The number one question people have been asking as they move to remote work is not “How do I set up my Wi-Fi?” or “How do I make my kitchen table more comfortable to sit at?” No, the first thing people are saying is, “I feel so disconnected.” Or, “I feel like I’m not good at this.” Or simply, “I don’t like this.” Simply stated, people need to know how they are going to establish a feeling of community and connection.
First, please understand this is not a normal scenario of one (or several) members of a company beginning to work remote. People who have been working from home for years are also saying these weeks have been extremely distracting and disorienting.
It’s not the WFH change, and it’s not you. It’s also not forever. Life will return to normal and we need to keep that in mind.
Second, there are ways for us to create and maintain real human connections even through the distance, seclusion, and quarantine. That’s what this section is about.
While many folks (especially those of us who identify more toward the introvert end of the personality spectrum) might find WFH to be a welcome change, just as many—if not more—will miss the hustle and bustle of the office, not to mention the chance to connect with a diverse group of adults with a range of personalities, interests, and stories to share each day. For some of us with busy personal lives, the office is our only chance to interact with other adults who aren’t our immediate family.
So, what can you do to maintain a sense of connection (and let’s be honest, sanity) during this period?
- Channels on collaboration software
Whether your company settles on Microsoft Teams or Slack or Google Hangouts or some other platform, it’s a near-certainty there will be some platform you’ll be using for interpersonal chat. And the platform will support more than just one-to-one conversations, it will have the ability to create separate discussion areas (or “channels”) people can subscribe to. Therefore, here are some starter ideas of channels you can create to foster a sense of togetherness while you’re apart:
- Water Cooler Chats—talk about the normal everyday things like what your kids are up to, what video games you’re playing, shows you’re watching, etc.
- Home Tips Chats—many of us don’t have great skill in the kitchen or DIY skills for the home—as we learn new #LifeHacks, cooking skills, etc., we can have a place to share with each other.
- Parenting Corner—those of us stuck blessed at home with our little ones may be facing new challenges as both we and our mini-humans bump up against new schedules and new limitations. This is a space where we can discuss tips, share experiences, and vent (but just a little).
- Pets of <your company>—we KNOW our furry/feathered/whatever family members are the absolute best and cutest on earth, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate other people’s pets too. Introduce your pet; teach the group a training tip; tell a funny joke with your pet (or about them). The added benefit of this is to help us get used to the idea of our pets making an appearance on camera during regular meetings. And that’s OK. Non-pet owners can join the group to live vicariously through other people’s pets.
- Virtual lunch hang out or happy hours—why not have lunch with your favorite coworker from your desk? Call each other via your messaging platform or set up a semi-official meeting, so multiple people can join in for a relaxed chat.
- Celebrate successes together just as you would in the office! We can keep our spirits up by lifting each other up even from a distance.
- Send cards. You can go the ecard route or actually put a piece of paper into an envelope with an address and stamp and send it through the post office. Just like the olden days!
- Pick up the phone. Yeah, we know. You’re probably on the phone (or Slack or Teams or WebEx or Zoom, which is basically the same thing) all day. There’s a difference between calling someone to ask where the TPS report is and calling to check in and see how they’re doing. Take a moment and do the second one more than you used to.
- Find a forum. The internet is at your fingertips. Here are a few examples:
- THWACK: A wonderful (if geeky) place to start is our own thwack.com. Yes, there’s a lot of tech talk happening there. But there’s an equal amount of non-tech discussions going on if you know where to look. Ask our amazing community team about it if you need a tour around the neighborhood.
- Reddit: there’s a discussion area (officially termed a “subReddit”) for just about everything, from Anthropology to ZenHabits.
- StackExchange: While it began as a forum for programmers to ask programmer questions, it’s grown into a collection of Exchanges on a variety of topics—from specific applications like Office or Magento; to games like chess or Dungeons & Dragons; to philosophy and religion; to learning a new language.
- Consider hosting open-invitation “office hours” with an open WebEx or Teams meeting, so people can pop in and say hello or ask a question face-to-face.
- Sweat together. Admittedly, this requires a level of friendship we don’t have with just anyone. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to work out with a buddy, setting up a video chat with partner lets you cheer each other on as you squeeze out one last rep, correct each other’s form, and feel like you’re not alone. Even just a reminder to stand up and stretch now and then is useful.
- Missions. The SolarWinds THWACK forum has used missions for years to build up our community, blow off steam, and have fun together-while-separate. People at your company can do the same in big and little ways. Instead of waiting for your corporate leadership to create company-wide events and goals, within your existing messaging platform channels and communities you can also create fun goals. Examples:
- Missions to get us moving. The 30-day pushup challenge is just one example of healthy competitions we can use to get us up and moving and celebrating our successes.
- Another is a step challenge. Whether you post your progress in a team area or use a step-tracking app allowing you to share with friends, you can set a community goal to “do your steps each day” even if each person’s target number is (and, in fact, probably should be) customized to their level.
Regardless of HOW you do it, the point is to go ahead and do something. While it may go against your nature to be the first person to reach out, the reality is many of us are finding ourselves wrestling with the same emotions, the same frustration, and the same sense of inertia.
In our next post, we’ll be looking at how you balance your work life at home, and your home life at work. We all hope you’ll join us for that discussion.