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How to deal with being away from colleagues

This crisis has led to some really creative solutions to deal with being away from the office and colleagues. The website “The Sound of Colleagues” for example, plays the background office noise of people, the coffee machine, the phone ringing, keyboard tapping… We offer more tips for you to cope with being away from your colleagues.

But I guess we all agree that it’s not only – or maybe for some even the least – the sound effects of the office that we’re missing. It’s the informal conversations, the random social interactions that keep us motivated, engaged and often lead to new productivity breakthroughs. But where’s the water cooler chitchat, where are the coffee corner conversations when you’re only meeting for rigorously planned work Zoom meetings? With this restrain on the company’s social life, culture and collaboration – and ultimately motivation and productivity – will suffer.

But there are some things we can do!

  • Apples and Onions
    A Gartner survey reveals that 32% of organizations have introduced new tools for virtual meetings during Covid-19 – but as we concluded before, having a tool for connection doesn’t equal having a personal connection! We need to make social interaction a part of your regular check ins – by adding social banter to our formal teamwork meetings and stand ups for example. By playing apples and onions, sharing an apple – a positive – and an onion – a negative – of our workweek with each other.
  • Fika – Merienda – Asrooneh
    At Panion, we implemented a regular fika/ merienda/ asrooneh – a tea time get-together, a simple recurring video-call invite, during which – everyone of course bringing their own tea or coffee – we talked about literally anything: we shared recipes, our home workout routines or how we annoyed the people we were in quarantine with that day. These can be virtual coffee breaks and happy hours, but also birthday celebrations or other rituals you and your team have – and the good part is, all employees are now equally involved though a screen.
  • Colleague matching
    Which can also be a great advantage. We have to find new ways to connect with our colleagues – but we can do so equally with anyone in the company, no matter where they work. At Buffer for example, all new hires get matched with a different colleague every week to get to know someone new – often someone who they don’t work with directly. And during an office day, the entire Buffer team once did a personality test to learn more about themselves and their fellow teammates. Now, you don’t have to go so far to analyze people’s whole personality – tools like Panion for example connect like-minded employees – the colleague you would have bonded with at the office over their coffee mug from your favorite sports team, is now a match based on this common interest in your online community.
  • Lead by example
    Gartner’s survey also found that 40% of organizations have set up additional virtual check-ins for employees with their managers – and I think that’s pretty amazing! We need to be even more intentional leaders these days – by creating additional informal 1:1 communication opportunities, checking in more often to catch up on recent developments and to show appreciation and care! Through bi-directional, proactive and transparent communication we can understand what our remote colleagues need, but also share our own experiences.
  • Trust
    Because Leading by example also means to be transparent and vulnerable. To share your best practices, but also to be open about where we are struggling – creating a culture of transparency, vulnerability and trust. Trust is a key element when it comes to working remotely. Of course, external-discipline, applied though deadlines for example, is important – but we all need to develop self-discipline when working in the privacy of our own homes, the coffee store around the corner or if we’re lucky enough at our summer house. And we all have to trust our colleagues to always have the best intentions, that they put in their best efforts. In such an environment, we all will feel empowered and raise questions and concerns when they arise – and reach out when we need help.
  • Put it on the agenda!
    And last but not least – Put it on the agenda! During Covid-19, remote work was improvised – no one had prepared for this. Now we need an actual long-term remote working strategy that includes the social life of our companies. A cultural shift is needed that requires more corporate trust and greater employee responsibility than ever before. Ask yourself: Is there a clear, shared corporate vision everyone understands and shares? Are the rules of the game of working remotely clear to everyone? If your employees are excited about the company’s vision and understand the reasoning and rules behind being distributed, both employees and the company will profit immensely from remote working opportunities.

Ad-on: Tips, Tricks – and Tools

Through conversations with friends and colleagues about remote work, I gathered a lot of recommendations of good tools to keep the social life of your company fun and engaging:

  • Habit by Reclaim.ai auto-blocks time on your calendar for your regular habits like networking, lunch or exercise
  • Cafecito books 30-minute networking coffee-chats with like-minded remote folks
  • Watercooler is like a Clubhouse for your office where you can catch up socially with your colleagues
  • Virus Cafe is a remote friend-matching tool with a firm rule against small talk
  • Panion.com is a community building tool that brings employees together based on common interest
  • Mistro.io offers and organizes perks and benefits for distributed teams
  • Skribbl.io is a free multiplayer drawing and guessing game.
  • WatercoolerTrivia builds culture, one trivia contest at a time.

And Local Globe & Latitude has put together this extensive working document with tons of resources and tips around remote work – definitely worth checking out!  

Thanks Johanna Baare for sending in this guest post! And don’t forget to check out Johanna’s previous blogpost: How to support your remote working company’s social life

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