18 March 2020

5 ideas for remote ice-breakers

Constance Debost
Compass Communications Manager at Schoolab/Compass

As Remote Work is becoming more widespread for many companies, and more and more training, meetings and workshops are now taking place 100% online. To keep breaking the ice before starting a remote work session, we’ve listed some ideas for virtual ice-breakers! These ice-breakers can easily be used at the beginning of a meeting or workshop conducted in a video conference.

What’s an Ice-breaker?

An ice-breaker (or “ice-breaking”), literally “icebreaker”, allows participants of a training session to learn to (better) get to know each other. The goal is to dispel any embarrassment, quickly create the foundation for the connections needed for collaboration, and simply set a team in motion. An ice-breaker usually comes in the form of a playful exercise or a moment of sharing and listening.

Ice-breaker #1: Tag yourself

For this very simple ice-breaker, the animator prepares one or two slides in advance with images or gifs representing moods or character traits. You can add captions to make them more explicit. At the start of the remote session, the moderator displays them on his screen or gives participants access to slides. Participants must then choose the image that suits them the most, and they explain why. For example, the images may represent the different types of teleworker: the greedy, the one who works in pajamas, the one who takes sports breaks, etc.

Tip: Choose funny and colorful images or gifs, and don’t hesitate to incorporate “negative” feelings (grognon, sad, nervous…). Everyone should be able to express themselves, especially people who have complicated emotions!

Ice-breaker #2: Watch me…

There is no real need for preparation for this ice-breaker. At the beginning of the session, the facilitator asks each participant to take a photograph with their smartphone or webcam, and then share and comment on the photo. This can be the place from which he or she works, his socks/shoes, the view from his window, an element of his interior decoration, a book from his library …

Ice-breaker #3: The Wish-list

This ice-breaker is particularly suitable for a team that will see each other on a regular basis. The facilitator asks participants to write down on a slide, or a Trello table for example, the list of things they want to do during this containment period. Answers can range from cleaning your bathroom to learning a new language or reading a novel, etc. Each participant must then categorize their wishes into three columns:

  • What he or she is committed to do
  • What he or she will try to do
  • What he or she would like to do knowing full well that it will not be done

Participants then share with others what they have noted. At a future session, everyone will be able to give news of their progress. Other participants can then ask questions, give encouragement, or talk about tips for getting started.

Ice-breaker #4: Meet my cat

Working from home surely means that your employees’ pets will be within reach of webcams! For this ice-breaker, it’s simple: each participant shows and presents his fur companion, feathers or scales. What is his name, his age, his temperament: all anecdotes are welcome.
Participants who don’t have one can choose to present a figurine, a plush, a green plant… Regardless, the goal is above all to share a memory, and to create interaction between people!

Ice-breaker #5: Who’s Who

This ice-breaker requires a little preparation, but can become very rich in exchanges. Be careful, it is especially suitable for small groups of 3 to 6 people. In advance, the facilitator asks the participants to give 2 to 3 statements, if possible surprising, about their lives. For example, “I’ve run more than 10 marathons,” “I hitchhiked across Canada,” “I met Lady Gaga,” etc. In a Trello table, the animator creates one column per participant, plus a column “affirmations” with a map per affirmation.

remote ice breaker a distance

Participants in turn choose an affirmation (which is not theirs) and must guess which person it belongs to by moving it to the corresponding column. Once all the statements have been attributed, each participant reads aloud those in their column and must say whether it is correct or not. It will be an opportunity to share the stories behind these unusual facts and generate discussions among all participants.

Achieving ice-breaking remotely

The advice to follow in order to achieve a successful ice-breaker in distance are the same as for a situation in the present:

  • Choose the right exercise based on the degree of familiarity between participants
  • give clear instructions
  • listen, and moderate or, on the contrary, restart discussions
  • pay attention to time

From these few rules, all that remains is to start, test and look for what will best suit a given team. In any case, there are many other ice-breaking exercises, and nothing prevents you from imagining your own animations!

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