We don’t need to explain that it’s an unprecedented moment. While remote work has been steadily increasing over time, our current situation is a whole new ballgame with entire workforces going remote overnight. We’re sure you’ve seen the usual work-from-home tips, so we’re here to share creative tips and tricks for maintaining company culture and relationships while fighting isolation and loneliness 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 don’t have to commute to and from work at the moment, but you can reimagine this time. Schedule “coffee” with a different team member during your former car-ride or subway-schlep time each morning and take this time to catch up over the phone, video call, or even text 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—as does the advice to pick one in order to keep your remote workday structured. We’d like to take this a step further and suggest that you and a coworker choose one of these techniques 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, instead of with your laundry. (Although you should also do your laundry at some point.)
3. Make Video Mandatory
Okay, this one might seem obvious, but tons of people still default to soul-crushing conference calls or they just “don’t like” being on video. 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. For example, if you were in the office, your coworker would be able to see the friendly, non-scolding look on your face when you ask, “Can we talk?” The solution is to have video chats, have them frequently, and make video mandatory for all team members.
Need lighting tips? Optimize natural light when setting up and the next best light color is yellow. Make sure it’s hitting you from the front so you’re not backlit.
Read more tech tips for remote work here.
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. While working from home is exciting once in a while, it’s actually not a great everyday situation for most people because of how isolating it can be.
Plus, within reason, 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. If your team is full of foodies, ask them to lead the way. For easy fare, think rice- or pasta-based dishes (which are easily adaptable to dietary preferences) or get creative with gourmet hacks for pantry staples like instant ramen. 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 lunchtime playlist so they can have a hand in “creating” your group meal.
6. Have a Visibility Buddy
One of the major dilemmas around remote work is the lack of visibility around milestones and accomplishments, which is particularly problematic for women and minorities (as studies show that their failures are remembered longer and accomplishments forgotten faster). 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. And while this isn’t true across the board, women can have a harder time speaking up about their accomplishments and there can be a social backlash when they do. Having a visibility buddy, even when you are back in the office, can help reduce bias in your workforce.
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. Try “What’s the cat’s name? Cougar? Great name!” or “Oh, Parker drew a beach? Nice. Love that purple sky and orange sand. You nailed it, Parker.”
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 inevitably squashes those spontaneous moments that lead to closer relationships and creative solutions to problems. To make up for it, take your colleagues to the proverbial watercooler with you as you move around your home. In other words, 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!