15 Effective Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers To Stimulate Conversation


Most employee onboarding schedules include various topics involving company policies, employee benefits, and compliance-related training. As important as this information may be, they are not necessarily the most exciting topics to keep a group of employees who don’t know each other engaged. It can be even more challenging when their attendance in the meeting is via a computer screen. As the person in your company responsible for onboarding new employees, you know how important it is to help them feel comfortable and like they are part of the organization. That involves getting them to open up and share during the onboarding process. In this article, you will learn some of the most effective virtual onboarding icebreakers to help employees relax enough to participate and keep their attention during the onboarding process.

What Are Icebreakers?

Onboarding icebreakers are fun conversation starters that help employees let their guard down. Once relaxed, they feel comfortable enough to participate in meetings. Icebreakers also allow employees an opportunity to get to know each other. When employees feel comfortable with each other, they will not be afraid to share ideas and be vulnerable in front of their coworkers.

Why Should You Use Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers?

why-virtual-icebreakers Conversations that occur at the water cooler in the break room or passing each other in the hallways at work are the most natural ways for employees to bond. Because of the pandemic, many employees work from home or have a virtual onboarding process before reporting to their physical job site. So, they do not have these opportunities to interact with each other in person.

When meeting with strangers in person, most people don’t want to be the first to put themselves out there by speaking up. People feel the same way during virtual meetings. Using an icebreaker will give participants a reason to talk and interact with each other. Once you get into your main topic, it will feel like a continuation of their conversation because they have already had a chance to share openly.

As a company, you are also trying to bond new employees to the organization as a whole. If your latest employees only feel comfortable with their cohort, they won’t last once they leave that environment. Any opportunity you get to include the entire team in these icebreaker sessions will only serve you.

When Should You Use Icebreakers?

As a human resource representative, you must intentionally create opportunities for employees to bond together remotely. During virtual onboarding meetings, you can use icebreakers at strategic times during the training. You can use icebreakers:

  • At the beginning of the training session
  • After employees return from lunch or a long break
  • To change the discussion topic
  • Reinforce the reason for the meeting

Ice breakers aren’t just for the first week of work. Improving employee engagement and bonds remotely is an art that must be shaped over several weeks and even months. Ensure that you are creating a more robust bonding experience through the use of these virtual onboarding icebreakers.

Here are some virtual icebreakers that work for companies of all sizes.

15 Tried And Tested Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers

Coming up with virtual icebreakers by yourself can be challenging. It might even be the last thing you think about when creating your company’s onboarding schedule. Luckily we’ve rounded up fifteen fun icebreakers that are tried and tested to bring your team together.

1. Who Am I?

At the beginning of your first meeting, go around the room and have each employee introduce themselves to the group. This type of introduction is probably one of the most commonly used icebreakers. Although they may dread it, most participants will probably be expecting to share in this manner. It allows everyone to learn things about the other group members and discover what they have in common.

2. Two Truths And A Lie

To play two truths and a lie, ask the employees to state two facts and one lie to their fellow employees. The employee speaking will state the facts and lie in random order. The other employees will try to determine what was the truth and what was the lie.

3. Show And Tell

A game of Show and Tell may have been something many people played when they were children. Like children, adults have things they are proud of as well. Ask your employees to reveal something interesting about themselves and connect it to an item. Compile a list of the items shared by the employees. See if the other employees can identify who shared what.

4. Virtual Trivia

Virtual trivia is a fun game to play at the beginning of an online meeting. Depending on your group’s size, you can divide the employees into teams of two or three people. You can also allow them to compete as individuals. Have them answer questions that you create. The questions can be about a random topic or something theme-based (like what you are talking about during the onboarding process!) At the end of the game, whoever answers the most questions correctly wins.

5. Virtual Name Game

icebreaker-idea-name-game Playing this game after lunch or a long break will be a great way to help new employees learn each other’s names. People become embarrassed when they forget someone’s name and will usually fake it. Instead of embarrassment, your employees can come together and laugh about the interesting names that may come out of this game.

