Zoom Breakout Rooms: How to Enable & Use Them for Group Sessions

By Matt RedererUpdated on November 4, 2020

Sometimes it’s beneficial to have a “meeting within a meeting”. That’s where attendees break off into their own semi-private groups to independently work on a problem, or discuss ideas and information. Then each group shares what they did with the others. The folks who made Zoom recognized this when they built their communications suite, and so they included a feature that makes that happen. It’s called Breakout Rooms.

Breakout Rooms for Zoom can be started and managed by anyone with any level of Zoom Meetings account, as long as they’re hosting from Zoom’s desktop client. They’re also supported for participants – even if they don’t have accounts – on a number of other Zoom apps. This is only part of what makes them a powerful and versatile feature; there’s much more to learn about how to do Zoom breakout rooms! That’s what this article is all about!

What is covered in this article

Let’s begin our Zoom breakout rooms tutorial with a quick discussion of what the feature does… and what it can’t do.

What are Zoom breakout rooms, and what are their limitations?

Zoom breakout rooms are separate sub-sessions within a Zoom meeting. What happens within them by-and-large does not affect other breakout rooms or the main room, and vice-versa. However, participants can ask the host to join a room for help, and the host can broadcast messages to all rooms.

Breakout rooms are very useful, but they do have some restrictions. So if Zoom breakout rooms are not working correctly (or at all) for you, it might be because of one of the reasons below.

Who can manage breakout rooms?

Only the meeting host can start breakout rooms, move participants between rooms, and jump between rooms at will.

A co-host can also freely jump between rooms, but only after joining a room assigned to them by the host. There is a way to let other participants freely join and leave rooms, though. see our Zoom breakout room advanced tips for more details about that.

What platforms can users manage or join breakout rooms on?

Breakout rooms can only be managed from the Zoom desktop client. However, Zoom lets you join a breakout room if you’re using its desktop client, mobile app, Chrome OS client, or web client. You can also join via phone, or a H.323/SIP conferencing system fitted with a Zoom room connector. A custom Zoom Rooms setup will not support breakout rooms, though.

So if you’re trying to use Zoom breakout rooms on iPad, for example, you can be a participant in a meeting that uses them. But you can’t deploy them yourself if you’re hosting a meeting.

How many breakout rooms in Zoom can you have open at once?

Each individual Zoom meeting can have up to 50 breakout rooms open at once. However, the number of rooms you have open can affect how many participants can be in an individual room at once.

If a host pre-assigns participants to breakout rooms before a meeting starts, each room can have up to 200 users in it at once. If breakout rooms are created during a meeting, their capacity is determined by the number of rooms currently open:

  • Fewer than 20: up to 500 users
  • 21-30: up to 400 users
  • 31 or more: up to 200 users

Did You Know

Breakout room capacities are also limited by the overall meeting participant cap on your account. So you will likely require a Business-tier or higher account (300-500 users), and/or a Large Meeting add-on subscription (500-1000 users), before the limitations listed here come into play. See our Zoom pricing and subscriptions tutorial for more information.

How to enable Zoom breakout rooms on your account

In order to use breakout rooms on Zoom, you have to enable them first. You can enable them for your own individual hosting use, or – if you’re the administrator for a multi-user account – you can give a specific group in your organization access to them as hosts. As an administrator, you can even allow everyone in your organization at once to deploy breakout rooms when hosting meetings!

To make sure that you (or your group, or your whole organization) are prepped for using breakout rooms in Zoom, follow these steps:

1. Go to Zoom’s website at Zoom.us and log into your account.

2. From your main dashboard, click Settings.

Getting to your settings menu on Zoom

Pro Tip

If you have administrator privileges and are looking to change breakout room settings for a specific group within your organization, instead click User Management, then Group Management. Click on the name of the group you want to edit settings for, and then click Settings.

If you want to enable or disable breakout room features for your entire organization, instead click Account Management, and then Account Settings.

3. Click the Meetings tab to select it, if it isn’t already selected.

General Zoom meeting settings

4. Scroll down to the “In Meeting (Advanced)” header and make sure the “Breakout Room” setting is enabled. If it isn’t, like in the screenshot below, click the toggle button next to it. If a confirmation dialog box appears, click Turn On.

