual character. Some of the teams consist of extroverts and introverts:
- Extroverts: friendly, energetic, socially confident people, who are ready for any challenges.
- Introverts: quiet and shy people. Introverts don't usually enjoy small talk and don't want to be involved in non-work-related conversations. They prefer to be silent. Such people are uncomfortable and may be afraid of being judged by the public for expressing their opinion, which is not the case with direct work processes.
At a certain point, working with such different people and teams, we realized that it would be great to try icebreaker games for remote teams that help participants in remote meetings leave points online or anonymously. It helped teams to be connected with all teammates, especially introverts.
How We Use Icebreakers for Meetings
Let's consider the types of icebreaker activity which we use in Techstack.
Two Types of Icebreakers Which We Use
1. Quick Icebreaker Questions for Remote Teams
Quick Icebreaker questions can help break the ice and lighten the mood. Before the meeting starts, the host of the meeting has to prepare some specific or funny questions.
In our practice, we always think about team needs and character, and ask questions differently, using icebreaker game tools or only using quick icebreaker questions. Asking quick questions usually takes 2–5 minutes. It’s enough to warm up the team before the remote meeting starts.
Also, we pay attention to team mental health. If the team is tired, you can ask, for example, 'What fruit are you?' or 'What animal are you?'. If the team is nervous (the release was delayed, many tasks are unclear, etc.), ask questions to calm the team down, such as 'What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?'
5 Tips for Quick icebreaker questions:
- Don’t forget to ask permission to have a quick icebreaker for remote teams
- In advance, reserve a time for a quick icebreaker question in the meeting agenda
- Match the questions with team character and the meeting goal
- Make it short (up to 5 minutes)
- Make sure the facilitator projects a good mood
2. Virtual icebreaker games for remote teams
It is good to have some quick internal icebreakers for virtual meetings, where we have to get to know each other, reduce stress, and, of course, warm up the team. Virtual icebreaker games have different options, questions, tools, and types. Take note: you can’t use these just any time with any team.
We would recommend having this type of game as part of retrospective events, team-building activities, and at some specific meetings if needed. It enables all participants to answer questions online, anonymously leave comments or points, and include shy and quiet people in virtual icebreaker games.
Virtual icebreaker games are not appropriate for the following meetings: annual reports, remote meetings with stakeholders, plannings, Sprint reviews, demos, product backlog refinement, kick-offs, and meetings not approved by remote teams.
7 Tips for Virtual icebreaker games:
- Don’t forget to ask permission to have a virtual icebreaker game
- Add virtual icebreaker games to the meeting agenda
- Match the icebreaker game with the team character and meeting goal
- Virtual icebreaker game tools should be simple (have a short intro on how to play)
- Lead by example
- Make it short (5-10 minutes)
- Make sure the facilitator projects a good mood
5 Types of Scrum Icebreaker Questions
We use various icebreaker questions and tools for remote teams at Techstask. They are determined by the team's mood, internal environment, and who is on the team. It's a good suggestion for team improvement and unity.
Based on the meeting goal and team needs, we use a quick icebreaker for virtual meetings. For example, for newcomers, or for long-term remote workers who lack social interaction, we would recommend the following tips.
1. ‘Get to Know’ Questions
We could use an icebreaker like 'Get to know you' questions to help team members get to know each other better. These questions can be used during onboarding for newcomers, launching new teams, or even for people who already know each other but want to become more acquainted.
What is your astrological sign?
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Why?
What was your favorite recent meal and why?
The outcome of using this type of question is that we can learn more about each other. It helps newcomers get to know their teammates and reduces stress during the trial period. For other teammates, it can gradually replace offline coffee breaks.
2. ‘Would You Rather?’ Questions
‘Would you rather?’ questions are a great way to start a remote meeting in an engaging and entertaining way. Additionally, it's an easy way to get into amazing conversations by just asking ‘why’ after a ‘would you rather?’ question. The team is more likely to get interesting or humorous answers and learn more about the person answering the question.
