Hopefully you’ve identified rituals for your “commute” and have set up your space in a way that’s conducive to work. But how do you go from turning around and asking your colleague a question to communicating and collaborating in a much more…intentional way?

The virtual “turn around” (🎶bright eyes🎶)

If you work on a team that’s used to being largely in person together (or in clusters), working from home is going to hit you pretty hard. There are a number of ways to create a virtual space for communicating off-the-cuff, from low-bandwidth to high-bandwidth:

  • Team chat/Slack/etc… you may already have one, but if you’ve been working in an office setting, your group chat has likely languished. Revitalize it!
  • Create a social channel for your team on Slack/IRC/etc… it’s tempting to only communicate for work, but you socialize with your team as well. Make a space for pet pictures, articles, survival tips.
  • Schedule a q&a meeting every day, or a few times a week, have a 30 minute meeting dedicated to asking the questions that pop up. This does require some attentiveness – write down your questions and bring them to the meeting.
  • Create a stable video call (Hangouts Meet, Zoom, etc…) that people can drop into when they’ve got a question, or even when they just want company.
  • Hang out virtually with your colleagues all day on a video call! Don’t turn that video off. STARE DOWN YOUR COLLEAGUES ALL DAY.

Which to choose depends entirely on your team’s habits and personality, but make sure you’ve got buy in from the whole team. It only works if the team is on board!

Making virtual meetings not suck

Let’s face it, many of us only tolerate meetings in the best of times. Believe it or not, virtual meetings can actually be better than in-person ones. However, it takes some work.

First, do you really need that meeting? If you can’t set an agenda or have a clear goal (and that goal can definitely be something like “reduce social isolation”) then it’s an email waiting to happen – and probably always was. Or, if it’s a working session, consider just setting up dedicated time on the calendar to work on project x, and don’t make people join a meeting at all. Your team members are adults; you don’t need to see them working to know that they are.

If you’re going full steam ahead with a video call, lay down some ground rules. You’re going to have a bunch of isolated folks eager to talk. Have one person lead the meeting, and it’s got to be someone who will keep track of the agenda and time. Navigating participation will be a bit harder. You can go full out formal and make people raise their hands to talk, or you can have the meeting lead make sure that everyone has their voice heard. Their favorite phrase may become “I believe that Wonder Woman was saying something; let’s go back to her.” Finally, have a rotating note-taker. Having concrete notes makes it easier for people whose connections drop, or who can’t make the meeting.

You’ll note that those recommendations are just as applicable to in-person meetings as they are to remote ones. That’s by design! These habits are good to get into in general.

Combating isolation

As I mentioned, work isn’t just about getting stuff done; it has a social aspect as well. If your colleagues are following the recommendations at staythefuckhome.com, then they’re going to be combating social isolation. Manufacture some excuses to not talk about work. Here are some ideas:

  • Start a costume contest with household items (h/t Amanda Casari)
  • Hold serendipity calls where you talk about random topics, like what you’d do if aliens landed (h/t Megan Byrd-Sanicki)
  • Create a team book club, but with topics (Pluto, the color green, dinosaurs, salt versus sugar)
  • Eat lunch together! Share your recipes with each other.

It’s a difficult time for many, so be aware that your colleagues may be stressed. Above all, be kind to each other.