Great Culture to Screen Culture
July 29, 2020 1:59 PM   Subscribe

What practices/habits can I recommend to my office to build culture in a WFH situation?

So, I know it's a cliche at this point, but my office was really fun to work at pre-covid. There were constantly donuts, happy hours, jokes, pranks, competitions, lunch trips, people working hard, people playing hard.

Now, there's... nothing. My smaller team of ~30 and my larger team of ~100 have never felt further away. I interact with people one on one a lot, but some coworkers I used to sit by and be very close with I just haven't talked to... in months.

This feels like a way I could show leadership for my team, which I have been on for a year. I would love to lead a few initiatives that are successful, and the upper management are totally on the board for trying new things. We have teams and skype. I don't think the answer to WFH culture is "just try to replicate everything from in person, but worse" and after my 10th "virtual happy hour" where nobody drinks or relaxes, I'm looking for ideas. I know there are mefi's with pre-and-during-covid experience on this topic.

What, past, or present, have you experienced that made remote work feel engaging and fun? Anything, from how meetings are run, to group activities, to even tips how to encourage communication on the dead team's channel that has us all as members. Bonus if the recommendations makes me look good for making it!!
posted by bbqturtle to Work & Money (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My boss created a no-work-talk Friday happy hour zoom. It works for this team. We (except me) drink, and we all relax.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2020

Best answer: My company has been doing this really well. We have happy hours every Thursday and just had a summer party.

At happy hour (only 30 mins) we play games. Bingo, trivia (Kahoot), and quiplash (jackbox game) have been most popular. We have also played pictionary over the whiteboard with annotation, but this worked better on zoom (we recently switched to teams).

Our party was great. We spent a couple bucks a head and planned in advance to buy some themed items (logo sunglasses, a lei, some stickers, etc) and mailed them to folks' homes so they would have a special party kit. We played the same games at our party as well. Party was scheduled out (schedule was provided in advance in the party kit so people could drop in and out if they wanted). We had a coworker do interstitial mixology sessions in between games. Also had a "talent" portion that ended up being only one guy who is actually talented who sang a couple songs from Moana and played the uke, which surprisingly was really cool and not cringe at all considering it was in a conference call with 200 people. We also had a separate free zoom line open for a "snack table area" for people who didn't want to participate in the capital P party but didn't want to be alone either just for folks to mingle. Had about 15 people dropping in and out of there.

We tried setting up a lunch hour just to drop in and hang out to replicate our in office lunch room, but it wasn't very popular so we stopped that.

These things take a lot of work but we have a dedicated group of 4 people who really enjoy organizing this stuff, and they keep it fun and fresh even now on day 140 something of remote work.
posted by phunniemee at 2:22 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I should add people are welcome and encouraged to invite family/kids into the happy hours and to the party. It helps break down the Work Time wall of still sitting in front of your work computer, and even for me who doesn't like kids much it's been entertaining to see children "help" their parents at trivia, etc. Occasionally a small child will hold up a picture they drew or something and they'll get applause from a few dozen grown ups. It's good vibes.
posted by phunniemee at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My smaller team of ~30 and my larger team of ~100 have never felt further away

We've been running audio only calls since March and realized that for as much as the prep work is obnoxious, video actually adds to the experience. We softly mandated video for 2 weeks for all work calls. Afterwards now it's optional but most people still use it. Funny "greenscreen" backgrounds, as appropriate, are also encouraged.

It's a small step but I feel that it did add a little helping feel a little more in touch with people.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2020

My boss sent everyone some face masks with our company logo on them, and one of those fancy insulated sippy-cup things with a funny phrase on it. The phrase is in two completely unrelated fonts. It's hideous and I love it deeply.

We aren't quite as close as team as you all sound, but it was sweet that she thought of us, and sent things that are timely and extremely useful. (I am drinking out of the cup right now!)
posted by kalimac at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

We tried happy hours and they kind of petered out quickly. Honestly, people are taking more time off from work than usual, we added one friday off a month and are told to work reasonable hours, so people are opting to spend time with their family instead of happy hour zooms.