Would you rather celebrate New Year's Eve 100 years ago or 100 years in the future?
Would you rather have a terrible boss and a good job, or a good boss and a terrible job?
Would you rather visit the mountains or the sea?
The outcome of using this type of question is that all teammates during the meeting can switch from their daily routine and working process, and engage their imagination by answering the questions. As a result, the mood improves.
3. ‘One Simple Question’
These types of questions can be used with teams who do not want to spend much time using icebreaker games and already have a good mental environment within the team. They can be used instead of small talk.
What are you excited about this week?
What are your fruits today?
What is your favorite Christmas movie?
The outcome of this type of question is reduced stress and the creation of an atmosphere before the main part of the remote meeting starts.
4. ‘Funny Question’
If you want to make the start of the meeting fun, or you want to reduce frustration or any negative in the team, we would like to suggest you use “Funny questions”.
What’s the weirdest thing in your fridge right now?
What would you do if you came home and found a penguin in your freezer?
If you were a cocktail, which one would you be?
The outcomes of this type of question are that an atmosphere and empathy are being created. We break the ice before the meeting starts. It suggests that using questions to get to know team members can create a positive atmosphere and help replace in-person interactions, which may be especially useful for teams with different personality types.
5. ‘True or false questions’
This could be a part of welcoming and helping us to get to know each other more.
At the beginning of Retrospective, each teammate writes 2 true statements and 1 false one about themselves, and the other members try to guess what is false. We prefer to use a Miro board for this type of question, which helps me to visualize all cards for the team. Also, you can create Quizzes to ask prepared questions.
- I have a dog
- I’m interested in AI
- I like gardening
General examples for ‘True or false question’:
- Monaco is the smallest country in the world
- Cinderella was the first Disney princess
- Australia is wider than the moon
The outcome of this type of question: we laugh, get to know each, interact with interest, and have fun.
3 Tools for Virtual Icebreaker Games
As I mentioned before, I like using tools for fun icebreaker games for remote teams to involve all participants. Here are some useful examples.
Slido is a live polling and Q&A platform. This tool allows us to visualize questions and answers and discuss the results together with the team.
This is one way to have a short virtual icebreaker. You can use “Would you rather?” questions, “Get to know” questions, and any other type that works for your team. Also, it’s simple to be a participant. Participants don’t need to register or download the app.
Using this tool you can create “Quizzes” and live polls and ask and answer questions, which helps you to start a remote meeting where everyone can feel connected. Your teammates just need to scan the QR code or follow the link.
As for the practical part, you can do research before the remote meeting and choose the best one. For example, we used the Christmas template for Retrospective last year. It includes icebreaker questions that can allow us to leave points before the meeting starts. We shared the link with the team in advance. At the beginning of the Retrotrospective, we discussed our favorite Christmas movies.
Worldwall is a simple tool that helps new teams get to know each other and also relieve stress and defuse tension. This tool has pre-prepared questions, but you can also create unique ones yourself.
We have had hands-on experience with this tool. Take note: don’t forget to follow the agenda, and avoid running out of time. In this case, I share my screen and show the questions to the team and spin a wheel. Participants can easily answer them each in turn.
Icebreakers for remote teams can help build new communication channels and break down formalities. Using icebreakers can enhance your team's performance. With really good icebreakers, you can help new teammates easily integrate into the team and feel more comfortable.
Choosing quick icebreaker questions or virtual icebreaker games requires diving into the team's internal environment and observing their needs. You can use different tools or just ask a quick icebreaker question. Of course, icebreakers require time and preparation before the remote meeting starts. If you are a Scrum master or host, you should define a list of meetings where you can use icebreakers for remote teams and ensure they are suitable for the team.
By following the hints described in this article, you can improve engagement in your meetings. If you're interested in building a successful remote team with Techstack's assistance, feel free to contact our experts.