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The Virtual Water Cooler

We have all experienced many changes to our daily lives over the past few months. Some are drastic and some are minor, but everyone is aware of this new normal we find ourselves in.

Those lucky enough to still have a full time job, as my colleagues and I are, have surely noticed a different rhythm to their workday. Here in Houston, a good example – and a major win- is the improved traffic. The trade off, however, is negative – no school AT ALL, countless layoffs/furloughs, and our general Stay Home, Work Safe order are all reasons drivers and commuters are staying off the road.

Our company has been successful having the majority of us work at home, as many others have. Of course, it’s not a huge leap for those of us who already sit in front of a computer all day in ‘normal’ times. The difference is that instead of being surrounded by coworkers, contractors, delivery drivers and visiting clients, we are surrounded with our home – and whoever may, or may not, be there. Screaming (and/or studying) children may be sharing our offices, or perhaps it’s just quiet. Maybe we’ve traded lunches with work friends for quiet walks with a dog begging for attention, or a cat purring on our lap in the morning instead of a working meeting at Starbucks.

Given this, it can be hard to still feel connected as a team. We are used to saying good morning in person every day; now we just jump right in to emails and virtual meetings. But there are some ways to help your team stay together; at least “together” in the socially-distant spirit.

*Weekly Company Meetings*

These have become routine for us, and it is an excellent way to update everyone with what happened during the week. It’s also a great way to “see” each other- and, while not required, web cams are strongly encouraged. Seeing tiny thumbnails of each other may not seem like a lot; but I think it makes a difference when you aren’t sitting in the same conference room. There are always people who aren’t vocal, and the camera allows everyone to participate.

As usual for our weekly updates, whether or not we are in the office, we have time at the end for shout outs. Recognizing each other for hard work can mean even more now, especially when we aren’t bumping into one another in the hallway and saying “Thanks for taking the time to help me” or “Great job!”

*Casual Lunch ‘Meetings’*

 

This was proposed by my boss and has been successful. There is a different vibe from a project discussion or a Company Update meeting, it reminds us that we are also friends. We talk about literally anything while we eat, and these are open to anyone who wants to join but are not required at all. Like the name says, “casual.”

 

*Virtual Quarterly Meeting (& Food!)*

Our Q1 Company Meeting landed right in the middle of this quarantine, and rather than skip it we decided to host a virtual one. We had the usual business portion, screen sharing presentations instead of projecting on the wall, and heard about the state of our business and the Oil and Gas industry, and how the quarter went. Normally, we would end with catered food and drinks, but this time – in an effort to make everyone smile and add a little more ‘normal’ to the meeting, we sent everyone a gift card to get some food delivered to their houses.

 

*Virtual Games*

I’m sure most of us by now have done something on the lines of a Zoom Happy Hour or a virtual hang out of some sort. These aren’t just for non-work use, however – we have had fun playing some of the many online games with our coworkers too. We looked into this for our Quarterly Meeting, to replace our normal board game nights, and found that Houseparty was a good choice for a quick, easy set up. There is a limit on the size of the ‘room’ however, so breaking up into teams is a good idea. For competition, setting up Teams and brackets beforehand is something I might recommend – the winners of each room could play in a semi-final and then a final – depending on the size of the company.

We’ve also played some games as part of our casual lunches, like Jackbox – which one person hosts on a shared computer screen, while everyone playing uses their own cell phone as a controller. There are many games available on sites like Steam, and even virtual trivia nights hosted on platforms like Discord or re-run on Youtube. The point is to have fun with your team outside of work, and if you look around there are many ways to do that!

 

 

In short, if I had only one suggestion it would be to check in with each other. Make an effort to talk about something other than work – maybe on a phone call, or in an email or text. Remember that we work together and we are also living through this new reality together, as a team. We will be back working closer together again, hopefully, but in the meantime we can still be coworkers and, sometimes more importantly, friends.nn

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