By GUEST COLUMNIST JUSTIN ROBERTI
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote employees and Work from Home arrangements were becoming increasingly common. An Owl Labs 2019 State of Remote Work Report found that 2. 54% of U.S. workers work remotely at least once per month, 48% work remotely at least once per week, and 30% work remotely full-time. Global Workplace Analytics is forecasting a 25-30% increase in working remotely with adoption increasing proportionately with the amount of time we spend in shelter at home and work from home conditions due to COVID-19.
But even for companies who are used to working remotely in part, there can be a real challenge to keeping team members motivated and connected with no in-person connection or central offices. Here are a handful of ways some companies are pushing the boundaries of social distancing with the technology and a little creativity.
Zoom Yoga, Virtual Pub, and DesperateHouseWise Cooking Classes
Transferwise, an online money transfer service has implemented activities across their 13 global offices to help with employee health and well being during COVID-19 remote work conditions.
Creative ways to reach employees as individuals and build a sense of wellness within the team include:
Zoom Yoga, an open class held every morning by a trained member of the team to wake up the body and settle the mind. They also offer a 45-minute mobility training session and a 20-minute meditation via zoom for a more mindful and balanced work day.
Virtual Pub held every Friday at 5 pm. The team has dubbed their meeting place “The Wisers Arms” where they enjoy an end of the week drink together and catch up with the team.
TransferWise’s Global Head of People Operations, Rose Stott said, “We’re fortunate as a company that we already had a culture of working from home but adapting to that full time is a shift for many, especially the social aspect of work. Activities like our excellently named #desperatehousewise virtual cooking class, or art workshops via Zoom not only make sure that employees take their breaks but also gives them a chance to be creative and catch up with the team to talk about things besides work.”
Lunch, Games, & The Buddy System
Web Profits, one of Australia’s largest digital consultancies, has transitioned from a central office in Sydney with remote employees on other continents to all hands working from home.
Kath Chalhou, head of Creative for Web Profits said, “Now more than ever, a sense of community and closeness is essential for not only maintaining team vibes and rapport, but also to ensure your business operates smoothly when this period of our lives passes (and it shall pass!). With this in mind, we’ve opted for regular communications and team initiatives to help people feel connected as well as reminding them that this is for the short term…”
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Web profits is doing daily communications between leadership and weekly team roundups on Zoom to keep everyone in the loop but they are also holding:
- Daily Lunch Sessions on Zoom in which the team is invited to dine with each other remotely from 12-1 PM, sharing not only what’s on the menu for the day, but any new talking points and conversations to be had on a personal level.
- The Buddy System is something Wen Profits is testing -- random group conversation sessions where people can come together to discuss things outside of their collaborative priorities. A time to break down and siloing between projects and get to know other team members and what they are doing.
- Team Games Afternoons are specially scheduled events where the team can play virtual Pictionary or most recently have a virtual easter egg hunt.
Fancy Dress Days & Scavenger Hunts
According to Francesca Baker, Marketing, Communications, and PR representative for The Lord Mayor’s Appeal Charity, the team is quite social and used to working in the Guildhall Office. Now they use daily video calls to catch up, discuss wins, and make plans -- but they have interjected some fun things like fancy dress days and scavenger hunts.
“We’re trying to make the calls more about connection and communication as much as work and business. Wellbeing and mental health are really important to us, and we think the workplace is really important in that.”
Chanty, an AI-powered team chat and free alternative to Slack, is using campfire talks on Zoom twice each week for one hour to let team members talk about things they are passionate about -- “our hobbies, interests, what we do in our free time, our families, customs, and anything that comes to our minds. The basic idea is that one person gets to present every campfire so that everyone in the team has a chance to speak… The goal is twofold - to learn more about the people we work with and to take everyone’s minds off the virus pandemic. So far, it’s been working out incredibly well and people participate every time. We get lots of laughs and we plan to continue this practice even when we go back to the office,” Dmytro Okunyev the Founder of Chanty said.
Since it doesn’t strictly apply to a human team, honorable mention goes to Muncaster Castle, 13th c historical site and nature conservancy including the Gardens, Hawk, & Owl Centre. More specifically it goes to the Muncaster Castle Bears -- 80 handcrafted dapper teddy bears who have annual events with visitors including a now-canceled Easter Egg Hunt.
Kym Armstrong, Curator, and Custodian at Muncaster Castle, assured us that the bears “are a team”. And that they have “been keeping themselves in high spirits by having an Easter Egg Hunt.”
I’m not sure what social distancing means for a phalanx of well-dressed handmade teddy bears. But their home video is charming and watching it for me summarizes how quarantine feels to some of us -- everything proceeding, perhaps not as expected, but still proceeding. (Note: My daughter assures me this video is funny and cute, not an austere commentary on isolation, so we will take her word for it.)
Justin Roberti has a background in media and fine arts and has been writing and doing PR/marketing for over 20 years for Fortune 500 and startups in media, gaming, consumer tech, mobile tech, fintech, and blockchain. He is the PR Director for blockchain agency Zage.io.