Cam

Having someone new join the team can be a joyous affair.  Everyone goes out for drinks after work and the comradery of the team is established over some merement and joke cracking.  The next day the new person shows up at work feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves and can rely on their teammates especially in the first couple months when the learning curve is at its steepest.  That’s gone now.  2020 and in all likelihood most of 2021 is not going to be a time with that kind of scene playing out.  So what do we do?  This week Cody and I will take a look at team building during Covid, what we’ve seen work and what has fallen flat.  

I like spending time with my coworkers.  In and outside of work.  I’m lucky that I work with the type of people where that is the case.  If that’s the same for you then I hope some of the ideas I’m going to suggest take the edge off the lack of in person interactions these days.  I’ll talk about team building on three fronts.  First, individual personal relationships that everything is built off of.  Second, the team as a whole and facilitating group scale interactions.

Individual Relationships

My personal friendships with my coworkers is why I show up to work every morning instead of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  There’s no more water cooler conversations or going out for sushi at lunch.  However, we can still do the things that build up those types of friendships.  Namely spending time communicating with each other one on one.  I’ve set up weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly meetings with people whom I would normally want to spend that kind of time with.  It sounds a bit dull asking someone to block off even more of their calendar to add yet another meeting but it actually is a nice little break since you're not in “get stuff done” mode.  Also, having a small list of things you want to chat about to keep the conversation moving isn’t a bad idea either.

Teams as a Whole

There’s two ways of building up team chemistry, one is going through something fun together and the other going through something difficult.  Let's say that we can all get stressed out at work and count that towards the difficult but what about fun?  Fun in two dimensions can be somewhat challenging especially when you’re already getting zoom fatigue (see our other article here).  However, there are ways to still enjoy each other's company in two dimensions.  First, if you have a weekly team call let the chit chat happen for 5 minutes before things get going.  It’ll make people feel like people and not cogs in a machine to get the work of the day finished.  It's all about leveraging the casual nature of work from home to your advantage and not trying to force a formality where none belongs.  

Cody

Hi everyone, it's weird to be coming to you after Cameron but we decided to mix things up this week so I will be batting cleanup on this week’s blog post. This one is really interesting as there have been a huge amount of drastic changes in “team building technology.” Can you imagine if COVID had hit us earlier in the 2000s. We would be sitting at home watching….cable? I guess, I don’t really remember what we did before our hyperconnected lives. But, thankfully COVID hit at a time in our technological revolution that most of us could literally pick up our jobs and move them home (with whatever pros and cons that comes with). One of those great improvements that we have seen is the rise of virtual “team building” technologies.

Many companies have been faced with this drastic change from an “in-person culture” to this new “work from home culture” and some have flourished under these new ecosystems while some have floundered. For the companies that are struggling there are some very easy practices you can put in place to help your teams keep that cohesive bond they formed (or need to form if you are onboarding a new hire).

One of those time honored “in person” traditions is happy hour. Boiled down to its base elements, happy hour is just alcohol (or a beverage of choice) and a group of people to share it with. You can implement “virtual happy hours,” this does not mean you have to drink or even have to have any type of structure. Being able to join a call and see other familiar faces (while not talking about work) is sometimes the right amount of help you need to ensure that you are still part of a group.

If planning an activity is of interest to you then there are virtual escape rooms (which can help with employee’s problem solving and team building), virtual games and even applications like Netflix Party which allow groups to watch the same thing on Netflix while being in a chat room. Now, some of these are appropriate for during work hours and some are more appropriate for after hours. However, much like how work does not always stop at 5, your employees don’t stop being employees just because the work day is over. Planning fun events in this time when you may not be able to go out and do what you want is a great and cheap way to improve mental wellbeing of your organization.

This is especially important when you start a new company as it can be difficult to form relationships. Social events after an orientation are very common and virtual events after a virtual orientation should also be the default. The reason why this isn’t the default is due to virtual requirements. An in person orientation only requires that the person be in a room, you can withhold their login information, laptop and other things required for them to do their day-to-day job. Once you migrate to a virtual onboarding process you need to give the employee access to their laptop and credential information for them to join which means you also give them access to do their day-to-day job. I think we are all guilty of doing something like this. I know personally I have assigned work or sent emails to new hires the moment their email address is accessible. So instead of getting a group of people who are wholly focused on onboarding for a set amount of time you now have people who can become distracted with their day-to-day activities.

The main point that I think Cam and I are both trying to get across is that when forced to go from an in-person to a virtual work environment it is very easy to fall for the facade of out of sight out of mind. We are essentially separating the “person” from the “employee.” The work still gets done but we don’t think about the people doing the work. This makes it easy to forget that a huge majority of the workforce is now thrust into a new situation that almost none of them were prepared for. They lost the ability to form individual relationships, team build, and invest in those social bonds that keep a company healthy and performing efficiently. So when planning out company meetings and events for these next few months don’t make everything business oriented. Remember to invest in your employee’s wellbeing and it will pay you back in the long run.