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Episode 37 - Avoiding Social Isolation in a Virtual Work Environment

How to keep employees socially connected

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Let’s face it.  Times right now are pretty stressful at best and downright scary at worst.  We’ve sent our employees home and changed the way we do business as we cope with how to keep our employees truly connected and business moving forward.  Many of our people are more focused on navigating the dangers of going grocery shopping and how to keep their kids educated and entertained.

Convey kept its office open and available to employees who wanted to come into work until we decided it was no longer safe to do so and sent everyone home to work virtually.  We’ve got a lot going on as we launch our virtual trade show, Cloud Conventions, in May so finding a plan and process to keep everyone motivated, feeling connected and staying productive has been top of mindshare.  Right now, we are all being over-webinared to death, so having a better way to stay connected is critical so we don’t just check out.

Being a veteran of the conference calling industry, as well as having run an addiction treatment program, I went back to that well of my past experience to create a plan and process for social connecting while social distancing that seems to be working for our company.  Here is our plan and process that I want to share with all of you.

We start with an 8:15 Huddle

First thing in the morning, we have a quick huddle over video conferencing that focuses more on how we are doing personally vs. what we are doing professionally.  Cameras are turned on, even though we don’t look that great in our pajamas or sweatpants and with no makeup, but we can see the environment that everyone is working in, even if their cats jump on their desk. Here are the three questions we ask our team:

  1. What did you learn about our current situation with the virus?
  2. What are you watching that you’d like to recommend to everyone?
  3. What did you accomplish personally?

The answer to the first question is designed to have us talk about the progress our country is making in the fight against Covid-19, debunk any false information, and do a reality check on how long our situation might last.

Since we are all streaming Netflix or Amazon, we can connect socially on shows that we are all watching together.  Right now, our guilty pleasure is Tiger King, a 7-part documentary about Joe Exotic and his big cat animal park in Oklahoma and his death match with animal rights activist Carol Baskin who runs the Big Cat Animal Rescue in Tampa.  This gives us a big laugh and an opportunity to talk about the bizarre story that has gripped the interest of America.  We’ll be on to the next binge-worthy show soon.  We would have talked about this live in the office and doing so virtually gives us as close to the same experience as possible.

The question about personal accomplishments keeps people focused on finding something small they can do to feel they are not just wasting away at home.  We have people share their online workouts, something new they cooked for dinner, or even attending support groups online.  Tonight, I’m participating in a virtual trivia game that our team is doing vs. going to the restaurant we owned that had to be shuttered during the crisis.

Break up the day with a virtual lunch.

The first day of our total work from home environment, we had everyone meet for lunch over video.  We got a chance to catch up socially, find out what everyone had cooked, and just hang out as we would have at the office.  We won’t do that every day, but I suggest once or twice a week as a great way to break up the day.

End the day with a 5:00 daily recap.

Our last call of the day is at 5:00 and we ask everyone to weigh in on the following:

  • What was your biggest accomplishment today?
  • What are you focusing on tomorrow?
  • Do you need any assistance from another teammate or need to collaborate with a smaller group?
  • How are you doing personally?

Asking for the biggest accomplishment makes people feel a sense of achievement and purpose.  Focusing on tomorrow gets them to start planning out the next day.  Asking for what they need from their teammates gets people to connect in smaller groups outside of the regular meetings.  And we want to know people’s concerns, fears, small victories and just how they are doing in these unusual circumstances.

Takeaways

It’s going to be very easy for all of us who are used to technology or who have worked virtually anyway to forget that we need to be mindful of the personal needs of the people we work with.  They may not seem like they are struggling to cope with our new reality, but let’s face it, we all feel a level of anxiety and perhaps fear.  If you keep people from being socially isolated, focused on their accomplishments both personally and professionally, and connected over common ideas, entertainment or activities, you’ll have a team that’s more resilient, connected, productive and happier.

Let’s face it.  We need a break from our persistent webinar environment and I challenge everyone to give this plan and process a try for just one day and I promise you’ll have some very good results.

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