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January 17, 2022 11:28 PM   Subscribe

How to keep up an actual esprit de corp among teammembers when your work life is virtual?

I work in an IT department and we are EU-based however the company is multi-national. When the world was "normal" we all sat together in the corporate headquarters, talked, joked, had lunch, etc. Felt like we knew each other and generated a feeling of mutual trust that paid off in our working relationship. Now, 2 things have changed: 1) 100% virtual work so our meetings/chats/etc. are via MS Teams and 2) we have adopted Full Blown Agile so we are in "Competence Centers" and then work within an IPL/ART (so "live and grow" within 1 group, and "work" within another).

Both of these changes, I feel, have completely separated and isolated the entire department. There is no life in any of the "social" Teams channels, all meetings are quick, efficient, and to-the-point, we had 1 live social event last year when our country was more open and it was great to see each other, but then no follow up, no photos posted, or group chats, etc.

One head of dept. mentioned that since Full Blown Agile he is not sure where this "social" type of responsibility lies. "I'm now your Release Engineer, not your day-to-day manager...." but we interact professionally with him much more than our day-to-day manager.

Really long winded now, sorry - but my question really is: If you have worked in this type of preCOVID-working-together-now-COVID-working-virtually environment how have you maintained any sort of team spirit or social interaction?

I had, and proposed, an idea for a new type of hire - an internal social host-type. A person that gets conversations started, posts photos and small entertainment. Basically a super-social, life-of-the-party-but-at-work type that can get us engaged. Does this sound familiar, or even feasible to you?
posted by alchemist to Work & Money (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My boss makes us do a daily video-on huddle on Mondays, and then we do voice-only huddles the rest of the week first thing. Someone is picked and has to say how they're feeling, something personally interesting, what they're working on that day/week, and what help they need from the team, then picks another person to go. My boss always goes last and wraps up the meeting. No-one exactly enjoys these things but they definitely make it easier to ask for help and to know each other - so and so baked a cheesecake, that person got a new game, someone went cycling somewhere cool etc. My boss models being vulnerable about negative feelings and problems so it's not all chipper either.

We also have a budget to do group online activities every quarter, we have monthly learning sessions where it should be something NOT directly work related, and monthly division wide video meetings where we all recap projects. Other people in the division do the social engagement stuff you mention for the entire company - it's a full-time job for several people for a large company. Depending on the size of your company, getting this as a job title/KPI with time and budget for someone is worthwhile. You need someone to organise activities and schedule people and send out guidelines and reminders to managers.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:53 AM on January 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm not really looking for group-level social interactions at work. My worst nightmare would be a forced whole-team sharing thing. I skipped every single "fun" teams call & zoom quiz, when that was a thing at my workplace while covid was still new.

But, I do have a few friends at work. Given that we don't see each other in person, I call them one-to-one to catch up, & use IM to stay in touch in between times. I have a little group chat with three of my old team from a previous role, and we schedule a call every month or so. Those DIY arrangements are a much better fit for me.

When you all worked in the same building, I guess you didn't need a corporate social organiser to tell you to have lunch together - you decided to do that all by yourself. Same thing still applies - you can use some work pretext to call the people that you like to talk to, & then stay on the line to chat. Or just say hello, how was your weekend? on IM. You don't need your employer's permission.
posted by rd45 at 2:55 AM on January 18, 2022 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi, just to clarify my question, I am only looking for help with how to elevate our team spirit as a collective of people. How we deal with our personal interactions at work is not quite what we need help with. So, I *am* looking for ideas or information regarding group-level social interactions in a professional setting while we are working apart. Thank you. /thread-sitting-over
posted by alchemist at 5:05 AM on January 18, 2022

Just letting you know that I love you idea of "new type of hire - an internal social host-type"!
posted by Oli D. at 5:22 AM on January 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is an idea from pre-covid times, when everyone was in the office. And it worked well in a fairly relaxed, friendly, small company. But I loved it and it might work remotely too..

At the end of every Friday afternoon there was a show-and-tell. No compulsion on anyone to show anything. And those that did migh show something they’d done at work (in-progress, a breakthrough they were proud of, a little admin improvement that made things better, whatever), or else something they’d done outside of work (something they’d made as part of a hobby, or whatever). Occasionally peoples’ friends might stop by and might show something they’d done (at their work, or at home) to the company.

Again, no compulsion, no quality bar, anything goes. Anyone who wanted to show something would email the organiser earlier in the day, so they knew roughly how much time might be needed. Some weeks there might be one or none, that’s ok.

But everyone would stop work, maybe grab a beer (it was the UK, if that makes a difference) and sit and watch. Then back to desks for the last half-hour or hour of the day, to finish up.

It was a great way to (a) show off things you were pleased with that might otherwise not be noticed (it’s not a Major New Product Feature), (b) show off things to people in bits of the company that might otherwise not be aware of them, or (c) learn about some peoples’ interests outside of work.

Like so many things, it wouldn’t be as nice over Zoom, but I can imagine it still being good with the right kind of company and people.
posted by fabius at 5:46 AM on January 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My agile team dedicates 15 minutes at the end of our Friday standup to sharing recommendations. They can be anything - TV shows/movies, books, recipes, museum exhibits, whatever. No one is forced to include one, and it's at the end of the meeting so people can drop if they want. It's become a lot of fun (often extends beyond the allotted time!) and it's helped build some team spirit among an all-remote group. Plus, I've gotten to learn more about my teammates, so it's evolved into lots of little personal sidebar conversations when I see something I think someone else will appreciate.
posted by writermcwriterson at 8:05 AM on January 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We changed our weekly meeting to daily. It’s not very efficient, two hours weekly to an hour or sometimes more daily. But we don’t get to business right away, we spend some time joking around and talking about personal things, generally griping about traffic, our shitty computers or whatever, and kind of set a more informal and diametrically opposite of robert’s rules type atmosphere. That helps.

