You found our guide to hosting successful workplace competitions.
“But Angela,” you may say, “I read an article on Forbes that said workplace competition can be harmful.”
Yes, workplace competition, as in, a Hunger Games style survival of the fittest, can create an adrenaline-driven environment that exhausts employees. However, friendly workplace competitions can have the opposite effect. As the Forbes article mentioned, “cooperative competition” can bolster teamwork instead of destroying it. Office contests can re-energize and motivate the workforce. These contests channel ambition into higher productivity and teamwork.
The following guide explains all the steps, tips, and sample activities you need to host office contests that add a sense of fun to the workplace.
What are workplace competitions?
Workplace competitions are friendly contests between coworkers. These competitions foster camaraderie, raise motivation, and often improve the overall work environment. Contests can gamify processes like sales, customer satisfaction, quality assurance, and make work fun. These competitions can also establish common ground and bring groups closer together.
What are the types of workplace competitions?
Colleages can turn anything into a contest. At my last job, one afternoon my coworkers decided to sample cannoli’s from each of the bakeries in town to determine who in the department could find the best Italian pastry. A task as simple as recycling could turn into a race with a little friendly rivalry.
With the right framing, almost any act can become a competition. Yet, office contests tend to fall into familiar categories.
Here are some of the most common types of workplace competitions:
- Workplace fitness competition
- Cubicle or desk decoration contests
- Office food drives
- Workplace safety competition
You will find examples of these competitions on the list below, along with:
- Workplace competition games
- Photo contest ideas for employees
- Work from home contest ideas
- Contest ideas to motivate employees
- Employee engagement contest ideas
List of workplace competitions
From Workplace Safety Bingo to Virtual Hackathons, here is a list of fun contest ideas for work that will motivate and delight your staff.
1. Workplace Safety Bingo
Workplace safety competitions condition employees to be safer and more mindful on the job. Safety might not seem like an especially exciting workplace competition theme, but you can gamify the challenge by instituting a game of Workplace Safety Bingo.
Workplace Safety Bingo cards contain safety-friendly actions such as “restocked first aid cabinet,” or “cleaned up a spill.” To simplify your game, we created a template you can use.
Each employee receives a card. The employee will carry the card at all times, and mark off a square upon completing a corresponding action. To ensure all parties play by the rules, require players to take photo or video evidence of the act. When an employee marks off five consecutive squares, the teammate can trade the card for a small prize, such as a snack stash or piece of company swag. To encourage participation, offer a larger prize like a tablet or team building lunch to the department with the most completed cards, or to a card chosen from a raffle at random.
2. Online Office Games
If you need fun workplace competition games to spice up your virtual office, then look no farther than Online Office Games. The event is an online Office Olympics consisting of trivia, scavenger hunts, icebreakers, and virtual team building games, such as “Can You Hear Me Now?” The challenges bring out coworkers’ competitive spirit while still inspiring cooperation, teamwork, and group bonding. A fun and fair-minded member of the TeamBuilding crew guides the games, meaning you do not need to play referee while your colleagues duke it out for ultimate bragging rights and hypothetical gold medals.
Learn more about Online Office Games.
3. Virtual Team Trivia
Virtual Team Trivia is one of the most entertaining workplace competitions you could hold with your remote teams. When you book, choose from a list of subjects like international or Rock n’ Roll, or opt for a customizable theme. A guide will research and write clever and challenging trivia questions and clues that are sure to tickle your teammates’ intellects. Over the course of an hour, you and your crew compete against other organizational teams to determine who possesses the most semi-useless knowledge. Virtual Team Trivia is a great way for distant teams to connect and show what they know. Plus, the universe contains so much random information that you can never exhaust all potential topics, meaning trivia can become a regular online team building event.
Learn more about Virtual Team Trivia.
4. Virtual Hackathon
Hackathons are marathon competitions where teams compete to sketch a new product or idea within a set amount of time, typically one weekend. Your company can host an internal virtual hackathon that pairs the thrill of innovation with the comforts of working from home. Online hackathons are one of the most intense and exciting work from home contest ideas.
To host a virtual hackathon, first pick a theme, such as sustainability, pop culture, or straight out of sci-fi. To ensure no participants begin work early, it helps to pick a specific prompt and only reveal the exact challenge at the start of the competition.
