Welcoming Staff Back to the Office? 5 Ways to Break The Ice!

Welcoming Staff Back to the Office? 5 Ways to Break The Ice!

Is your company getting ready to welcome its staff back to the office after the lengthy pandemic-induced period of working from home? If so, you might be wondering how it’s going to all pan out!

You’ve got your safety measures in place, the social distancing posters are up on walls and pinboards, sanitizer bottles are on every surface, and you may even be operating staggered start and finish times.

But what about the human aspect? Are your employees going to be thrilled to bits to see each other again? Is there going to be an overwhelming sense of “I’d rather be working from home”? Or could it even possibly be just a teensy bit awkward at first? You know, in that uniquely British way!

a man scrunching his face up and looking a little bit awkward

You may have even hired people remotely over the past year who’ve never met any of their colleagues in person. And while you’ve been doing your best to engage with them remotely, and encouraging your more established employees to do the same, it’s probably still going to feel like their first day at a new company when they finally get to go to the office.

So with that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some ways to break the ice when your teams are finally back in the office in person.

Welcoming staff back to the office? 5 ways to break the ice!

First of all, we think we’re duty bound to point out that we know some people aren’t the biggest fans of team-building / ice-breaking. But there’s no reason why these exercises have to be excruciating! Indeed, they can even be fun. Really.

felt letters spelling out the word 'honest'.

Not only that but there is actually a very good reason for breaking the ice in situations where you have a group of people who are meeting for the first time - or for the first time in a long while.

The power of ice breakers

Let’s be realistic though. Ice breakers are never going to make absolutely everyone on staff best friends for life. Some may still be at each other’s throats! But they do have a valuable role to play in helping teams form stronger bonds - even if that’s only at work. And what could be wrong with that?

Ice breakers help a team come together and identify as a group. They can help people open up, share information about themselves or their interests, and establish common themes amongst themselves.

group of colleagues chatting and laughing

Break through the awkwardness, break through the ice

As we mentioned, ice breaking doesn’t have to be awkward and awful! And if you’re the one organising a session you might want to increase your chances of success by ensuring you have a few key members of the group onboard.

No doubt you’ll find that some people just won’t be the first to raise their hand and speak up, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, not all of us are great at taking the plunge and ‘going first’ in group scenarios.

And forcing the issue by choosing someone to go first can sometimes lead to that person feeling under pressure and put on the spot. Not a great feeling, especially if they’re on the shy or quiet side.

a woman with her hands over her face.

That’s why getting one or two people who you know won’t mind speaking up first on your side can be really useful. And these people don’t have to be the manager, department head or person leading the ice breaker. In fact it’s even more effective if they’re not.

All teams or companies have people who are well liked, enthusiastic and thought highly of by other staff members. Enlist them as your initial ice breakers, and you should find that more hesitant members of the group will start to feel ‘safe’ to open up and speak too.

Ideas for breaking the ice in the office

You’ve recruited your team evangelists. But now here’s the billion dollar question: how are you actually going to break the ice?

We’ve all been in the classic group circle where a ball is thrown around and we all have to say something about ourselves (or even just our name.) But we think you can do a little better than that!

person holding up a sign that says 'be so good they can't ignore you'.

Here are some suggestions for breaking the ice when your employees are back in the office.

1. Who Am I?

Let’s start with an easy one. Everyone writes down a fact about themselves on a piece of paper and puts it in the (proverbial) hat. The more unusual or outlandish the fact the better. The facts are all read out one by one and whoever matches a fact to a colleague wins.

The prize could be points or something edible like a chocolate for each correct guess, or you could tally up the most correct answers at the end and award a slightly bigger prize such as a coffee shop voucher or free lunch.

2. Meet and Greet

Think of this one along the lines of speed dating. But without the potential outcome that is usually the goal of speed dating! This aims to get your people finding out a little more about each other (or to discover some interesting facts while they’ve been apart for a year or more.)

shelf of books with titles on the spines such as 'what', 'who', 'where' and 'when'.

No need for tables and pens and paper; just ask everyone to stand in two lines in front of one another, set a timer, let them ask each other questions until the timer goes off, and then get them all to move down a person.

The speed factor also ensures this works well if you have a lot of employees.

3. Question Time

Okay, we’re calling this one Question Time but to be clear, it has nothing in common with the BBC One television programme. We can’t recommend highly enough that you steer WELL clear of politics and current affairs. The last thing you want is your ice breaker to turn into a furniture breaker as your team starts brawling over topical debates!

However, there are questions that you can throw out there that will get people talking - but (hopefully) without resorting to fisticuffs…

pair of boxing gloves hanging on the sides of a ring.

A few ideas: Does pineapple belong on a pizza? Marmite: yes or no? Do the Brits talk about the weather too much? Reality TV: entertainment or trash?

4. Matchmakers

No, not another romance inspired idea. Just a take on that classic party game where everyone has a sticker on their forehead with one half of a duo or pair written on it. The goal is to wander round the room asking yes or no questions to people until they’re sure they’ve found their matching partner.

The fun thing about this is that you don’t just have to stick to ‘fish and chips’ or ‘Tottenham and Hotspur’ you can make it more related to your industry or even your company. Throw some in-jokes in there and get people laughing.

graffiti saying 'good joke'.

5. AMA (AKA Ask Me Anything)

Beloved by celebs on social media, an AMA is what it says on the tin: an opportunity to ask someone anything you like. This is a great way to find out things you might never know about your teammates and is bound to get everyone talking.

Just one pointer though: you might want to set some guidelines for topics that are off limits. Nothing deeply personal or sensitive (“Have you ever had an affair?”), nothing involving criminal activity (Have you ever been to prison?”) etc. - you get the picture: light entertainment is the way forward here!

pink neon sign saying 'good vibes only'.

How to break the ice: conclusion

The great thing about some friendly, casual ice breaker team games is they’re inclusive. And as well as welcoming everybody back to the office environment, you’ll also be reminding them of what they’ve missed: interaction with their colleagues, which in turn will hopefully ease the transition.

Especially if you have any employees who are a bit grouchy at having to shower, ditch the jogging bottoms and commute once again.

Ice breakers are also a great way of making your teams feel valued and recognised which leads to greater employee engagement and - down the line - greater employee retention.

Ice breaking: it’s a win win win!

Eve Jones
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.
Sydney, Australia