How to Break the Ice at an Online Meeting

10 tips for connecting team members and kickstarting a virtual event on a high note.

Approximately 42 percent of all employees in the U.S. are working from home full-time as a result of precautions to help slow or stop the spread of Covid-19, according to research from Stanford University. Even after the pandemic passes, remote work arrangements are expected to continue, with a growing number of teams meeting online. But building a connection between team members can often be more challenging in a virtual setting.

What's a team to do when they crave connection? Here are several ideas for breaking the ice and building relationships at online meetings.

1. Cast a Vote

Using a polling website like Slido, ask questions that require interaction. Keep it industry specific or keep it silly. Some question suggestions include: Cats or dogs? Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers? Classic rock or country? Perhaps the answer might serve as the theme for your next virtual get-together.

2. Guess Who

This requires advance planning. Ask a series of questions that might not be common knowledge to others, such as What's your favorite flavor of ice cream? If you could be any fictional television character, who would you be? What song would you choose if you were to sing karaoke? Share the answers and have everyone guess who the respondent was.

3. Bingo

Create a variety of bingo cards that represent common elements of a video meeting. Distribute the cards in advance, ensuring no two are the same. Some ideas for blocks include:

  • Dog barking
  • Siren
  • Forgot to unmute
  • Someone is wearing a cardigan
  • A child popped into frame
  • Someone is wearing the color green

4. Recipe Exchange

Choose someone to share a recipe in advance and encourage everyone to prepare the food or beverage to enjoy during the meeting. Rotate which team member shares the recipe each time.

5. Book Club

Choose a book for the group to read. It could be fiction or nonfiction, and can be related to your industry or not. If possible, send all team members a copy of the book. When you begin meetings, pose a question related to the book and share everyone's answers.

6. Health and Wellness Challenge

Create a health and wellness challenge, such as spending a certain number of minutes meditating each day or completing a certain step count for the week. Set a realistic limit for the group. Report on each person's progress and total the numbers with the aim of reaching your group goal. When the goal is achieved, you can celebrate together online or send prizes via email or postal mail.

7.  Picture This 

Ask each person to share a photo that captures their mood or activities from the previous weekend or day. This is a quick way to share special moments and learn who has similar interests.

8. Scavenger Hunt

Put together a list of things for people to find, such as something that makes you happy, something that starts with the first initial of your name and your favorite coffee mug. Give everyone five minutes to search around their homes before coming together to share their finds. 

9. Best Background

Before the meeting starts, pick a theme and ask everyone to change their Zoom background accordingly. The possibilities are endless, but some options to consider include a background from your favorite TV show or your dream vacation. This is a great way to break the ice, and allows people to show off their personalities and interests. 

10. Virtual Escape Room

A number of websites, including Escapology and Escape Experience, offer online escape room games. Bring your team together to solve puzzles, such as a prison escape and a race to find the antidote to a deadly disease. Whichever game you choose, it is sure to encourage collaboration and team building. 

Tricia Richards-Service, PhD is the founder of I Need A Speaker, an online service that connects speakers with audiences. Speakers pay to be listed in a searchable directory, and event planners can create free accounts to search for speakers for their events.