Next, advertise the event within your organization and drum up interest. You will want to ensure that you have the tools teams need to collaborate, such as online communication platforms, digital whiteboards, and video meeting software. When the hackathon begins, announce the challenge and send teams to work. To make the event more fun and interactive, check in on teams periodically, and run short online group games to encourage interaction. Once time expires, all participants will reconvene to present finished products, at which point judges will pick a winner and award a prize.
5. Hotshot Snapshot
Companies often host contests where employees submit photos for a chance to win a prize. Typically, participants do not see competitors’ photos until judges reveal a winner, or at least until the contest closes and audiences must vote on a winner. One of the more creative photo contest ideas for employees is to host an ongoing competition with no limits on entries, where participants can see submissions in real time. Hotshot snapshot is such a contest.
To host the competition, first choose a theme, such as hometown pride, office couture, or flash forward to the future. Next, invite employees to post photos on social media, either to a private group, or in public using a special contest hashtag. Participants can view the other entries and up the ante to share an even better picture. You can award prizes to the photographers who garner the most number of likes on all photos or the most likes on one picture.
6. Costume Contest
Chances are, your colleagues either arrive to work in uniform or business casual attire. If your office has a lax policy, then your cubicle mates may rock a T-shirt. Or, if you work from home, then no pants is no problem. Whatever the day-to-day dress code, most employees would jump at the opportunity to play dress up.
Costume contests are one of the most popular employee engagement contest ideas. Our sister company, Museum Hack, holds one every year, and employees do not disappoint. Costume contests flex employees’ creativity and fashion sense, and are a great way to add whimsy and fun to remote and in-person workplaces.
List of company costume contest ideas:
- Celebrity sightings around the office
- If fictional characters worked for our company
- Twinning with my work best friend
- Office supplies disguise (You can check out Duck Tape’s Stuck At Prom contest gallery for inspiration.)
Your contest can also be industry specific. For instance, an advertising agency might embody classic ads, while urban planners might dress up as favorite cities. Museum Hack recreates famous pieces of art. At the end of the day, your costume contest theme does not need to be work-related at all, though. You can choose any topic that spurs staff.
As an added bonus, you can repurpose the entries into content for a company blog entry or social media posts.
For more tips, check out our guide to virtual costume contests.
7. Around the world in 80 workdays
Step-counting contests are one of the most common workplace fitness competitions. You can put a new spin on the classic by turning the contest into a race around the world. First, get a map of the globe, either paper or digital. For the game to work, you will need to convert steps into miles. The average mile contains about 2,000 steps. If you want to be literal, then you can use a local map to track the literal distance. Otherwise, we suggest using a 1 step to 1 mile ratio. Every week, participants submit step counts, and you will update the map to show where on the globe each racer sits. For extra fun, show each player in vessels such as hot air balloons, pirate ships, or flying saucers. The race can last as long as you like, but we recommend one to three months.
The most natural workplace decoration competition is to prompt employees to bling out their desks. Deck-a-desk is a desk decorating contest that challenges employees to transform personal workspaces into works for art. To host a contest, merely choose a theme, set a budget, and let employees get creative.
Here are a few ideas for desk decorating contest themes:
- Under the sea
- Outer space
- Holiday wonderland
- Haunted house
- Around the world
- Movie magic
Employees can either decorate individually or as a team. You could even turn the contest into a high-stakes race by putting a time limit on the decorating process. Once employees complete their masterpieces, send a judging committee to tour the building and select a winner.
Work from home employees can get in on the fun, too, by decorating desks and snapping a photo or giving a video tour. Or, remote employees can compete to build the best customized Zoom background for video meetings.
9. Tidy-up Treasure Hunt
Messy desks are no jokes. Cluttered work spaces can lead to missed deadlines, lower productivity, and increased work stress. Not to mention, untidy common spaces can cause friction between coworkers and overall bad office zen. To encourage employees to keep personal and shared spaces clean, launch a workplace housekeeping competition in the form of a scavenger hunt.
This activity works best when announced in advance. For clues, we suggest using pictures of random objects or small trinkets. You can stay late one night and hide clues in common messy spots in the building, such as a habitually buried-in-paperwork desk or an unstocked paper towel machine. We recommend hiding the clue when the mess is not yet out of hand. For instance, if you change the trash, you may tape your picture to the bottom of the bin before replacing the bag.
You can announce the activity to the staff at the start of your designated spring cleaning day. The individual or team who recovers the most clues by day’s end wins a prize. To incentivize employees to keep these spaces clean, you may want to periodically re-hide clues that staff can exchange for small prizes like swag or candy.