Toggle for enabling or disabling the breakout rooms feature

5. Once breakout rooms in Zoom are enabled, an optional feature pops up. Click the checkbox that appears to mark it or unmark it, depending on whether or not you want to allow hosts to assign participants to breakout rooms when they schedule a meeting. (We’ll teach you how to pre-assign breakout room groups a little later.) If you change this setting, click Save to confirm it.

Toggle for enabling or disabling pre-assigned breakout room groups

Pro Tip

If you’re an account administrator and don’t want these settings changed at the user level by anyone in the group you’re editing – or your entire organization, if you took that route – click the Lock icon beside these settings, and then click Lock in the dialog box that appears to confirm your choice.

Alright! Now your account can use breakout rooms. But how do you actually get them going? That’s the topic we’ll tackle next: how to do breakout rooms in Zoom.

How to start Zoom breakout rooms while in a call

Once you’ve told Zoom to enable breakout rooms, you can bring them up any time you’re hosting a meeting from Zoom’s desktop client. The first time in a meeting you do so, you’ll have to set up how many rooms you want and who’s going to be in them. Or, if you’re not picky, you can let Zoom assign participants evenly between rooms for you.

Here are the details on how the process works:

1. Host a Zoom meeting on a desktop computer.

2. Click the Breakout Rooms button along the bottom toolbar.

Button to activate breakout rooms in a Zoom meeting

3. A dialog box will pop up with some initial settings for how to create breakout rooms in Zoom. Click the number box (or the arrows inside it) to choose how many breakout rooms you want to create. Then click the radio button beside either “Automatic” or “Manual” to decide how you want to divide participants between the rooms.

Initial settings for creating breakout rooms in Zoom

(Image credit: YouTube — Zoom)

If you choose the “Automatic” option, Zoom will create breakout rooms that split up all participants as evenly as possible – but randomly – between the number of rooms. If you choose the “Manual” option, you will have to decide who gets sent to which room on a person-by-person basis. (We’ll explain how to manually assign room participants shortly.)

When you’re done, click Create Rooms.

Good work! Your breakout rooms are ready… but you haven’t really done anything with them yet. So the next section is dedicated to exploring how to use breakout rooms in Zoom. We’ll go over the key functions that meeting hosts have available to them.

How to manage Zoom breakout rooms: 8 things you can do

Once you’re done creating breakout rooms in Zoom, you should now see the main breakout room setup window. This contains a whole bunch of controls that let the host manage the breakout rooms and interact with the participants within them. So this section will go over how to use Zoom breakout rooms as a host.

1. Assign participants to rooms manually

You only need to worry about this one if you chose to manually pick which attendees will be in each room when starting your breakout rooms or recreating them. If not, you can ignore it.

Click Assign beside a room’s name to bring up a list of attendees. Click the checkbox beside any user’s name to assign them to (or unassign them from) a particular room.

Manually assigning meeting participants to a breakout room

(Image credit: Zoom Help Center)

When there are participants assigned to a breakout room, you will see their names underneath the room name, and the Assign button will change to a number denoting how many users have been assigned to that room.

The number and names of participants assigned to breakout rooms

(Image credit: Zoom Help Center)

Repeat this process for each room.

Pro Tip

Participants not assigned to a breakout room will remain in the main meeting room.

2. Move or swap participants between rooms

You can also transfer attendees from one room to another. This is useful if you make a mistake when manually assigning attendees to rooms, or if you chose to do so automatically but want to make a few slight tweaks.

Beside each participant, you will see two functions. To move someone from one breakout room to another, click Move To and then click the name of the room you want to send them to.

Moving a user from one breakout room to another

(Image credit: Zoom Help Center)

You can also swap two attendees between their respective rooms. To do this, click Exchange beside one participant’s name, and then click the name of the other participant you want to move.

Moving two participants between respective breakout rooms

(Image credit: YouTube — Zoom)

3. Rename, delete, or add rooms

If it helps you keep track of them, you can rename rooms by clicking Rename next to one and typing in what you want to call it. You can also click Delete Room to erase a room and return all of the participants to the main room queue.

Renaming or deleting a breakout room

Or, you can click Add a Room to create a new breakout room, and then move attendees to it as you wish.

