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COVID19: Paradoxically, working apart is bringing us closer together

Jim Galligan, Creative Director - JK Design


Your company might be like ours and everyone who can work from home is working from home.

And maybe you’ve begun to experience the same surprising thing—as we’ve spent the last couple of weeks working apart, we’re becoming closer in new and unexpected ways.

At work we laugh, and collaborate, and share stories about our personal lives, but now we’re transported into each other’s homes through broadband internet connections.

Our kids are wandering through meetings, our pets are demanding to know who we’re talking to, and our living rooms, home offices, and apartment bedrooms are on display for the whole team to see.

And as all of this is happening, we’re building valuable new connections.

So let’s look at a few creative ways you can nurture these new connections to help your team navigate through these unprecedented times and maybe even come out the other side stronger.

Show your cats

We had a meaningful moment in our home-bound Google Chat when George, our Executive Creative Director, posted a picture of himself holding up his cat. What followed was thread full of other cats, a Poodle, a Corgi, a Lhasa Apso, and even a giant teddy bear held up by a petless teammate who wanted to get in on the fun.

It was a spontaneous act by George, but an important example for leaders to follow, because in that moment he signaled to the group that we should open up to each other, let down our guards, and make the best of the situation.

So maybe it’s showing your pets, or mildly inappropriate coffee mugs, or musical instruments, but leading through example and sharing another side of yourself can give your team permission to open up and connect in new and meaningful ways.

Goof off as a group

Goofing off can actually be good for business. When done in moderation, it’s essentially micro-teambuilding, a chance for co-workers to indulge in interests that might not directly help the company’s bottom line, but definitely strengthens important social ties in your team.

This kind of spontaneous togetherness can be in short supply under the current conditions, so our team has been creating some virtual goof off sessions that allow us to take a few minutes to get together and have a little off-topic fun. Participation is completely optional—our people can take a pass or join right in if they need to blow of some steam.

We have a lot of musicians on our team, so we recently held a Heavy Metal Riff Challenge on Google Meet. Everyone was invited to play their favorite hard rock riff and then teach it to the group. If you didn’t want to play, you could just watch the whole thing unfold. It was equal parts fun, awkward, and interesting, and just the kind of social outlet our people need right now. It felt great.

Who knows what’s next—a Cribs-style house tour, or a quick team nature hike using our phones, or a five-minute cooking lesson—but we’re going to make goofing off as a group part of how we stay together as a team.

Learning together

Another way to stay together is to learn together.

While webinars are typically a solitary experience, we’re making them a team sport. We’re asking our people to suggest an interesting webinar, and then we pick one for everyone to watch together. Anyone who has the time and the interest can take part, but it’s not mandatory.

After the webinar, a designated moderator from the team hosts a roundtable on Google Meet where we compare notes, discuss what was most interesting, and talk about how what we’ve learned can be applied to our work.

We’re also letting our people host lunch-and-learns on a weekly basis. Whether it’s sharing an interesting new approach to how we work, going over the guts of a good business book, or sharing stories that inspire, we give a teammate the floor and then follow it up with a good discussion.

Not only are these a great way to harness the collective intelligence of the team, they are also a wonderful social opportunity, another chance for us to see each other’s faces while we share ideas and plan for a smarter future.

Staying well

Perhaps the greatest benefit of fostering these connections is to keep your people healthy—mentally.

We’ve all been thrown into the deep end together, and helping your people to stay afloat in these strange times requires more than adopting the right video meeting platform or rethinking your internal comms strategy. It requires locking arms and supporting each other as a team.

When you create new opportunities for your people to connect, you create new opportunities for them to laugh it off together, to share their experiences, and to encourage each other through these anxious days. It provides a vital outlet where they can learn, bond, and blow off some steam.

At least that’s how we’re approaching it. There are no right answers, but with so many questions out there right now, we want our people to have the benefit of each other’s wisdom and the comfort of each other’s company as we face an uncertain future, together.


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