Pro-tip: You may want to give the custodial crew a heads-up to your plan. They might even have suggestions for great places to hide clues!
10. Pantry Polls
Contests boost worker confidence and workplace morale, but can also benefit the broader community. A routine charity donation can become a fun workplace food drive competition. Pantry polls is an interactive office fundraiser that invites volunteers to vote using nonperishable food. First, set up donation stations. Each station should correspond with a poll result. For instance, you may use the activity to choose a location for the yearly team building retreat, such as a local lake, casino, or winery. Or, label each station with a fun outcome such as “which member of the C-suite will wear this hideous Hawaiian shirt?” Teammates will cast votes by donating canned, boxed, and jarred goods. Each product is worth one point. At the end of the drive, the station with the most points wins.
Pro tip: Encouraging employees to donate money or grocery store gift cards is also a good idea, since these items tend to be more useful to community kitchens than food products. We recommend employing a point system where every food product is worth one point, and money is worth one or two points per dollar.
11. Review Roulette
In theory, rewarding employees for mentions in rave reviews is a good idea. In reality, it is too easy for staff to stack the deck in their favor. Though management frowns upon participants asking for reviews, smooth talkers often convince customers to leave a good note. Thus, the teammates with the most mentions might be the most charismatic, and not necessarily the most diligent. A better alternative is to play review roulette. Review roulette is one of the more collaborative contest ideas to motivate employees.
How to play:
- Choose a staff member to take a turn.
- Select a review at random.
- If the review is positive, the teammate wins a prize, such as a coffee shop gift card or an office accessory.
- If the review is negative, the teammate faces a consequence, such as collecting the team’s recycling.
The best consequences should not be embarrassing, just mildly inconvenient. To forge a sense of solidarity, you may want to make consequences collective. For instance, if the review is negative, then the whole team needs to deep clean the break room.
Either way, the exercise motivates employees to work harder to amass cheery customer experiences. Instead of focusing on solo performance and praise, participants angle for the whole team to receive positive feedback. The more good reviews the company gets, the better the chances of winning a prize.
How to hold a workplace competition in 6 easy steps
From outlining rules to awarding prizes, here are key steps to running a smooth and successful employee competition.
Step #1: Determine the parameters
The first step to any workplace competition is to decide the type of contest. You should determine the goal of your competition, such as increasing safety awareness, encouraging healthy habits, improving customer satisfaction scores, boosting employee morale, or strengthening coworker bonds. Next, decide how long you want your contest to last. Perhaps you want to host an exciting and adrenaline-fueled one-time event like Online Office Games, or maybe you would rather opt for a month-long campaign.
Step #2: Build excitement
You want to convince as many employees to participate as possible, so you will want to build buzz. You can achieve this end by advertising the competition weeks before, announcing prizes, sending reminders through staff memos and social media groups, and inviting employees to form teams and start brainstorming. Instead of releasing all information at once, you may want to build anticipation by gradually teasing details. You could also use friendly rivalry by encouraging well-intentioned razzing between teams to get participants excited.
Step #3: Explain the rules
Before the competition begins, take time to thoroughly explain the rules and procedures. For best results, guidelines should be both easy to explain and follow. You may want to provide access to a copy of the rules that participants can easily access during the competition, such as in a cloud-based storage system like DropBox. If running a self-contained virtual competition, then you may want to drop a link to the rules into the video conference chatbox. When you confirm that all participants understand the rules, begin the next phase.
Step #4: Divide employees into teams
Workplace competitions serve as great team building challenges. You can divide large groups into smaller teams. For maximum effectiveness, you can strategically group team members, for instance by pairing a quieter employee with a friendly and encouraging teammate. Or, for larger parties, randomize groupings and task teams with ensuring that every member gets a chance to contribute. You can always divide teams by department or allow team members to choose their own teams, too. If you run recurring competitions, then you should consider mixing up the groupings each round, so different colleagues get the opportunity to meet and mingle.
Step #5: Enjoy the fun
Once all the details are in order, all that remains is to step back and let the games begin. Employees tend to engage well with games and contests. Though you may need to step in to referee or encourage certain teammates to participate, chances are your teams will take the reins and run full force with the activity. If you book an event with a team building company, then the process will be even easier. A guide will shepherd your team through the activities, and you are free to join the fun or observe.
You can learn more about virtual activities by checking out our post on virtual team building events.
