There is more to building a remote team than a subscription to Zoom and SharePoint. One of the most important factors dictating the productivity of any business (remote or otherwise) is the morale of your workforce. As a remote-first company, Raft has always practiced creative ways to virtually create a sense of community.
In the wake of a global pandemic, many companies may also be seeking new ways to ensure their teams stay connected. As anyone who’s held an online meeting with family or friends knows, social teleconferences are entirely different beasts than telework conferences. Since we’ve already touched on our teleworking best practices, we’re going to divulge our secrets to building a tele-community of colleagues and friends.
In a physical office, immediacy is king. If you want someone’s attention you can walk right up to them, interrupt whatever they’re doing, and demand their attention. In a teleworking environment, that luxury no longer exists (which might be a good thing). Being considerate of your co-workers’ and employees’ time by requesting an RSVP at least a week in advance of your virtual happy hour is a courteous gesture that shows you respect their time and work.
1. Pick a Platform – You’ll need to stick to a video conferencing service everyone is comfortable with, unless you want to waste the first ten minutes of your happy hour wondering why no one can log on. I recommend sticking to whichever platform you regularly use for work meetings; however, there are plenty of alternatives. Zoom and Google Hangouts are free and convenient for large groups. For smaller parties, Group FaceTime works well, but everyone will need a Mac or iOS enabled device.
2. Schedule in Advance –The natural work schedules for your co-workers are never the same. Assuming everyone will be available for a 5pm Friday Happy Hour is courting disappointment. Online scheduling platforms like Doodle and Rallly are great for polling large groups of people to pick convenient times for everyone.
3. Keep it short – Maintaining a work-life balance is important, especially during these trying times. Your Team members still have children, family members, school, and additional work to attend to, so respect their time. It’s acceptable for these events to run long if everyone’s having fun, but in the planning phases try limit your happy hour to exactly that, an hour.
Be Creative and Fun
While this may come as a shocker, the people you work with have lives, interests and passions outside of work! Exploring these dimensions of your co-workers is possible (even over a Zoom call) in the right environment. Without the physical context of bar or restaurant, you can encourage these relaxed norms in other ways.
4. Keep it Casual - Remember, this is not a work function, and cultivating interpersonal relationships requires an entirely different set of environmental etiquette. If someone needs to discuss matters of business, politely request them to move the discussion to a private conference or save it for work hours. Don’t enforce a dress code and play energetic lounge music in the background to create a fun, relaxed mood.
5. Prepare Activities – Sometimes even co-workers have trouble starting conversations, so keep some ice-breaking activities on hand just in case. There are a variety of games from the Jackbox Party Pack that can be played over videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and game-based social networking apps like Houseparty that will do all the legwork for you. If you’re looking for a free alternative, I’ve included a link to a PDF filled with puzzles, trivia and riddles at the bottom of this document.
6. BYOB - Like any other happy hour event, social lubricants should be allowed. The aim is to create a relaxed environment where no one minds if someone drinks (but no one is encouraged to chug liquor like a college fraternity pledge). As with all things, enjoy yourself, but in moderation!
Be visible, vocal, and above all, human
The dynamics of talking during an in-person social gathering are completely different when compared to a virtual meeting. Some of your coworkers or employees may feel self-conscious commanding the attention of everyone in attendance every time they want to speak. However, by committing to creating a safe and relaxed environment with your colleagues, their comfort with one another will grow.
7. Be seen – The subject of whether to be seen on camera in a conference is a controversial one, but in a low-stakes situation like this, I’d encourage you to have your camera turned on. Humans are interpersonal beings, and when we can see each other’s faces we are more emotionally empathetic and engaged. Presenting yourself on camera may be a little uncomfortable, but if everyone commits to keeping their camera on, no one person will ever feel singled out.
8. Share – Be open and willing to sharing pastimes and positive life events. This help play up your fun-loving nature and will make your colleagues more interested in who you are as a person. However, it is important to walk the fine line between personal and professional. This isn’t the time or place to voice complaints or gossip about your coworkers. Keep the conversation light and bring up topics many may share an interest in such as music, Netflix shows, current events, sports, etc.
9. Include Everyone - Holding center stage in a conference might not come as natural to some as it will to others. Often, teleconferencing conversations can be dominated by one or two people at a time–however, asking questions to less vocal members of the team can really help shift discussions away from the outspoken few and encourage participation from everyone. Having games that require team-wide participation can also really help break the ice.
Given our current circumstances, A virtual happy hour is a viable alternative to in-person team building activities. Organizing these events can seem daunting at first. However, strengthening interpersonal relationships amongst co-workers not only boosts morale, but may contribute to maintaining a positive and friendly work culture.
If you’d like some inspiration for initiating your own virtual happy hour at work, you can download the Happy Hour Presentation I created for our company’s first happy hour. This document works exceptionally well with Zoom conferences. Simply maximize the PDF on your device’s screen and then turn on screen sharing.
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