5 Best Remote Team Building Activities for Tech Squads

If you’re like the majority of tech recruiters, you probably offer remote work opportunities. 

Remote and hybrid teams are now the norm in tech. In our 2022 survey, 93% of developers expressed a desire to work remotely all or part of the time and most tech recruiters reported offering this possibility. 

Many teams are hybrid. This is the case in CodinGame where people can choose how often to come to the office and some live at quite a distance. Our partner, CoderPad, is located in the US so some teams are quite geographically diverse. Fortunately, both our developer and recruiter survey participants agree that hybrid teams are just as effective or even more so than 100% onsite or remote teams. 

While such teams can be successful, there are additional challenges to creating a team spirit when people don’t often get to meet in person. For example, 23% of tech recruiters in our survey listed long-distance onboarding as one of their main challenges with remote recruiting. 

When team members are scattered across a country or even the globe, the casual team lunch or drink after work is not a possibility. Creating a strong team requires a little creativity and a concentrated effort at team-building. 

Fortunately, there are lots of great options to create a strong, cohesive team, even far apart. Here we will look at some of the top techniques to ensure your team is operating as a happy, strong unit, no matter the distance.

Why is team building so important?

The Advanced Workplace Institute (AWI) issued a report titled Managing The Virtual Workforce. It drew on research from 750 academic studies to measure the impact of working online. 

They found that working apart affects: 

  • team dynamics, 
  • communication frequency and quality,
  • levels of consensus and conflict, and
  • the amount and quality of social interaction. 

All these factors have an impact on team performance. The degree to which teams are socially cohesive, and team members trust each other, operate in a psychologically safe environment, and freely share skills, experience, and knowledge – determine the effectiveness of virtual teams.

When people work virtually, trust, social cohesion, and information sharing can easily suffer. It is important to make a conscious effort to focus on these points and reinforce them. They cannot be left to chance.

Team-building activities are perfect to reinforce trust, social cohesion, and information sharing, the three things that are particularly vulnerable to damage in remote and hybrid teams. 

1. Online escape game – Coding Escape

Escape rooms are a fun and stimulating activity and have been used in a variety of contexts to facilitate active learning. They have even been used to teach medical disciplines, such as nursing and radiology. 

You don’t need to get your tech team into the same room to have the same experience. The Coding Escape provides all the fun, challenge, and team-strengthening possibilities at a distance. Participants can escape from a variety of scenarios and you use coding to solve many of the problems so it’s directly relevant to developers. There are also some questions that don’t require code, which makes it perfect for a cross-team activity, too.

When CodinGame merged with CoderPad, we organized a Coding Escape in two sessions to bring colleagues in the US and France together virtually. It was the chance to get to know people across teams as each team all strived to avoid the bottom of the leaderboard. 

The combination of puzzle-solving in a small group and competing with other groups makes it an exciting and motivating challenge. Each Coding Escape is long enough to be challenging but short enough to easily schedule into a lunch break or after work. New puzzles regularly come out so you can organize several Coding Escapes per year without worrying about running out of puzzles. 

“Our main goal was to connect employees and keep spirits up while working from home. The internal competition attracted a lot of teams and brought about many interesting moments not only for Gamelofters, but also for students joining our internship program.” – Gameloft

2. Other online games

Instead of a single challenge, it can also be fun to organize a gaming session where people enjoy a variety of shorter games. The company Doctolib, for example, organizes a game evening twice a week. They enjoy games such as Among Us, Skribbl.io, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, GeoGuessr, and Codenames

CodinGame teams have also enjoyed online gaming together. During the numerous lockdowns France experienced in 2020, the office table soccer was inactive but CodinGame teams kept having fun together by organizing sessions on Board Game Arena

If you want to stimulate more conversation and information sharing, you can instead choose games that are ice breakers. These can include anything from guessing who is who from screenshots of most commonly used emojis to playing a G-rated version of the popular drinking game “Never have I ever”. Find a list of great suggestions here. Such games are perfect for onboarding and getting new teams comfortable with talking with each other. 

3. Dev virtual summit

You have a team of bright, talented people, brimming with knowledge. They also share many interests. Why not take advantage of these two factors in your team-building efforts?

Organizing a virtual dev summit for your team is easy to do. Just block out some time and encourage everyone to submit an idea for a talk. The talks can be directly related to the job or on parallel subjects, just like in any conference that you might attend.

Encouraging questions and discussions after each talk can get people sharing interests and connecting in ways that they might not otherwise in the day-to-day work. This is especially true for people who don’t happen to work on the same projects. It’s also a wonderful way to discover the subjects that other teammates are passionate about to strengthen connections. 

In December 2021, members of the engineering and product teams from CodinGame and CoderPad participated in a combined summit. The agenda consisted of both educational talks and also ice-breaking workshops and brainstorming sessions. This combination was perfect for getting to know each other, learning, and also generating new ideas for the company. 

4. Lunch and learn

If you want to organize something more lowkey than a virtual summit, you can instead try a lunch and learn session or tech talk session. The idea is similar to the summit but the event is shorter with fewer presentations so it can be organized more regularly. 

CodinGame has recently started monthly “Brown Bag Lunches” led by our Tech Evangelist Mathis Hammel. The one session that has taken place so far was a huge success with positive feedback from all attendees. 

These events can even take place more frequently if you have many team members. Doctolib organizes “tech time” sessions every other week with brief, 3-minute presentations. The presentations can be on any tech topic in the company context and the meetings include the features team, the data team, the design team, and the talent team. To make the event fun, they encourage the “use of videos, memes, costumes, standup comedy or any aid you think will make your presentation memorable”.

The CodinGame team has also been known to enjoy goofy costumes on occasion

5. Hands-on activities

Shared experiences unite a team and choosing a more memorable one, such as one you wouldn’t usually do in daily life, is a surefire way to create conversations. You can recreate the fun of doing a hands-on activity in a group, such as a tasting session or an art class, from the comfort of home. All it takes is organizing any necessary equipment in advance and a video call. Trello, for example, organizes hands-on activities for remote team bonding experiences. One such activity was a craft party.  

CoderPad organizes a monthly event called Fika Fridays. The term Fika comes from Swedish and refers to a Swedish custom of sharing a coffee and a treat. It is such a prized moment that Fika breaks are sometimes written into Swedish contracts. CoderPad’s Fika Fridays don’t involve coffee and treats but do embrace the spirit of unwinding and enjoying a fun activity with colleagues at the end of the week. 

This artsy CoderPad Fika Friday was organised by senior engineer Matt Barr

The February event is a Valentine’s Day-themed cookie decorating class. Everyone participating was shipped a cookie kit in preparation. The January event involved painting mini models of the CoderPad dog mascot. Again, everyone received all the necessary tools to join in advance. This means that in addition to looking forward to doing something out of the ordinary, there is also the package delivery to look forward to. 

Takeways

  • Team building activities are important to ensure a cohesive, effective team
  • Coding Escape is a fun way to have people compete, solve a challenge, and use code
  • Online games can provide a way to break the ice or just enjoy a moment
  • Virtual Dev Summits let people show off their knowledge, get to know each other’s passions, and discuss a variety of topics – you might also get some amazing business insights, too!
  • Lunch and learns or tech talks provide similar advantages to the dev summit but can be repeated on a more frequent basis as they’re shorter
  • Hands-on activities provide memorable, shared experiences with the added bonus of a package in the mail!

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Kristen Hateley

Kristen Hateley

Kristen Hateley is a content manager and copywriter at CodinGame. Her interests include conversion optimization, UX, and boosting SaaS adoption.