Also we opened a text string just for silly stuff and non-work chatting. Theory: people do make connections even online-only. We have mefi, lots of people have other forums where they get to know the regulars. Some turn into occasional IRL meetups, some don’t. Some people don’t participate much and that’s fine. But it has to be ok to not always be “professional” and serious. (Standards of acceptable behavior as a human always apply)
posted by ctmf at 8:09 AM on January 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I manage two small IT teams. I added a second weekly meeting, so now every Tuesday & Thursday morning at 10:00 we meet in MS Teams for an hour. We certainly don't have twice as much work stuff to discuss: I wanted there to be more space for people to talk about...whatever they need to.

Not much overlaps between the two groups, so we often polish off the project updates quickly. Then the floor is clear, and the guys have shared personal stuff, COVID news (we live in two states with different policies/laws), office gossip, commuting-versus-WFH plans, and more.

We were fairly loose before, but I think this helps them stay connected to each other. I usually lead the conversation with something off-topic, and they seem happy to have a space to talk that's not "whoever they share their house with 24/7."
posted by wenestvedt at 10:58 AM on January 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is in the context of a small 5-week summer camp for high school students, so it may not be perfect advice for your situation, but we had a general coordinator-person on staff who helped with basic technical stuff (making sure people had the software we wanted installed, troubleshooting Zoom issues so us teachers could go on teaching), scheduling and reminders to students and staff, and the responsibility for social aspects of the program. That part came mostly in the form of games that were easy to jump in & out of in an online setting, scheduled (and always optional) during down times in the day or on weekends.

Games that worked well for us were things like Jackbox, Codewords, Among Us, and on the weekends sometimes the students themselves would end up setting up longer puzzle sessions (which I don't know the names of right now, but could probably find if you were interested). It worked for us to make one or two really short sessions mandatory and then people tended to go from their and organize their own with each other, with the help of the support staff person if they wanted to send invites to everyone or have help setting up the Zoom/tech side.
posted by augustimagination at 12:21 PM on January 18, 2022

Best answer: My department is doing a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser. Once we hit our funding target, we get to build a house (build a house!!) as a team, which will then be sold to a family looking to move out of rental precarity.

I know nothing about carpentry and am scared of heights, but to me, this is much much better than zoom happy hour because we're working together to create something tangible for our city. And because the build will be mostly outdoors, we can do it in person and have a chat while hammering/maybe have beers after.

If there is anything like that in your country, consider looking into it as a group-level social/team building activity. Ten thousand times better than show-and-tell on zoom (I have done those too, and would rather poke my eyes out than do another).
posted by basalganglia at 5:41 PM on January 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Basically a super-social, life-of-the-party-but-at-work type that can get us engaged. Does this sound familiar, or even feasible to you?

Honestly, that sounds like a lost chapter of Dante's Inferno, detailing an as-yet-unrevealed ring of hell, to me.

I may be an outlier here, but since my own workplace has gone permanently virtual, I actively avoid the optional "zoom happy hour!" and "let's just connect!" -type gatherings. I didn't particularly love meetings with icebreakers or social-bonding exercises when we worked in person. Now that I'm working from home all the time, and I can focus the majority of my work time on actually doing the work I'm being paid to do, the last thing I want to do (or worse, to be compelled to do) is go around the (zoom) room and listen to people talk about what they did over the weekend.

Don't get me wrong - I'm pleasant with my coworkers, and they're by and large nice people who are pleasant with me. There's just no desire on most of our parts to go much deeper than "pleasant".

Nobody in my work group, or among my customer base, really minds that I do not participate in team bonding stuff. I'm not the only one who feels that way in my group, although there are several folks that do and who legitimately enjoy it, so maybe we're just wired differently. Our team seems to function just fine without the overarching social-glueness of team building type activities, and I would honestly look a bit sideways at someone whose primary or even secondary role in my workgroup was to enhance social cohesion.

My relationship with my workgroup, and with my customer base, is on the whole a positive one. I get compliments about my work (both quality and in project communication/soft skills), all while I rarely if ever tell people much of anything that happens to me outside work. Maybe I'm the outlier, but I've done well in my career (25+ years and counting) without being (or needing) super-social interactions with coworkers. I am very much a "let my work speak for me" type of person, and as such, I put a lot of energy in making sure my work speaks well of me.

All that is to say, please keep in mind that not everyone needs or enjoys the social-bonding parts of work, so as you think about what to do to improve that, remember that improving it for you might well mean making it unpleasant for others.
posted by pdb at 7:56 PM on January 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

pdb: ...not everyone needs or enjoys the social-bonding parts of work,...

AMEN. I'm still grumpy about being called up as a subject for the effing quiz show game, appearing at the end of a mandatory team-building event in a got-damned Dave & Buster's, that we couldn't leave, even though I hate noise and video games and arcades and malls and people.

And I had already worked with all of them for a decade, and have for a dozen more years: I just don't want to play with them.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:59 AM on January 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi! Again, if this is not for you, or not how you work or prefer to interact - that's fine. However that is *not* what I am asking about, and your post here about "hate this SO much" will not be changing my mind about seeking this information. Please respect the question. Thank you very much.
posted by alchemist at 2:07 AM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

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