Have the employees remove their names from the computer screen and replace them with a fun phony name. Then, call out the fake name used and highlight that person in the video call. Have the other participants call out that person’s real name. Everyone will have the opportunity to be reminded of each other’s names without the stress of feeling like they have to know names right away.

6. Virtual Scavenger Hunt

There are so many ways to host a virtual scavenger hunt during your remote onboarding process.

There’s the traditional method where you create a list of items for employees to find in their homes. You can divide the employees into teams. Set a time limit for people to go and look for the item. Whoever returns to their computer with the item in hand will score a point. The team with the most points wins.

At WorkBright, we have a week-long scavenger hunt. Slack hosts our virtual scavenger hunts, and we have an employee keep score throughout the week. We have a list of questions at the top of our virtual scavenger hunt with points assigned to each of those activities. These questions get our new hires familiar with our website, the different tools we use, and they share things they learned during their onboarding week in Slack. Employees who gather at least 100 points during the week get a prize.

7. The Lottery Game

Ask the employees, if they won $100 million in the lottery, what would they do with the money? The discussion from this question can help you see what people value in life. Some people might say they will give the money away to charity. They may take care of their families and friends. Others might spend it all on themselves by fulfilling their bucket list a million times over. Whatever your employees would spend their lottery money on, this is a fun icebreaker to get to know your employees.

8. In Another Life

They say you never know someone until you can walk a mile in their shoes. Sometimes, we all think that someone else has it much better in life than we do. Ask the employees if they could be someone else, who would it be. You may be surprised at the answers. Often, people will want to be anyone, from someone rich and famous to their favorite pet.

9. Virtual Jeopardy

Another successful virtual onboarding icebreaker at WorkBright is our virtual Jeopardy game. Each time we get a new cohort of employees, our Chief Operating Officer asks them to fill out a survey with lots of different questions about them and their childhood. She then compiles all of these answers into questions in a fun Jeopardy game that the whole team can play.

We all get together via Zoom during our company training week to pick the questions and share our answers in a shared Google Sheet. If we get it right, we give ourselves points. If not, we don’t. New employees have the chance to explain their answers throughout the event. It’s an excellent way for everyone to get to know the latest employees.

12. If I Could Have A Do-Over

Most people have a time in their life that they wish they could relive. Others have times that they remember that they wish they never experienced. Ask the employees, if they could relive a year of their life, what would it be? Some of their responses might be a year of high school, during college, before they met their spouse, and so forth.

11. Best _____

Do you want to hear some interesting stories from your employees, ask them about something they love like the best:

  • Movie or television show
  • Concert they’ve ever gone to
  • Person to follow on social media
  • Place to go on vacation
  • Restaurant to eat at where they live

You can go around the room and give everyone a minute to share their best list, or you can break employees into breakout rooms to share more with a few of their colleagues.

12. Identify Ten Favorites

virtual-icebreakers-ten-favorites Identify Ten Favorites is an excellent game to play after a couple of days of meeting together. By that time, employees will have had a chance to gravitate to people they favor in the group. Divide them into groups of four or five people. Place them with employees they don’t usually spend time with, allowing them to meet somebody new.

Pick a topic such as a favorite animal, flower, food, vacation spot, and so forth. Tell the group members to share their ten favorites of whatever topic you choose. Make sure the subject is one that employees can quickly come up with a list of ten items. Have the group select someone to take notes and share the group’s results with the other groups. After this exercise, your group will be ready to tackle more challenging conversations in your onboarding meeting.

13. Brainstorming Sessions

Sometimes companies will use new employees to provide them with current information about a particular topic. For example, some companies include a session on cultural diversity during the onboarding process. Employees are presented with a scenario and placed into groups to discuss what they think about it. After the brainstorming session, they can compare what they talked about and present their findings to everyone in the onboarding process.

14. One-Word

The one-word onboarding game is another way for everyone to become familiar with the other people in their group. You can play this game in the afternoon when employees reassemble after lunch. Ask each person to list one word that describes what they feel about a particular topic. The game can reinforce what everyone thought about a lesson that you taught during the morning session. You can use the words to discuss and critique the lesson. Employees will gain a perspective on how their coworkers view particular topics.

