Look, I know everyone hates icebreakers. They remind us of childhood when the teacher made us stand up and state our name and one “fun fact” about ourselves—and then we realized that A) we’re not that fun and B) we don’t remember our names when under pressure.

Joking aside, virtual icebreakers can foster team closeness, and I do use (and enjoy!) them when done right. So below, let’s look at 12 virtual icebreakers your team won’t hate.

What Is a Virtual Icebreaker?

An icebreaker is a game, activity, or question that prompts discussion. It has two main goals:

  1. Make participants feel comfortable talking to each other.
  2. Help participants get to know each other a little bit.

While the word’s origin is disputed, I like to think of its physical equivalent: An icebreaker is a type of boat that literally breaks the ice to allow the boat (and any other boats behind it) to keep cruising along smoothly, instead of getting stuck in one place. In a meeting setting, an icebreaker does just that: It keeps conversation flowing—instead of letting it get stuck in awkward silence.

As many of us continue working from home, virtual icebreakers are a way for us to feel connected to people we can’t meet in person right now.

But before you throw just any icebreaker out there, here are some ground rules for doing it right.

5 Tips on Doing Virtual Icebreakers Right

1. Exercise sensitivity and emotional intelligence.

Often, the difference between a fun virtual icebreaker and a cringe-worthy one is the level of closeness between your team members. Some icebreakers are best reserved for team members who have worked together before. If you try to force closeness with personal questions posed to meeting attendees who have never even met, it can create awkwardness and embarrassment instead.

2. Have a backup plan.

Some icebreaker questions won’t go over well with some people, and that’s okay! Try giving them something easier to answer. For instance, if they can’t think of a good thing that happened to them last week, you could ask, “What’s one goal you have for the upcoming week?” Pay attention to their tone of voice and facial expressions; if that person is uncomfortable, thank them for trying and move on to the next.

3. Don’t do icebreakers for every meeting.

Some icebreaker activities listed below are suitable as regular intros for, say, the weekly team meeting. But use virtual icebreakers sparingly. They become cumbersome and dreaded if it’s something you do every time you have a virtual meeting.

4. For meetings with more than 10 attendees, create “breakout rooms” if possible.

Some video conferencing tools include breakout rooms as a feature, which is super helpful when you have a lot of attendees. If you have more than ten participants, icebreakers get a bit unwieldy and time-consuming. For large group meetings, break attendees up into groups of 3-6 people, and have each small group complete the icebreaker.

5. Know when to move on.

One of the biggest complaints about virtual icebreakers is that they waste valuable time. Because of this, don’t let them drag on. Feel free to set a timer and start the official part of the meeting once it goes off. You can also give people a set time limit to answer a question, such as 30 seconds.

Now that you’re set up for success, let’s get to the good part: the virtual icebreaker ideas.

Bonus tip: Use Krisp to have noise-free virtual icebreakers

Don’t let background noise affect the success of your virtual icebreakers with Krisp, a must-have app to filter out any noises in your remote meetings.


12 Unique Virtual Icebreakers That Won’t Traumatize Your Team

1. This or that.

Level of effort required: Low
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Larger meetings with people that don’t know each other well

This one is lighthearted and quick—perfect if you’re pressed for time and have a group of people unacquainted with each other. You simply throw out two options, and the participant chooses one and tells you why they chose it.

  • Dog or cat
  • Hot weather or cold weather
  • French fries or side salad
  • Beer or wine
  • LA or New York City
  • Travel by train or travel by plane

To generate ideas online at the click of a button, use The Game Gal “This or That”.

2. Song on Repeat

Level of effort required: Low
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Informal, less corporate environment

For this virtual icebreaker, people can share music recommendations by sharing which song they have on repeat these days. It allows people to talk about something that interests them (almost everyone loves music) while also allowing others to get new music recommendations to listen to.

