9 Creative Ways to Stay Connected to Your Coworkers When You’re All Working From Home
By Allison Goldberg and Jen Jamula
We don’t need to explain that it’s an unprecedented moment. We’re sure you’ve seen the usual work-from-home tips, so we’re here to share creative ideas for maintaining culture and relationships while fighting isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. While not all these will work for every team, we encourage you to take time with coworkers to try some of these or create your own.
1: Reimagine Commute Time. Sweet, now that everyone is remote you can roll straight from bed into work! Not quite. You can reimagine this time. Schedule “coffee” with a different team member during your former car-ride time each morning and catch up over the phone or video chat. Get your team to sign up for coffee talks with each other and create a solid rotation throughout the whole office. You’ll gain social time, mentorship, different perspectives, and regain some of the spontaneous conversations that are lost in remote working. You can reimagine your commute home as well… There’s no risk of drinking and driving when there’s no actual drive. May we suggest grabbing a quarantini with some coworkers over a video call?
2: Pomodoro With a Friend. Time management techniques abound to keep your remote workday structured. We’d like to take this a step further and suggest you and a coworker choose one to do together. For instance, if you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for each interval of 25 minutes and “ready, set, go!” together. This will help gamify your workday slightly, and also ensure that you can take a guilt-free five minute break with a buddy.
3: Make Video Mandatory. Okay, this one might seem obvious, but tons of people still default to soul-crushing conference. But skipping video just isn’t an option right now when no communication will be in person. Too many nonverbal cues are lost when we default to phone calls and Slack. The solution is to have video chats, frequently, and make video mandatory for all team members.
4: Group Video Chat—Even While You Work Silently! This one isn’t for everyone, but we encourage you to try it. Basically, work as though you are next to each other in real life—that is, silently, but with video on. Believe it or not, just hearing someone nearby typing away and working diligently can be a huge boost for mood and morale (not to mention productivity) and is part of the reason why coworking spaces are so popular. Plus, this setup allows folks to ask quick questions aloud without the nonsense of wondering whether to call or Slack. Finally, “working together” will help regain some of the spontaneous ideas that come up when you’re all in an office together.
5: Share an Apocalypse Meal. While the team’s Taco Tuesday is temporarily on hold, recreate the social connection that happens over mealtime with shared lunches, WFH-style. Each Monday, have someone email out a recipe and ingredients needed for a simple, apocalypse-friendly meal. For easy fare, think rice- or pasta-based dishes (which are easily adaptable to dietary preferences. Then, pick a time later in the week to prepare the meal “together” and sit down to eat the same lunch, while comparing notes. For the delivery app connoisseurs of your group, if they don’t want to cook, you could ask them to provide the playlist so they can have a hand in “creating” your group meal.
6: Have a Visibility Buddy. One of the major dilemmas in remote work is the lack of visibility around milestones and accomplishments. To combat this, deliberately pair up team members to be visibility buddies who shout out each others’ accomplishments via Slack. Why have a buddy do it? Because it’s always easier to brag about someone else than about yourself.
7: Bring Your Kid (or Pet) To Work Day… is every day now. While we should strive to maintain decorum, let’s not shame anyone when their cat starts chasing the cursor across their computer screen. In fact, this is an opportunity to introduce a new kind of social bonding and much-needed levity. While some of your coworkers will be lucky enough to have a separate home office, not all of them will, and we’ll inevitably be seeing living rooms, kitchens, even bedrooms. Don’t cross boundaries, but do welcome the opportunity to get to know your coworkers in a new way.
8: Improv Your Meetings. Now that meetings have become calls and video chats, we’re at high risk for everyone being in 47 tabs at once and simultaneously tweeting. Take the time to think about how to make your meetings more engaging, and make sure that different ideas and perspectives are heard. You could use Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and assign people a perspective when problem solving. Or you could “Yes and” your way through an idea to examine unexpected possibilities. Play a game called “First and Worst” where everyone throws out their…first and worst ideas. Great ideas are often adjacent to bad ones and turning it into a game will keep everyone engaged and present—just not physically.
9: Encourage Casual Encounters. Not that kind. We hate to be a broken record, but working from home can be lonely and squashes those spontaneous moments that lead to closer relationships and creative solutions to problems. To make up for it, travel with your computer. Stepping into the kitchen to make a cup of tea? Take a colleague with you. Doing a few victory laps around your living room to celebrate a win? Make sure your video is on widescreen. Feeling compelled to share about a celebrity faux pas? Designate a Slack channel for “casual chatter” and drop your thoughts there.
Ultimately, finding virtual analogues for our most valued in-person interactions and being forced to get creative around meetings and events will make our teams more flexible and inventive. By the time you return to the office, it’s possible you will have even improved culture and relationships. Best of luck!