Creating a new breakout room after rooms have been set

4. Reset all rooms

You can click Recreate if you’ve made too many changes to your rooms and want to just start again from scratch. If you pre-assigned rooms and their participants before the call, you will be given two options: Recreate All Rooms or Recover to Pre-Assigned Rooms. If not, Zoom will default to the Recreate All Rooms option.

Recreate breakout rooms function with recover to pre-assigned rooms option available

(Image credit: Zoom Help Center)

Recreate All Rooms opens a window where, like when you first set up your breakout rooms, you can choose how many rooms to create, as well as whether you want to populate them automatically or manually. When you’re done, click the Recreate All Rooms button.

Resetting all breakout rooms to automatic or manual assignment

If you pre-assigned rooms and their participants before the call, you can also choose Recover to Pre-Assigned Rooms to set rooms and their occupants back to the way they were when you scheduled the meeting.

5. Set breakout room options

If you click Options, there are a number of settings you can enable, disable, and/or manage for all current breakout rooms by clicking the checkboxes and/or number boxes.

Host options for breakout rooms

Move All Participants into Breakout Rooms Automatically

Enabling this option will automatically send attendees to breakout rooms as soon as you click Open All Rooms. If it’s disabled, participants will have to click Join after you click Open All Rooms.

Allow Participants to Return to the Main Session at Any Time

If this option is enabled, attendees can leave a breakout room and return to the main meeting whenever they want. If not, they must wait until the host closes the rooms.

Breakout Rooms Close Automatically

Turn this option on, and your breakout rooms will automatically close a certain length of time after you open them. You can click the number box beside this setting to specify the number of minutes to keep rooms open for. There is also the option to click to mark or unmark the checkbox next to “Notify Me When the Time Is Up” if you do or don’t want a notification when the rooms are set to close.

Countdown After Closing Breakout Room

This setting, if enabled, allows you to set a delay between breakout rooms closing and participants returning to the main meeting room. This is useful for giving attendees a short time window with which to finish what they were doing before they have to return. Click the number box to set how many seconds you want to delay the closing of rooms.

If this setting is disabled, participants will return to the main meeting room as soon as breakout rooms are closed.

6. Open and close all breakout rooms

When you’re ready to send your meeting attendees to their respective breakout rooms, click Open All Rooms. Depending on your room settings, they will all be sent automatically, or they may need to click Join before they can enter their designated room.

Opening all breakout rooms at once

(Image credit: YouTube — Zoom)

When it’s time to call everyone back to the main meeting room, click Close All Rooms. Again, depending on how you’ve set up your rooms, attendees may be brought back immediately, or they may be given a warning window before the room closes.

(Image credit: YouTube — Zoom)

7. Join or leave a breakout room

As the meeting host, you can pop in and out of any of the breakout rooms at any time. Once rooms are open, simply click Join beside a room’s name.

Joining a breakout room as a meeting host

If you are currently in a breakout room, the option beside that room’s name will say Leave instead. Click that to go back to the main meeting room.

8. Broadcast a message to all participants

One more nifty thing you can do as a host is to send a text chat message to every breakout room at the same time. To do this, when the rooms are open, click Broadcast a Message to All. Then type in the message you want to send, and then click Broadcast.

Sending a chat message to all breakout rooms at once

We’ll have even more tricks for using Zoom breakout rooms later. But first, we’re going to walk you through a big one that we’ve already mentioned, but haven’t fully described yet: how to set up breakout rooms in Zoom so that rooms are already created – and participants are already assigned to them – before you start the meeting!

How to pre-assign Zoom breakout room groups before the call

If you know ahead of time how many groups you want to create and who’s going to be in them, you can set up Zoom meeting breakout rooms while you’re scheduling a meeting. That way, they’re ready to go when the call starts, and you don’t have to spend time setting them up while the call is in progress. And that helps your meeting go smoother!

However, there are some extra restrictions on using this feature (in addition to the general ones for breakout rooms) that you should keep in mind.