3. Tell Us Which City You’re in Without Telling Us Which City You’re in 

Level of effort required: Low
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Distributed teams

This virtual icebreaker is best for remote and distributed teams. The game is way too easy if you’re all working from the same location!

Have each attendee state a unique fact or description of the city/state/country they’re working from without using the actual name of the city/state/country. For example, if someone is working from Austin, Texas, they might say, “This capital city used to be called Waterloo.” Someone working from Los Angeles might say, “This city is known for famous people and terrible traffic.”

Alternatively, you can broaden it and have people describe the state or country they’re working from. For instance, if your team is all over the world, you can have them or give a description of or fun fact about their country. If someone is working from the Czech Republic, they might say, “This country has the highest consumption of beer per capita in the world.”

This activity helps people get acquainted with their teammates and learn interesting facts that might help them at their next Zoom trivia night.

4. Zoom Background Charades

Level of effort required: Medium

Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Informal environments and large groups without much time to do lengthy icebreakers.

This one really only works if you’re using a web conferencing tool that allows you to upload images for backgrounds, such as Zoom or Google Meet. Ahead of the meeting, have your team upload a background based on a theme and have everyone guess where the photo was taken or what it depicts.

Some ideas:

  • A photo from a scene in their favorite movie
  • A photo from a favorite vacation
  • A place they’d like to visit
  • The best meal they’ve ever had (have people guess the name of the dish and where it’s from)

5. Item on Your Desk

Level of effort required: Low
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: One-time use at a weekly or quarterly meeting

Have each person choose an item on their desk and hold it up to the camera for everyone to see. Then, the person can explain the meaning behind it or why it’s on their desk. 

This can be sentimental or humorous. For example, someone might hold up a framed photo of their kids and share a little about them. Or someone else might hold up an empty bowl and say, “I haven’t had time to do dishes yet.” It doesn’t have to be something profound. What we have on our desks can tell others a little bit about ourselves—or at least give people a laugh.

6. Show and Tell: Pet Edition

Level of effort required: Medium
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Any group

People are often much more comfortable talking about others than they are talking about themselves. And pet owners have a deep fondness for their furry companions. Have everyone show a photo of their pet and talk about them. If someone doesn’t have a pet, they can show an animal they used to have or an animal they wish they could have.

A few options for how to show the pet:

  • If the pet lives with them, have the attendee show pick up the pet or point the camera at it during the video call.
  • Have the photo pulled up on their phone and face the phone screen toward their computer camera (this doesn’t always work and may be poor quality).
  • Share their screen and have their pet photo pulled up.
  • Submit the photo file or link to it in the group chat.

Ideas for what attendees can share about their pet:

  • Name
  • Breed
  • The story behind adopting or buying the pet
  • One quirky thing their pet does

7. The View from My Office

Level of effort required: Medium
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Really any group. It can be most interesting in a distributed team.
Since we’re all pretty much working remotely these days, this can be a really fun virtual icebreaker. Have everyone share a visual of what it looks like from where they sit in their office. They can share the view from their window or simply show their desk setup.

You have two options here:

  • Alert participants ahead of time to prepare a photo to share during the call.
  • During the call, have attendees pick up their laptop and show you the view in real-time (this one obviously places a tad more pressure on people, so option A is a safer bet!).

8. Two Truths and a Lie

Level of effort required: Medium
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Any group

This one’s a classic icebreaker. Each participant must come up with two statements that are true and one statement that is a (convincing) lie. Then, the other participants must guess which statement is the lie. This allows everyone to get to know each other and adds the fun piece of finding out how sneaky some people can be.

It’s best to throw people off by adding a true statement that seems unbelievable and a false statement that seems believable. For example, an attendee might say, “Hi, I’m Janet. I once met Justin Timberlake, I own a dog, and I can’t whistle.”

People might, understandably, guess that her comment about Justin Timberlake is untrue, but maybe you find out that she used to be a roadie and worked on the setup of one of his concerts. And people might assume it’s true she has a dog because that’s a relatively common thing, but you might find out she actually owns a pet snake. 

