Break the virtual ice: Building rapport in online meetings

4 team members enjoying getting to know each other on their computer screens during a virtual meeting ice breaker game

We’ve all been there: you’re in a virtual meeting, the screen is filled with faces you vaguely recognize, and the silence is so deafening you could hear a virtual pin drop. From uncomfortable silences to stilted questions (and even more stilted answers), cringe-worthy moments are common in online interactions. In fact, in a 2021 global Statista survey, 22% of respondents said they found awkward small talk a challenge during virtual meetings.

Fact is, connecting with others over a computer screen isn’t easy. But with virtual meetings on the rise in the post-Covid workplace, finding a way to encourage personal interactions and deeper bonds within your team, wherever they are located, is a must. The rewards are well worth it: a happier and more cohesive team that produces better results.

And we have just the tools to help. Here, we’ll explore how you can use virtual icebreakers and platforms like Fingerprint for Success (F4S) to transform those uncomfortable encounters into moments of genuine rapport.

Table of contents
Declining connections: a side-effect of virtual meetings
How icebreakers in virtual meetings can help
What is a virtual meeting icebreaker?
Remote meeting virtual icebreakers that boost team connections
Next-level tools to build a close-knit virtual team
Frequently asked questions

Declining connections: a side-effect of virtual meetings

Video-conferencing tools and virtual meetings have their benefits. They’re great, for example, when in-person meetings aren’t possible, and they help remote employees stay connected.

Yet, studies have shown that virtual conferencing tools and meetings can have worrying side effects – particularly when it comes to employee creativity and connection.

A 2022 Stanford Business Graduate School study found that virtual communication hampers creative idea generation. According to the study, this happens because staring at a screen narrows a person’s visual scope. In turn, a narrowed visual scope translates to a narrowed cognitive focus. In other words, focusing on the screen means ignoring scenery that can spark creativity.

Meanwhile, a recent study by Trends in Cognitive Sciences brought human connection to the fore. It stated that virtual meetings can disrupt the visual cues we use to communicate in person.

In a face-to-face setting, eye contact helps to gauge interest, establish trust, and more. Facial expressions provide feedback that helps shape responses. The study found that most of these cues get lost in translation when viewed from behind a computer screen.

The challenges mentioned above make forging virtual connections tricky. They can even worsen communication barriers. So what’s a remote-first company to do?

That’s where virtual team icebreakers come in.

How icebreakers in virtual meetings can help

Kicking off your virtual meeting with a light-hearted icebreaker activity or two has several benefits.

First, breaking the ice creates a psychologically safe environment for your employees. A fun icebreaker can ease tension, encouraging meeting attendees to be their authentic selves.

Second, virtual icebreakers are an excellent way to build rapport. Some virtual team-building activities involve engaging with colleagues on a personal level. Participants share personal information about themselves with their colleagues. In turn, their virtual coworkers may discover areas of common ground they never knew existed.

Third, icebreaker games are fantastic for strengthening bonds. Many involve teamwork that can create bonding moments during the team meeting. Some employees may even form friendships after playing a virtual icebreaker game together.

Finally, they’re useful for fostering a positive workplace culture. Remote meetings aren’t always the best places to experience company culture. An icebreaker allows you to show off your company’s cultural DNA and values, stoking employee engagement.

What is a virtual meeting icebreaker?

A virtual meeting icebreaker, such as a virtual team-building game, is a fun activity used to start an online meeting. Most of these interactive activities take the form of a game or question-and-answer session, and have a singular purpose: to drive engagement.

There are many reasons why you might choose to start a virtual meeting with an icebreaker, including:

  • Welcoming new employees to remote teams.
  • Getting the creative juices flowing.
  • Creating a sense of community in a remote-first workplace.

Virtual icebreakers are also an excellent way to fill those awkward silences that often occur when people join a Zoom meeting before it begins.

Remote meeting virtual icebreakers that boost team connections

Now for the fun part. Here are some virtual icebreaker ideas to launch your next virtual meeting.

1. What’s on your bucket list?

Every member of your team will have things they’d like to do within their lifetimes. Some might want to travel to exotic locations, others might dream of engaging in thrill-seeking activities like skydiving, while a few may hope to learn an impressive skill, like oil painting or mastering a foreign language.

These unrealized aspirations can make fantastic conversation starters. So ask your team members to share their bucket lists to break the ice at your next meeting.

This icebreaker lets remote team members learn about their coworkers’ aspirations. Some members may even have similar bucket list items, which can help forge deeper connections.

2. Three essential items

Start by asking meeting participants to imagine they're marooned on a deserted island. Then, ask them to think about three must-have items they'd want with them. Start by sharing yours before asking your team members to take turns sharing theirs.

The answers will help team members understand their colleagues’ values, which can help eliminate some of the awkwardness in virtual meetings. Team members will have fun telling their colleagues they’re crazy or completely on point for picking certain items over others.