Unique limitations for pre-assigning Zoom breakout rooms

  • Pre-assigning breakout rooms only works when scheduling meetings on the Zoom web portal.
  • All participants must have Zoom accounts to be pre-assigned, and must be signed into them at the time of the meeting for pre-assignment to work. (If they don’t have an account, have them follow our lesson on how to make a free Zoom account.)
  • If you wish to pre-assign users who are not on the same account as you, you have to import their room names and email addresses as a .CSV file.
  • You cannot pre-assign Zoom users outside your organization if you have required registration for a meeting.
  • You can pre-assign breakout rooms when scheduling recurring meetings. However, they must remain consistent between individual meetings to work. They will not work if you edit a particular meeting in the group to have a unique pre-assignment setup.
  • Hosting pre-assigned breakout rooms does not work on Zoom’s Linux desktop client, and participating in them does not work on Zoom’s web client.

Now that we have all of those warnings out of the way, we’ll show you how the process works.

Pre-assigning Zoom meeting participants to breakout rooms

1. Go to Zoom.us and sign into your account.

2. From your main dashboard, click Meetings, and then click Schedule a Meeting.

Scheduling a Zoom meeting from the web portal

3. While scheduling your meeting, scroll down to the “Meeting Options” section and click the checkbox labeled “Breakout Room Pre-Assign” to mark it (if it isn’t already). When it’s marked, you will see two additional options appear.

Toggle and options for pre-assigning breakout rooms

These options — Create Rooms and Import from CSV — let you pre-assign participants to breakout rooms in two different ways. We will cover each separately below.

To create rooms manually:

1. Click Create Rooms.

2. On the left-hand side of the box that pops up, you will see all current rooms that you have set up. The number beside a room shows you how many participants are currently assigned to that room.

Managing pre-assigned breakout rooms

Click the “+” button to create a new room. Or, if you move your cursor over a room, you can click the trash can (Delete) icon to delete that room. Click on a room to select it.

3. Once you’ve selected a room, click inside the “Add Participants” field on the right-hand side of the box and type in the email address of someone on your account. You can then select them from the drop-down menu that appears, or press the Enter/Return key on your keyboard to add them manually.

Adding participants to a room, or editing its name

You can also click the pencil (Edit) icon beside the room’s name to type in a new name for the room. Do so if that will help you organize your rooms better.

4. To move a participant from one room to another, click the Move To button next to their name. Then, choose the room you want to move them to from the menu that appears.

Move a participant to another room, or remove them

You can also remove someone you’ve assigned to a room by clicking Remove beside their name.

To import a room setup from a CSV file:

1. Click Import from CSV.

2. In the box that pops up, you will have to upload a properly-formatted CSV file to Zoom that tells it how many rooms you are making and who will be assigned to them.

If you already know how to make one yourself, go ahead and do it. Then skip to step 4.

If not, Zoom can give you a little help. Click Download to get a sample CSV file on your computer that shows you how to format your spreadsheet correctly. Open it with your spreadsheet software of choice, if you haven’t already.

Downloading a sample of a correctly-formatted breakout room CSV file

3. Here, you will see cells A1 and B1 marked with headers “Pre-Assign Room Name” and “Email Address”. Leave those, and focus on the cells below them in columns A and B.

Sample of a properly-formatted breakout room CSV file

Basically, all you have to do is write a participant’s email address in column B. Then, in the same row in column A, write the name of the room you want to assign them to. Repeat that for everyone (except yourself) who will be in the meeting, then save the file (remember to keep the file type as CSV!). We’re going to need a copy of it for the next step.

4. Back in the upload box, click Browse and use the file explorer interface to find your CSV file and Open it. You can also just open the location of your CSV file on your desktop, click and hold down your mouse on the file, then drag it to the upload box and release the mouse button.

Uploading a CSV file by browsing for it or using drag and drop

Whichever method you use, when you’ve finished making changes, click Save.

Save changes to your created pre-assigned breakout rooms

If you need to go back and change your rooms, just click Edit below the “Breakout Room Pre-Assign” option.

Edit pre-assigned breakout rooms

At this point, you can just continue scheduling the rest of your meeting. Then, when you start your meeting and hit the Breakout Rooms button, your rooms will be ready for you!

Can you record breakout rooms in Zoom?

