With many businesses having shifted to fully or partially remote work arrangements in recent months, virtual meetings have become a weekly or even daily event for many professionals. While virtual meetings are an important way to keep the lines of communication open, they can feel awkward to those unaccustomed to appearing and speaking on camera. Additionally, everything from technical glitches to the increased difficulty of “reading the room” can lead to stiffness and formality in proceedings, making it hard to inject the personal interactions and “little bit of fun” that make in-person meetings so good for relationship-building.
It is possible to add elements to remote meetings to make them a little less formal and more enjoyable for participants. Below, 12 experts from Forbes Human Resources Council share tips for adding some elements of fun and relationship-building into your company’s virtual meetings.
1. Start with some personal chat.
One thing we’ve instituted at my company is starting each meeting with some personal chatter—nothing work-related. This way, we’re able to relax, share an interesting story or two and maybe have a laugh. It’s refreshing and energizing to sneak in a few minutes of humanity—touching base as people, not just colleagues—before getting down to business. – Lorna Borenstein, Grokker
2. Share photos that are unrelated to work.
Ask team members to share a non-work-related photo. Whether it is a picture of a hobby, family or pet, it allows team members to see another layer of their coworkers’ personalities that may help them to understand their coworkers better. It also provides a safe opportunity for team members to be transparent, because they are choosing what to reveal. Transparency in turn helps build relationships. – Bridgette Wilder, Wilder HR Management & EEO Consulting
3. Introduce your pets.
We have quite a few people in our office who have pets, and we all love to talk about them and show them off. Next time you have a meeting, start by having everyone introduce their furry friends. It’s a great way to connect with your team, and it always brings smiles. – Chad Brown, Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation
4. Ask a ‘connection question.’
Connect with people by asking a “connection question” that binds everyone together before going into the meeting. Do exercises and movement to lighten the mood, and ask everyone to share a story around a shared topic (give them a time limit). People like to talk and share about themselves. – Tasniem Titus, Dentsply Sirona
5. Celebrate birthdays.
We celebrate each other’s birthdays, making sure something special is delivered on that day (typically food-related), and we have a sing-song. It is always well-received. We spend the rest of the catch-up chatting about non-work-related topics, which is refreshing and necessary. – Paul Phillips, Avanade
6. Get creative with your background.
One way to inject a little more fun and drive relationship-building in virtual meetings is to get creative with your video background. Having a different theme for your meetings, such as a favorite place visited or a bucket list travel spot, can help break the monotony of the day, serve as a meeting icebreaker and allow for more in-depth connections among team members. – Bradley D. Soto, Anthem, Inc.
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7. Experiment with virtual reality.
We have tried virtual reality, and it has produced some surprising results. We held meetings, played games and even went to Burning Man together. The experiences of being in the same environment are very efficient in creating bonds. This is subliminal and very ancient: if I have a memory of being in the same place as you, this tells me we are members of the same tribe and I can trust you. – Yurij Riphyak, YouTeam
8. Have virtual coffee and lunch meetups.
Virtual coffee or lunch meetups with two to four team members can be very effective in building relationships. The agenda should be focused on building a connection and not discussing work topics. These connections often lead to stronger working relationships. – Jenna Hinrichsen, Advanced RPO
9. Add a ‘human’ element.
One way to inject a little more fun into virtual meetings is to bring a “human” element into meetings. Video meetings now take place in employees’ homes—something that literally gets left behind when coming to the office. Leverage this by asking “about me” questions, participating in scavenger hunts and finding other creative ways to engage people. It’s the little things that mean a lot. – Tobin Cookman, ON Semiconductor
10. Organize contests and happy hours.
Bring fun into meetings by organizing virtual happy hours or contests—perhaps “Best Zoom Background” or “Best Home Office.” The lines of home and office have blurred, so have fun with it. We’re introduced to family members and pets during Zoom meetings. We’ve brought the office into homes where we cohabitate. Because of this new phenomenon, working relationships have become more informal. People are feeling more connected on a personal level. – Norma Lane, Infoblox
11. Have different team members act as the host.
Building camaraderie virtually isn’t hard, but it does take effort. Try having different team members host. This increases engagement and brings new ideas to the conversation. Leverage online games from time to time. Encourage participants to offer informal recognition to each other at the beginning or end of every meeting. And most of all, don’t take it too seriously. It’s just a meeting! – Tracy Cote, Zenefits
12. Give everyone their moment in the spotlight.
When the virtual meetings have a lot of employees, we try to end the meetings with activities where every employee has an opportunity to get a little time in the spotlight. One fun example is ending meetings with baby pictures of employees and asking everyone to vote on who that baby grew up to be. – Gina Deciani, Association for Supply Chain Management