3. Two truths and a lie

Here’s how this fun icebreaker works: begin by telling the meeting's attendees to write down two accurate statements about themselves. When they're done, ask them to write down a lie. Tell them to make the lie believable – this is an essential part of the game because the fun is in not knowing which statement is true or false.

Once everyone has written down two truths and a lie, show them yours and ask them to guess the lie. After a few guesses, reveal your lie. Then let your teammates take turns showing their statements, and guessing the lies.

Icebreaker activities for virtual meetings

4. Virtual coffee chat

A virtual coffee chat is exactly what it sounds like: remote team members meet up and have casual conversations over coffee about anything they like – a favorite movie, life stories, or what's happening at home.

This icebreaker can help improve communication, and create a deeper level of trust in a remote workplace. The relaxed setting and impromptu topics encourage team members to loosen up. And the activity – drinking coffee – lets employees see their coworkers in a different light.

5. Kudos share

Employee appreciation can take many forms, and the following activity is a perfect example.

Kudos-sharing involves encouraging employees to appreciate their colleagues during weekly meetings. You ask them to give kudos to their hardworking peers, thank helpful mentors, and so on. This activity can be motivational, and foster a sense of belonging. Team members will also feel recognized for their efforts.

6. Describe yourself

This icebreaker is straightforward. Ask your employees to write down three words that best describe themselves. Once they're done, tell them to take turns showing their words to the others, and explaining why they used them. As always, start first.

The activity lets employees understand their coworkers. Also, if your team lead is part of this activity, it can help you identify their leadership style.

Icebreaker games for virtual meetings

7. Guess the city

This game aims to get team members interested in their colleagues’ dreams and aspirations. To play, employees take turns describing their favorite city. It can either be a city they’ve been to or one they’d love to visit. The twist is, they can’t say the name of the city – their peers have to guess.

This game offers many benefits. For one, an employee’s description of the city may engage their workmates. For another, participants will learn about each other. Finally, two or more employees may share a love of the same city, deepening their connection.

8. One-word story

The aim of this icebreaker game is to create a story. The catch is that each participant can only contribute one word to move the story forward.

Here is how it works: start by explaining the above rule. Next, tell the team they'll take turns in alphabetical order (using their first names). Tell them the game will last for a minute, and set a timer. Finally, prompt the first person to take their turn.

Person A might begin with the word “A”. Person B may follow up with "long". Person C, "time", and so on. Let the team continue taking turns until the timer runs out.

One-word yarns can result in funny stories that keep everyone entertained.

Icebreakers for virtual meetings with large groups

9. Exaggerate this story

The premise for this game is simple. One team member begins a story with a statement. Each subsequent team member has to build on the story.

But there’s a twist. Each statement has to be more over-the-top than the last.

For example, teammate A begins the story with the statement, “I woke up this morning”. Teammate B may continue with, “to find a hippo in my bathtub”. Teammate C might build on that statement: "it was using a shovel to eat my cereal”, and so on.

Keep the game structured by telling your team to take turns alphabetically. It also helps to set a timer so that the story can conclude. One or two minutes will do.

10. Office superlatives

The office superlative is an excellent icebreaker for employees who know each other.

Using the superlative ‘most’, create a list of statements. Then, at your next meeting, read them out one at a time, and ask the team to state which team member they think it describes.

An example statement could be, "Most likely to run into a burning building to save a cat".

When done right, this group activity can be highly motivational. A list of positive superlatives may boost employee morale by recognizing their unique values and traits.

11. Manager Q&A

This icebreaker is excellent for newly formed teams. All you have to do is arrange a question-and-answer session between your team and a manager or company leader.

Managers of seasoned teams can also do some impromptu employee coaching.

Connecting your team & building rapport: get to know your team's background

12. Childhood dreams

We all had dreams growing up, and these aspirations are fertile ground for virtual icebreaking.

Ask each team member about the adult they wanted to be as a child. Their answers may give their teammates a glimpse into their younger personalities. Some people may even share similar aspirations. Either way, it will help them connect.

13. Down the toy aisle

Preface a meeting with a discussion about the toys each member coveted in the toy aisle as a child. Ask each member to name their childhood toy. They can take turns in alphabetical order.

The narrator of each story will likely fall into one of two categories: those who got the toy and those who didn't.

It may surprise you to learn that some of the members who got the toy were kidpreneurs.

14. Childhood pets

Invite your team members to talk about a pet from their childhood. It doesn't have to be their own pet; it could have belonged to a neighbor or family member. Encourage them to describe a distinguishing feature about the pet that struck them when they were young. .

The aim of this exercise is to get people talking about their youth.

Next-level tools to build a close-knit virtual team

Remember those studies mentioned above that showed the detrimental effects video conference tools and virtual meetings can have on remote teams? The findings pose challenging questions for remote-first companies. Especially those that are serious about showcasing their corporate culture in virtual meetings.