I will say the app for slack called Donut is pretty fun. We use it in our larger 75 person wing of the company and it randomly pairs you with another person and figures out a time that works for a 30min chat. I don't use it to catch up with people I know real well, but instead I am in a large channel for it because I get to meet people on the other side of the company I've never met and it's been fun. Occasionally it does pair me up with someone I worked with long ago and we do catch up, and that's fun too.
posted by mathowie at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Oh one thing we've done post-COVID is go all out on someone's birthday. So we surprise them at the next meeting closest to their date, the director mails them a nice gift (often a gift cert to a nearby high end restaurant that does takeout) and then we custom prepare a 20 slide trivia quiz they're forced to take in our meeting. So if they're a baseball fan, it's a bunch of obscure trivia. If they were from Chicago, we do a bunch of Chicago trivia, etc. It's fun.
posted by mathowie at 2:52 PM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My close-knit office does a "watercooler" Zoom for about a half hour every day in late afternoon. During the workday, not a post-work "happy hour," but it is NOT to talk about work. We just shoot the shit, show off our pets, talk about the weather, recommend TV shows to each other, and sometimes chat about certain types of local news/events. Some people show up every day, some people show up once or twice a week, it's not required, but there are always at least four or five out of ~30 staff who tune in. Some days it turns out that we're find that we're all feeling a little tired and we just sympathize with each other, and some days the vibe is goofy and super chatty. It's a whole lot more like chitchatting in the office kitchen than I expected.
posted by desuetude at 3:37 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

A college friend recently did a zoom trivia evening that was actually fantastically run. Great questions, good use of breakout rooms so you didn’t need additional technology to run it, etc. I would reach out to whoever professionally runs trivia nights at bars near you and see if they’re doing this. I was really impressed with how good it was.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:25 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Before the school year ended, people in my department who were dealing with the distance learning thing had a weekly check in to share ideas, grievances, woes, and general support. I expect that will pick up again in a few weeks, it was really nice (it was especially nice for grieving the loss of things like promotion ceremonies/graduation, prom, and other end of the school year things that I usually grumble about as a parent but turned out to really miss).

About once a week we have breakout sessions where a cross section of the team gathers via video chat to go over a few high level work related things and then do a planned-ahead activity like “guess the baby picture” or “two truths and a lie” or “what are three things on your Bucket List”, and that has actually provoked a lot of really fun discussion because we don’t normally make time for that when we’re in the office, so we’re getting to know each other in new ways. Who knew Shannon only has one state to go before she’s been to all 50? Who knew Mohamed was super into high performance sports cars? It’s pretty wild!

Also we are regularly encouraged to just drop pictures of pets in the group IM, and if you are consulting by phone with a colleague and you hear their baby or pet in the background you are entitled to ask for a picture if you wish, in the interest of getting to know everyone on the call.
posted by padraigin at 6:15 PM on July 29, 2020

I've been hosting a weekly session of Jackbox games for my cow-orkers (via Jitsi Meet, because Zoom is evil). We typically go for a couple hours, starting and ending with Quiplash 2. In between, we do a mix of other games in the series. Tee K O, Trivia Murder Party, Fibbage and Split the Room are some other favorites.
posted by sourcequench at 5:00 AM on July 30, 2020

We have a daily 15 minute lunch call with no work talk. Not everyone joins every day, but we always have a few who just video chat, frequently joined by kids or pets. It's nice, short, no pressure, and casual. I like it.
posted by oryelle at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2020

My org. is having a no Zoom/no meetings August (or it should be called low Zoom). There will only be super critical meetings scheduled in August, and no meetings scheduled on Fridays, to give people a break, a chance to breath, and even to work on long term projects without interruptions.

Mr. gudrun's office does an every two week on Thursdays after work kind of happy hour/Zoom chat. People just drop in and out, and talk about tv shows and movies, pets, food, and general chat type stuff. They did not want to do it too frequently, because they have a lot of work meetings, so every two weeks seems to be working out about right.
posted by gudrun at 9:16 AM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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