Zoom allows breakout rooms recording, but only if you are recording locally. A local recording will pick up audio, video, and chat from whatever room you’re currently in. If the host starts a cloud recording of the meeting, it will pick up the main room only, even if the host joins a breakout room.

See our article on how to record a Zoom meeting for the ins and outs of making a local Zoom recording.

5 advanced tips to master Zoom breakout room sessions

Here are a couple of other neat things you can do with breakout rooms.

1. Know that participants can call the host for help

Participants can ask the host to join their breakout room if they need help with something. They can do so by clicking the Ask for Help button in their meeting controls (it looks like a question mark). They can then confirm their request by clicking Invite Host.

Asking a host to join a breakout room for assistance

(Image credit: Zoom Help Center)

This is a handy function for when you have groups working independently on tasks. It allows the group that’s having trouble to get the host’s assistance without disturbing any of the other groups. It can also be handy if you’re doing a time-sensitive activity (like a game of some sort) and you want the host to check your work as soon as you’re done!

2. If you want participants to record rooms, remember to permit it

With Zoom, recording breakout rooms is possible, but remember that the host has to explicitly allow it first. That means two things. One is that they have to enable the setting that lets them permit participants to record. The other is that they have to directly turn on recording privileges for specific attendees during the meeting. See our tutorial on how to record Zoom meetings for the full details.

Turning on a participant’s recording privileges

(Image credit: Zoom Help Center)

The second part is simpler if the host does it in the main meeting room, before opening the breakout rooms. If the rooms are already open, the host must join each room containing the participants they want to give recording privileges to in order to actually grant them.

And remember: breakout rooms only support local recording. They won’t be picked up if the host starts a cloud recording, even if the host joins a breakout room during the meeting.

3. You can let attendees form their own rooms

This is a feature that Zoom brought in with version 5.3 of their app. If participants already know the groups they’re supposed to be in, or want to pick their own teams, you can let them do the brunt of the work!

You can select this option when setting up breakout rooms during a meeting.

Allowing participants to choose their own breakout rooms during meeting setup

You can also enable it later in the Options menu of the main breakout room setup window, if you’ve already created and assigned rooms.

Enabling or disabling the option for participants to join their own breakout rooms

While this setting is enabled, all participants will be able to jump freely between breakout rooms, just like the host can. All they have to do is click Breakout Rooms to show the list of available rooms, click Join beside the one they want to enter, and then click Join again to confirm.


This feature only works on Zoom’s desktop or mobile clients. Participants joining the meeting through different means will have to be assigned to rooms by the host, as per usual.

4. Use the “auto-close” or “delayed close” functions to set a time limit for small group meetings

You can use the “Breakout Rooms Close Automatically” or “Countdown After Closing Breakout Rooms” settings in the Breakout Rooms options to set a strict time limit for how long participants can stay in breakout rooms before returning to the main meeting. This is useful in a number of different scenarios.

For example, in a business setting, you can use either of these features to hold a brainstorming session. By setting a timer on the breakout rooms, you can challenge employees to come up with ideas under the pressure of a deadline.

These features can also be ideal in a trivia or other party game setting. If answering as quickly as possible is not a factor, setting a timer on breakout rooms allows you to give players or teams an equal amount of time to come up with answers. This is especially helpful if they need to get creative with their responses! On the other hand, you’re also limiting how long people can take to think, helping the game continue at a reasonable pace.

5. Take advantage of the “broadcast” feature to keep groups informed

Remember that a host can send a message to all open breakout rooms at once using Broadcast Message to All. This allows you to give each group the same information without needing to visit every breakout room individually, or call everyone back to the main meeting temporarily before sending them back to their breakout rooms. This minimizes both work for the host and disruptions for the groups.

Again, this can be useful whether you’re working or playing. In a work context, you can use this to give new or corrected information, subsequent instructions, progress updates, and so on to teams on-the-fly. If you’re playing a game, you can give updates on things like time limits or current scores. You can also provide hints to everyone at once in case players or teams are stuck for ideas.

Those are all the major how-tos for Zoom video breakout rooms! This is just one of the many features that makes Zoom one of the most popular online video conferencing solutions today. It also has a number of integrations with other helpful apps that can aid you in increasing productivity and saving time. Visit our Zoom course for more advice on how to get the most out of Zoom!