If that's you, you may be wondering:

  • How do you build team morale remotely?
  • How do you build trust in a virtual team?
  • How do you build a strong culture with a remote team?

One way is to use software that’s built for the task. Below, we discuss some useful Zoom integrations that boost connections in a virtual setting.

Fingerprint for Success (F4S)

Fingerprint for Success helps you build a happy, healthy, high-performing team. Backed by 20+ years of research, our performance and collaboration platform provides data that, among other things, lets you understand your teams’ individual communication styles.

You can invite your team members to take our free assessment and get a comprehensive report on their individual work style motivations. Our platform's analytics will reveal your team members' affinities, differences, and cultures.

F4S team dashboard shows workplace preferences
F4S team dashboard

This data gives you a deeper understanding of what motivates and demotivates them in the workplace, the tasks they’re best suited to, and how best to communicate with them.

Additionally, the F4S Zoom integration lets you see each member's top two communication styles within the Zoom interface.

F4S zoom integration shows individual communication preferences
F4S Zoom integrations

This makes it even easier for employees to understand each team member’s communication preferences. As a result, speakers can customize their presentations and interactions to suit the individual.

Here’s how to get F4S for Zoom:

  1. Visit Zoom’s Marketplace.
  2. Type ‘F4S’ into the search bar (top and center of the screen). It will be the only option that shows up in the drop-down menu.
  3. Click on the F4S drop-down result.
  4. Click the ‘Sign in to Add’ button.
  5. Sign in and take F4S’s mini-assessment (four questions).
  6. The app will add your top two communication style emojis to your Zoom background.
  7. Invite your Zoom meeting attendees to install F4S for Zoom so that you can see their communication style. Then you can adapt your communications to suit their preferences.

It’s that easy.

With F4S, you’ll have the data you need to set up engaging icebreakers for your team.

Discover the communication style of your meeting attendees
Get F4S for Zoom

Miro

Miro home page
Source: Miro

Miro is a web-based whiteboarding platform. It helps remote teams collaborate in real time, providing the tools they need for the task. Features like sticky notes, mind maps, and more keep teams connected and in sync. And its infinite boards provide a digital space that can fit any team size.

Its Zoom integration brings Miro's capabilities into the video conferencing platform. In essence, you can create and work on whiteboards during Zoom meetings right inside Zoom. No tab-switching or app-juggling required.

The result of this collaboration is the ability to bring a visual component to your Zoom-based virtual icebreakers. In other words, you can use text, pictures, and other media. The connection possibilities, like Miro's whiteboards, are endless.

Read our in-depth Miro guide to learn more about this app.

Grain

Grain homepage
Source: Grain

Grain is a meeting recording software. It leverages artificial intelligence to help users grab clips from their recorded meetings. Also, it has transcription capabilities that eliminate the need to take notes manually. And you can send these clips to recipients as unique URLs.

The tool’s Zoom integration makes it possible to clip highlights from your Zoom calls.

That said, how is this functionality relevant to virtual icebreakers? The answer lies in employee motivation.

After meetings, you can send highlights from the icebreaker that celebrates employees. Participants receive a digital memento that shows how highly they're regarded by their colleagues.

These innovative tools help you to personalize virtual meetings and form deeper bonds within your team, wherever they are located. You'll form a happier and more cohesive team that produces better results.

Frequently asked questions

What are Zoom icebreakers?

Zoom icebreakers are interactive activities you can use to start a Zoom meeting in a fun and engaging manner. They make the meeting's participants feel relaxed and engaged.

What’s a good icebreaker question for a Zoom meeting?

“What goals keep you up at night?” It’s one of the safest icebreaker questions to ask because it doesn’t need deep thought.

If you want a less serious icebreaker, ask, “Would you rather be in a robot apocalypse or a zombie apocalypse?”

What’s a fun way to start a Zoom meeting?

You can start your Zoom meeting with a fun quiz or an interesting game. This article covers different Zoom meeting icebreaker ideas.

What’s the 4Cs icebreaker?

The 4Cs icebreaker is a fun question-and-answer session. You ask the meeting attendees to think of the cartoon character, color, car, and cuisine that best describes their personality. Then, after everyone has had time to think, each person takes turns explaining why they chose their Cs.

Use F4S to forge deeper connections with virtual team icebreakers

Drive social connections virtually! Invite your colleagues to take our free assessment to learn their preferred communication styles. Then use the F4S Zoom integration to act on these insights and choose powerful icebreakers that are perfectly tailored to your attendees’ preferences.

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  1. (2021) ‘Video meeting challenges experienced when working remotely worldwide in 2021, by category. Available at Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1255656/challenges-experienced-online-video-meetings-global/
  2. Brucks, M.S; Levav, J. (2022) ‘Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation’. Available at Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04643-y
  3. Troje, N. F. (2023) ‘Zoom disrupts eye contact behaviour: problems and solutions. Available at Cell. https://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(23)00048-7?rss=yes

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