When you have team members in different offices or even all over the world, you don't have the luxury of going for drinks after work on Friday, playing video games in the break room, or joining a company baseball team to help you get to know your coworkers.
Yet building rapport with your team members is hugely important for working together well and, more importantly, for enjoying your days at work.
Beyond the things you do every day or every week to build the culture of your team and get to know your team mates, occasionally, you’ll need to ‘increase the bandwidth’ – make extra special time for extra special things. In the same way you’d go out for a happy hour with teammates, remote team building activities like online games let you relax and enjoy one another’s company in a casual atmosphere.
These are some of the games we think work well for a wide variety of teams.
1. Codenames: Low-Stress Team-Building
Found online at www.horsepaste.com, this free online version of the popular board game Codenames is great for 4–8 players. Players try to correctly identify their team’s codenames before the other, as spymasters give single words clue words and the number of cards that the clue pertains to (e.g. “animals 2” might indicate “kangaroo” and “phoenix”).
The fun of codenames lies in seeing how your teammates’ minds work – what associations do they make among words, and do you make the same ones? You also get the joy of working together to solve one another’s clues, a type of collaboration that’s probably pretty different from your everyday.
Note that the online version is without instructions. Here’s a 3-minute video on the rules:
2. Dominion Online: Nerdy Card Game for Virtual Teams
Nerd alert 🤓🚨! Dominion is a medieval-themed card game with a great multiplayer online adaptation found at dominion.games.
Dominion doesn’t require players to purchase their own packs of cards, it isn’t a “collectible card game.” Rather it’s more like a set of monopoly where each version of the game comes with its complete set of cards. Players are encouraged to make their own strategy by purchasing cards with in-game currency. It’s casual and challenging, relatively easy to learn and difficult to master.
With Dominion, you can see the kinds of strategies your teammates gravitate to - are they playing offensively or defensively? Are they aiming for quick victories, or playing a long game? It’s a view into how they strategize.
Here’s a 3-minute explainer on the rules:
3. Jackbox Games: Fun Online Social Games
Jackbox Games, a Chicago-based gaming studio were early pioneers in CD-ROM-based (remember CD-ROMs?) casual trivial video game titles in the 1990s. In the mid-2010s the company was revived from near extinction by offering party games playable over conferencing systems like Zoom or game streaming services like Twitch. During the health crisis, celebrity streams Jackbox games raised more than $500,000 for COVID-19-related charities.
Jackbox titles are paid, but you only need one copy for your team. Our team’s favorite games are Quiplash—where participants come up with the funniest answers to quirky prompts—and Drawful 2—a sort of turn on Pictionary where one artist draws a picture from an off-kilter prompt and others try to guess what prompt resulted in the picture.
While there are ‘winners’ in Jackbox games, these games take your team on a journey together that’s not very goal-oriented and don’t require you to understand strategy. The social nature of Jackbox makes them the easiest introductory games on our list.
Pro-tip: when playing with colleagues, you may flip on the “safe for work” setting.
4. Paper Telephone: Use the Tools You Have to Play Online
Paper Telephone is a game that only requires a virtual whiteboard. It’s identical to the game of telephone, where a whispered phrase changes as it is passed and repeated by participants, except done with drawings.
- Each player starts by drawing anything they wish, this drawing is then “passed” to the next player
- The player describes what they see with words, this prompt is passed to the next player
- A new drawing is produced from this prompt
- And play continues as hilarity ensues...especially when the final drawing is compared to the first!
Like all forms of telephone, the joy is in seeing how people interpret something, and how subtle shifts end up in big discrepancies. In this one, you also get to enjoy your coworkers’ digital drawing skills.
5. Playingcards.io: Familiar Cards, Now Virtual
Similar to Tabletop Simulator, below, playingcards.io is an ad-supported service allowing you to play several classic board games (like checkers or backgammon) or any 52-card-based card game online with several players simultaneously.
While the service shows cards moving around in realtime, note that there isn’t any logic or rules built-in. And, if you want to set up the tabletop to play something like Texas Holdem, you’ll need to customize the play area to create space for cards to be flipped over and such. Chips and the like, need to be accounted for separately (a Google sheet works well!)
Because this relies on existing games, this can be an easier starting place for teams who are less comfortable with online gaming or who want a more familiar starting place.
6. Skribblio: No Drawing Talent Needed!
Skribblio is an ad-supported web app where players play a sort of mashup between Pictionary and hangman. Players take turns drawing to a prompt while a timer ticks down. All players must guess the word before the timer expires. The faster a correct answer is given, the more points are scored.
Similar to Jackbox above, the social nature and low stakes make this a good starting place.
7. Tabletop Simulator: Bring Games You Know Online
Tabletop Simulator replicates, down to the 3d physics, the experience of playing a board game together. Several classic games are included, and a rich library of independent and mainstream titles are available.
Again, this can be an easy place to start because you’re already familiar with the games, just enjoying them in a new virtual space.
7. Werewolf: Folk Game Via Video Conferencing
Werewolf is a game of lies and deceit that works well over a video conference link. It requires no apps, purchases, nor serious preparation. Participants are divided by a moderator into several groups:
- (1) the village doctor – they can prevent somebody from being killed, including themselves
- (1) the village seer – they can be told by the moderator if somebody is a werewolf or not
- (2) werewolves – they are trying to take over the village
- ...everybody else is a villager – they are trying to defend the village
The moderator assigns roles. Roles are secret. This is best done over a private message.
The moderate announces it is night time. Everybody closes their eyes. Then the moderator...
- ...asks the werewolf to wake up and decide who to kill – they must choose only one person
- ...asks the doctor to wake and decide who to protect
- ...asks the seer who they’d like to find out is a werewolf or not
These interactions should be done with private messages.
Then, the moderator announces that daytime has come and everybody can wake up. Then, the villagers must vote on who to “kill.” Their aim is to kill all the werewolves. This should be done as an open debate.
The villagers win if all werewolves are killed. The werewolves win if it is no longer possible for a majority vote of villagers to kill a werewolf.
8. Weavr: Social Game for Online Team-Building (plus GIFs!)
Like Jackbox TV, Weavr is a light-weight social game that lets teams have a laugh together.
To start, every player gets two prompts to respond to. Each person will type in their response or find an appropriate GIF. Then, one-by-one, the prompt and answers are shown to the team, and you vote on which answer your like more.
The game continues for three rounds like this, with questions becoming deeper as you go. In later rounds, Weavr will include the names of players in the prompts, and you'll notice your team's culture and inside jokes start to surface in the answers.
Take time for special games and activities to bring your team to the next level
Games help teams connect in new ways, coming together around a new structure than you face day-to-day.
For remote teams, structured hang-outs through games can be incredibly important for building rapport - helping team mates understand one another better. With that deeper understanding, you can scale mountains together.