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Enough with Zoom happy hours: alternative team building ideas

Working from home can really blur the lines between home life and work life, especially for those of us who rarely worked from home before the pandemic. It was a rare treat when we did, an excuse to wear sweatpants and fold laundry in those spare minutes between back-to-back meetings.

Sure, we gained time back from our commutes. But it’s also a lot easier to start early, stay late, and work through lunch. After all, we all know you don’t really have anywhere to be, do you?

Enter the Zoom happy hour. Modern problems require modern solutions. The verdict: good in theory, harder to execute. But I suspect I don’t have to convince you of that.

A brief history of Zoom happy hours

I wish I could provide you with a comprehensive study of the rise and fall of Zoom happy hours. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, a very 2020 answer to a very 2020 question. Namely, how do we maintain a work-life balance and team-build in an era of remote work?

Let’s start with the fact that large Zoom meetings are a challenge. Just how big Zoom meetings can get before they start to get unwieldy varies from team to team. Personally, I’ve noticed diminishing returns somewhere between six to eight people.

The field of study around Zoom happy hours is still in its infancy, so my evidence is entirely anecdotal. Perhaps there’s some team somewhere that’s made these work.

I’m not here to denigrate the legacy of Zoom happy hours. Again, they’re great in theory – but most of us end up quietly sipping our drinks, leaving it to a few brave souls to attempt entertaining the crowd.

There’s a better way. As work-from-home days turned to weeks and then to months, we’ve found some more clever ways to unite, bond, and grow together virtually.

Here’s a shortlist of creative, fun ways you can tackle remote team building that don’t require a ton of planning.

Take a drawing class

Recently, our team did an hour-long drink-and-draw class on Zoom through Airbnb Experiences with Lisboa Social Press. Challenging, embarrassing, and hilarious all come to mind. Our instructors really put us through our paces and stretched our creative limits.

I work on a team of marketers, writers, and graphic designers. You can probably guess who the designers are from the picture below. (In fairness, I haven’t doodled in a notebook since high school.) As ridiculous as our drawings may have looked, our instructors made everyone feel like they had the freedom and safety to create and be silly.

Your results may vary, but I’m going to wager that you will have fun.

A Zoom meeting with participants holding up self-portraits.

Teach your team a new skill or hobby

Most of us have found some extra time on our hands this year. That’s led to some pretty creative and unusual new hobbies. I’ve spent more time woodworking and learned how to make bread. Others picked up knitting, adopted new four-legged family members, started hiking, running, and redecorated their homes.

With all that talent, why not show it off? Take turns having people sign up to teach new skills or hobbies. These can be personal, ranging from cooking to backyard archery. Or they can be professional, including building out your presence on LinkedIn, ways to stay organized working from home, and public speaking.

Each week my team exchanges work from home tips in Microsoft Teams. This often turns into recipe sharing, information exchange on movies, parks to visit, restaurants that do great take out. One day we all shared something we made (wine rack, blanket, cake, patio, child). Seeing each other’s hobbies and real-life interests inspires us to try new things. It frankly just makes us all feel more like human beings rather than just humans working.

Birthday care packages

We take birthdays pretty seriously around here. When my turn came around, I was lucky enough to receive a shoebox with the essentials: ice cream and coffee. Others have received shipments of tea, cakes, books, vinyl records, personalized mugs, and much more. We typically combine this with a custom Zoom background for that day’s team meeting. It pays to have talented in-house designers.

Fortunately, most of us live close enough to one another that we’re able to drop off care packages ourselves without too much hassle. That gave us a little more creative control – if you’re in a position where this works, I can highly recommend it.

Birthday box including ice cream and coffee

Stream a movie or show

There might not be many movie releases these days, but that hasn’t stopped some of us from dusting off the classics. One of the best aspects of a multi-generational workforce is the wide taste in movies.

Have someone share their Zoom stream or have everyone stream the same movie or show separately while on the call. You’ll almost certainly all be off by a few seconds – that’s part of the fun.

Pride+, one of our employee resource groups, is working on a virtual movie night. After polling the group on Microsoft Teams, they selected Boys in the Band. Afterward, the group will hang (virtually) for a discussion.

Try it with your team. Roommates, spouses, and children welcome.

Movie Poll Screenshot

 Plan a bring your kids to Zoom day

One of the best days of the year is Bring Your Kids to Work Day. Now every day is Bring Your Kids to Work Day, which has admittedly dampened the charm.

It’s hard for kids and their parents to juggle school, work, and home life – often all at once and in the same place. Embrace the chaos by hosting a virtual Bring Your Kids to Work Day (or maybe an hour). It’s a great way to let kids see what you’re up to while you’re locked in your home office all day (without feeling like they’re intruding).

Printable coloring books, trivia, and work-inspired word searches are perfect for the youngest members of your team.

Compete in a virtual pet show

Kids aren’t the only guests who drop into meetings uninvited. Lick-happy dogs, mischievous felines, winged creatures – you name it, we’ve seen them all. And we love it.

Having pets around is one of the great joys of working from home. It’s also one of the most distracting. Just ask my cat, who once slammed shut my laptop during a video meeting with a client. It happens.

We all love our pets, so why not give them their own time to shine? Show us your dog’s tricks, your cat’s scratchy castle, and your parrot’s best work-appropriate one-liners.

A cat laying on a keyboard

Attend a virtual conference

You didn’t think we’d include all play and no work, did you?

Mandatory training isn’t usually fun. Shocking, I know. Conferences, on the other hand, are often exciting and energizing. We walk away feeling good and having learned a few things we can use on the job. It’s especially energizing when you can attend with your colleagues.

We recently wrapped up INSPIRE, our first-ever digital conference. It was two days of outstanding talks, presentations, and roundtables from some of the brightest minds in talent acquisition. Missed the conference? Check out or recaps from Day 1 and Day 2!


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