Most team-building activities get stale, fast. It already takes real effort to plan team content, get buy-in beforehand, explain a game without losing the crowd, and hope that you found the right game that invites participation from everyone.
In a virtual world: planning for team fun is ironically not fun. As a result, stressed remote team managers usually put team fun on the backburner. It doesn't have to be this way - you have to find the right outlet.
We noticed that most guides to remote team-building are just a massive, uncurated list of "things-to-do", sort of like looking at the bottom of a TripAdvisor list.
This guide fixes that. At Sidekick, we found 4 games that meet these criteria:
At Sidekick, we have one mission: make remote work more human. We talk a lot about what "more human" means, and it always comes down to building meaningful relationships with your remote teammates.
Having fun together is the easiest way to actually start building a meaningful relationship with a teammate. According to First Round, company culture is the 2nd-most important selling point for a candidate when joining a startup (right after future growth potential). All other reasons (compensation, work/life balance) were much less important.
What is Water Cooler Trivia? Water Cooler Trivia is a weekly trivia contest sent through Slack (or Teams). It's dead simple and a blast to play, without any heavy-lifting organizing work. It's fun to get a competitive streak going, but it's even more fun to learn teammate interests and niche knowledge. The trivia question bank is excellent and can be adjusted to fit all skill levels / interests among a team. We think this one is a hidden gem.
Our favorite moment: Whenever someone get's a really difficult question (think a <%20 correct answer rate), they get a special shoutout on the weekly results announcement, and get the chance to tell the team how they knew it. (Like the time when I got to flex why I knew that Valencia celebrated a massive festival involving paper maché sculptures every year.)
Timing: WCT is great in that it's one of the few async fun games that are out there. Usually, each quiz only takes 5 minutes.
What is Pandemic? Pandemic is a co-op game best played with 2-4 people (but more are possible), where each person assumes a critical role in fighting a global pandemic. The team must work together closely in order to defeat the virus. Pandemic involves carefully weighing risks, having a common understanding of the unique abilities of each role, trust, and open communication in order to get the job done. Pandemic might as well be a stand-in for starting a startup.
While originally a board game, Pandemic is easy to play virtually. First, get Pandemic on Steam; only one person needs to download it. That person can then screenshare.
Our favorite moment: In our final turn, we thought we had run out of time to beat the game. In spite of a brief panic, our team buckled down together to find the only path that would let us still win — and we did!
Timing: The first playthrough will talk ~1.5 hours given that the rules are a bit complex to learn upfront. Save it to close out a work week on a Friday.
What is Drawful? Drawful 2 is one of the most popular party games from Jackbox, and it's been a complete hit during the remote work age. It's like Pictionary, but hilarious and very disarming. Get it here. Like with Pandemic, only one person needs to download it and screenshare for the team to start playing.
Our favorite moment: Do you know how to draw a fake moon landing? Or a magic janitor? Your team may surprise you with their talent (or lack thereof 😉 ). You can't erase any mistakes in Drawful either, so be prepared to see past the scribbles.
Time: Each game is usually just 10-15 minutes.
What is it: Rume is video chat that doesn't feel like work — by letting you play games and have multiple conversations in one space, just like you would in person. Rume has a good selection of games too, like Codenames, Settlers of Catan, and Skribbl.io.
Our favorite moment: Seeing everyone's face when Greg (our CPO) clinched the game with the largest army out of nowhere. Ok — maybe this was just Greg's favorite moment.
Time: Depends on the duration of the game. Skribbl.io tends to be the fastest (around 10-15 mins).
These one-off games are important, but having the opportunity for regular, day-to-day chats is critical to building trust with a new team too.
What is it: Sidekick is a hardware device that connects your remote team with a background video call. Teams at Brex, OpenAI, Bloomberg, and the founding teams of 25 YC-backed companies use Sidekick to work side by side for 3 hours a day.
Our favorite moment: We love any pet/Sidekick crossover.
Timing: Our teams use Sidekick for 3 hours a day to recreate the energy of being in-person.