For those of us who typically work in an office, a coffee refill or water break can help build social bonds—and provide an opportunity to refresh our minds and shift gears between projects. At your home office, however, there’s no fortuitous crossing of paths, overhearing of conversations, or general “Water Cooler” chat.
Though that can improve focus, it can also be isolating. And without the in-person social cues in an office, it's easy for the hours to tick by at home without taking a break from your work.
To add some humanity to a new remote culture, here are eight tips from the field:
1. Set up a virtual water cooler. Establish a drop-in Zoom room, Slack channel or Google Hangout for staff to drop in on when they need a break and want some interaction. You might use this space as your beginning or end of day check in space with your team, to encourage participation, and get conversations started.
2. Offer internal presentations. At AACRAO last week, Associate Executive Director and teleworking pro Tom Green led AACRAO’s monthly “Lunch and Learn” teleconference to share tips and tricks for teleworking. The presentation was a light lift for Tom—just a few slides—but it gave staff an opportunity to share technical fixes, address logistical challenges, and commiserate about teleworking amidst family and pets. It was well-attended and well-received.
3. Create an online kitchen. Does your physical office have a break room or kitchen where people generally eat? Do your team building and morale activities often center around food? Create a zoom room for lunchtime conversation. Or add a slack channel where people can swap their best quarantine recipes and share their lunch pics.
4. Start a book club. Many of us have piles of books waiting for the time to read them. Now might be the time to share a great culture-building or professional development book with your team, and schedule a video call in a couple weeks for discussion. (Also, join AACRAO's Book Club.)
5. Host a remote happy hour. The Japanese have named this new coronavirus-inspired pastime on-nomi – or オン飲み in Japanese, which literally translates to “drinking online.” Using Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom video conferencing, participants “meet” at a prearranged time and toast from their couches with a beverage of choice and shed the week’s stresses by sharing their stories over coffee or a cocktail. Here are some tips for successful hosting.
6. Get good at textese. Messaging becomes a crucial communication tool in a remote setting, so it’s important to wield it with skill. Whether you use Google chat, Jabbr, or Slack, instant messages can be dry and easily misread. You might not be a fan of the emoji, but when you're chatting with colleagues via instant message, images and GIFs allow you to express yourself in a more nuanced way. Just keep it SFW!
7. Establish a virtual bulletin board. Give staff a place, such as a Slack channel, to share non-work-related stuff, personal updates, and photos.
8. Join a fitness challenge. Social distancing and emergency measures have closed gyms and made exercising more challenging for many. Consider asking the office fitness fans to arrange a fitbit challenge or use apple watch stats to stay connected and motivated. AACRAO uses an app called Incentfit for this kind of staff engagement.
Whatever forms of virtual connection you choose, weathering this crisis together will make you more effective and will influence your overall office culture in the future. Ultimately, you know your institutional culture and your team. Choose something that works for both.