Step #6: Award prizes
For most employees, the thrill of competition is enough to fuel the will to win. Prizes can sweeten the deal, though. Incentivize your staff to participate and perform by offering attractive prizes, such as department equipment upgrades, tablets, trips, gift cards, or time off. You can also dream up more inventive prizes such as a takeover of the CEO’s Twitter account for the day or control of the office radio for the week.
Check out this list of employee gift ideas for inspiration.
Tips for workplace competitions
Below you will find tips for hosting successful workplace competitions that encourage participation and enrich the employee experience.
1. Recruit volunteers
“Mandatory fun,” is an oxymoron. Folks generally do not enjoy forced participation. Instead of requiring all staff to take part, entice your teammates by making the competition as interactive and attractive as possible. If your contest is creative and rewarding, then you will have no problem with sign-ups. Plus, enthusiastic employees will encourage peers to join the fun.
2. Aim for fun
Contests teach the goal-setting and achievement process in an entertaining way. By making your contest as fun as possible, you encourage participation and ensure maximum employee engagement. These competitions can be a great way to break up the work routine and recharge your crew. You should seek out games and activities to amuse your staff. The more creative and interactive, the better. For ideas, observe how your workers pass free time and model your contest around your employees’ interests.
3. Compete in teams
Competitions are a great opportunity for team bonding. Contests can promote the concept of the collective win by requiring participants to work together to succeed. Preparing the contest entry compels teammates to spend time together and get to know each other better. Competitions can reveal group member’s talents, personalities, and interests, which provides a basis for coworkers relationships. Plus, working towards a common goal gives groups a shared sense of purpose, and is great practice for on-the-job projects.
4. Offer enviable prizes
While the will to win inspires some teammates and the desire to improve the workplace spurs others, some individuals could use material motivation. By offering an attractive prize, you encourage extra effort. Plus, the prizes serve as a physical reminder of the fun experience. Scroll down to the end of the FAQ’s for a list of awesome prize suggestions.
Healthy competition can bolster creativity and inspire top performances. Contests also fuel the formation of workplace friendships, as employees find common ground by banding together to win. Competitions can also boost employee morale and increase satisfaction. Plus, everyone likes to win now and then, and sharing the victory with a team is extra sweet.
For more advice on increasing staff enthusiasm, check out our article on employee engagement best practices.
FAQ: Workplace competitions
Here are more common questions and answers about workplace competitions.
What are fun workplace competitions?
The most entertaining workplace competitions are either creative and unexpected, or high-intensity and time-sensitive. The best workplace competitions are inclusive and encourage widespread participation. Some of the most fun contest ideas for work include Online Office Games, Virtual Team Trivia, and desk decoration contests.
What are good workplace competition themes?
Workplace competition themes could be work-related or totally random.
Good workplace competition theme ideas include:
- The past
- The future
- Around the world
- Childhood games
- The Olympics or sports playoffs
You could tailor the theme to your industry or department, or choose a fun and relevant topic. You could even get inventive and choose a unique or specific theme. For example, you and your staff could parody famous celebrity photos, like these librarians posing as Kardashians.
What are the best workplace competition prizes?
The best prize for a competition depends on your budget and your employees’ tastes.
Here a few suggestions for out-of-the-ordinary workplace competition prizes:
- First choice of conference rooms or parking spots
- Takeover the boss’s social media page or rewrite the boss’s website profile for a day
- An outing with the CEO
- Sporting tickets. This works especially well if your office is in a big-on-hometown-sports city.
- Local winery tour, transportation included
- Wireless or portable chargers for all devices
- Subscription box of choice
- Weekend trip
- Concert tickets
- Meet and greet with a celebrity
- Massage or spa day
- Date night for employee and partner, babysitter included
- Team building activities
- Extra paid time off
- Tablet or e-reader
- Upgraded laptop
- Nice luggage or business bags
- Gas gift cards or rideshare credits
- Appliance for the office, like a fancy coffee machine or mini donut maker
- Donation to charity of choice
- Development opportunities
- Food tours
- Cooking classes
- Gym or yoga studio membership
The ideal prize depends on your employees’ tastes. You could either do covert research or survey your staff directly to decide the perfect prize. Or, set a budget and allow the winner to pick a prize within the price range. Though expensive gifts are flashy and exciting, your workplace competition prize does not necessarily need to be costly to draw interest. Wacky and unique prize ideas such as allowing teammates to pick the bosses’ outfit for the day, or practical prizes like parking spaces or specially reserved lunch tables might garner just as much excitement.
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