15. Coffee With Employees

Another great icebreaker activity we do at WorkBright is daily coffee chats with older employees. 

Each day our cohort of new employees gets paired with one older employee for a 15-minute coffee chat. Older employees can introduce themselves and what they do at the organization, answer an ice breaker question, and give new employees a chance to respond. It’s a light lift for both old and new employees, and it makes it easy for everyone to get to know each other.

Fifteen minutes is typically plenty of time to give a quick introduction and share across the board if you have a pretty small onboarding cohort. We’ve typically run this experiment with four new employees at once. If you get a larger cohort, you might want to extend the coffee chat time slightly or create a more robust coffee chat system. For example, you could break your new employees into smaller groups and run more than one coffee chat based on those groups.

Conclusion: Use Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers To Welcome New Employees

Using icebreakers at the beginning of a meeting is simply a fun way to start the discussion and have everyone loosen up. When employees can laugh together, it will warm up the group and generate conversation. Since your new employees are most likely strangers, icebreakers will help them learn something about each other and make them more willing to engage in conversation.


Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers Q&A

Before we go, let’s go over some lingering questions you might have about virtual onboarding icebreakers. 

What Is An Onboarding Cohort And Why Should I Use It?

During the article, we mentioned how we onboard using a cohort model at WorkBright. As we have grown, it makes more sense to onboard several people versus onboarding everyone individually. We have many activities that work better as a group, and our new employees feel an immediate sense of belonging as they connect.

If you can, we encourage you to onboard your employees in a group to save company time and resources while also building new employee bonds. Onboarding in cohorts is a remote onboarding best practice because of this.

Are There Strategies I Can Use If I Am Onboarding One Person?

What if you can only afford to onboard one employee, or you only need one new employee right now? You’ll probably want to lean on your current employees a bit more during the onboarding process to make your new welcome feel like they are part of the team. Here are some examples of how you can do that:

  • Bring in tenured employees during the icebreaker portions of your onboarding process. This will allow your new hire to get to know older employees without causing a ton of lift for tenured employees.
  • Play a get-to-know-you game in Slack. We had a hire that started later recently at WorkBright, and they didn’t join our company-wide Jeopardy game. So, we created daily polls in our Slack general channel, and it was a nice way for the team to get to know our new hire.
  • Start each onboarding meeting with a bit of conversation. Even if you are in charge of onboarding one person, you don’t have to get to the point. Use some of the strategies we talked about today to open the floor for conversation before diving into your topic. Taking just a few minutes to connect and talk with your new employee will make a huge difference.

How Do I Get Introverts Involved During Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers?

If you have introverts in your latest cohort of employees, you might be wondering how to get them more involved during onboarding and virtual icebreakers. Introverts can be quite talkative if you give them a chance.

Try your best to put them in situations where they are more comfortable opening up. For example, you might use breakout rooms to shake things up and make the groups feel smaller (especially if you are onboarding a ton of people at once.)

Give introverts time to process and share their feelings as well. So, your onboarding games should probably last longer than a few minutes. Create larger icebreaker time blocks so you can get your introverts out of their shell and talking to the group.

How Do I Explain The Value Of Virtual Onboarding Icebreakers To My Team?

Onboarding is stuffed with activities that matter to the bottom line of your company. Your new employees are learning about the organization, their future roles, and the company’s products. Your team may wonder where icebreakers fit into the equation. If you are getting push back on the number of icebreaker slots you have in your onboarding plan, remind your colleagues about Zoom fatigue.

Zoom fatigue is becoming a reality for many organizations, especially during the onboarding process. Onboarding requires a ton of meetings. Anything you can do to make those necessary meetings enjoyable should be utilized. Icebreakers help your employees bond and break up long days.

How Many Icebreakers Should I Plan To Do During Virtual Onboarding?

Last, you might be wondering how many icebreakers you should plan to do during your onboarding activities. You should plan at least one icebreaker every day during the most robust part of your training process. If you see that your employees need a boost or refresher throughout the process, you can throw in another activity to wake them up. So, we encourage you to keep some ideas in your pocket for when you need them most.