9. Two-Word Check-In

Level of effort required: Low
Level of team closeness required: Medium to high
Best for: Regular check-ins, such as at weekly team meetings. Because talking about your emotions involves vulnerability, it may not really work well for one-time meetings with people who have never met before.

Use an emotion wheel to build emotional intelligence. I found out about this genius virtual icebreaker while listening to Brene Brown’s podcast. She said she uses this prompt before every team meeting.

Here’s why I love it: It builds EQ (emotional intelligence) and gets rid of the phoniness of the trite question, “How are you doing?” That question will always elicit the same automatic and socially-conditioned response of “good” or “fine”—whether it’s true or not.

For this, all you need to do is begin the meeting with, “Let’s go around and each say two words that describe how we’re feeling today. I’ll go first.” Then you might say, “My two words are tired and hopeful.”

To facilitate discussion, you can pull up a photo of an emotion wheel. This wheel will help attendees explore and identify a wider range of emotions, beyond the simple ones of “happy,” “sad,” “scared,” or “angry.”

For example, someone who is upset might be tempted to use the word “angry.” But if they dig a little deeper, they’ll find that a better word for what they’re feeling is “frustrated.” In its truest sense, feeling angry arises from experiencing injustice. But feeling frustrated arises from not being able to obtain something you want.

10. Highs and Lows

Level of effort required: Medium
Level of team closeness required: Medium to high
Best for: Regular check-ins, such as at weekly team meetings. Again, because this involves sharing some potentially vulnerable moments (“lows” tend to be hard to talk about), this is best reserved for teams that already share some closeness.

This has been my go-to icebreaker for years. It works best in teams that know each other fairly well because it may involve some vulnerability, especially if someone’s “low” for the week is intense.

It’s simple. You go around the (virtual) room and share something good that happened this week (high) and something bad that happened this week (low).

In many groups where I’ve used this icebreaker, the attendees prefer to flip the order and do lows first and then highs because it can be a downer to end on a low. But it’s totally up to you.

If you do this icebreaker, be prepared to say something encouraging or meaningful after each person goes. It can feel really disappointing to share something negative that happened to you that week and receive no reaction.

11. Common Ground

Level of effort required: High
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Groups meeting for the first time or longer meetings where you have time for a more in-depth icebreaker.

In this game, participants must find the one thing that they all have in common that is not related to work.

This virtual icebreaker is fun because it requires extra effort to find out more about each person. You can begin with everyone just throwing random facts out there, asking questions, and seeing where they can make connections—even if it’s a stretch!

For example, you might say, “I love to cook.” Another coworker might then say, “I’m a terrible cook, but I love to eat. My favorite food is Italian.” Someone else might chime in, “I speak Italian! I studied abroad in Rome my senior year of college.” From there, you might discover that you’ve all been to Rome, and this could lead to sharing stories about those trips.

After throwing some ideas and questions out there, eventually, you might find a shared hobby, like you all know how to play piano. Or you might unearth some fascinating coincidence, like all of your parents went to high school in California.

12. Play to Your Strengths

Level of effort required: High
Level of team closeness required: Low
Best for: Team meetings about a particular project, as this icebreaker activity will help identify which strengths can be applied to that project.

Have everyone take this University of Pennsylvania Brief Strengths Test. It consists of 25 questions that measure people’s strengths—from bravery to appreciation to humor. Then, during the meeting, have each attendee share what their top strength is and brainstorm one way they can apply it toward a particular work project.

Try One of These Virtual Icebreakers at Your Next Video Meeting

As you can see, virtual icebreakers don’t have to be awkward. It’s all about assessing the group’s dynamics and picking an activity or question appropriate for your team. 

With these virtual icebreaker ideas, you’ll be on your way to improving team communication and building trust. Plus, you can rest easy knowing you’ll never have to ask anyone for a “fun fact” about themselves ever again.