Bringing Colleagues Together One Year into WFH

Events and Initiative ideas for when your team is burnt out

This post is the first in a series about how to bond with your colleagues and build a culture of togetherness through events, employee experience techniques and transitioning from physical to virtual back to physical office life.

I’ve been an Office and Events Manager in Silicon Valley for over 7 years and seeing humans lit me up in a way I didn’t realize until after it was moved to faces on screens. Like many things we have had to adjust to in the last year, not seeing humans in IRL is up there for many.

As a Senior Office Manager here at Medium (yes, I work here!), the Nikki of 2019 would power walk around the office, clipboard in one hand and a half open laptop in the other, chatting with colleagues throwing inside jokes across the way (missing that open floor concept right now!) while getting a mild workout because my job was everywhere but my desk. It was out there, in the office, with my friends and colleagues having spontaneous conversations and connecting on projects and frivolities that had nothing to do with apocalyptic like scenarios.

TLDR; My job is a professional “find ways to make people happy in subliminal ways” from the subtleties of feng shui, interior design, floor planning, team building, event throwing, new hire experience and all things physical office space and snacks! Gotta have those snacks!

Things are different now… There is no office to meet and bump into each other and read body language like we used to. Which is why finding ways for employees to connect is more important than ever and yet tougher than ever. Burnout is real and the inevitable Zoom happy hour may not be cutting it 1 year into that work from home life.

So, whether you are an Executive Assistant, an Office Manager, an Admin or you manage a team or just basically miss getting your colleagues together in new and interesting ways, this post is for you. And all the posts I will be putting out after that. Because I am just like you, pivoting my role for pandemic life (that keeps getting extended!) and experimenting along the way.

When we share, we can all win ❤

Ideas to add to your Arsenal

My advice this round is the focus on low lift items for you and your team. Because with one year under our belt, people are tired. And the same techniques that were working in May 2020 may not work in 2021. So let’s explore some ideas together to see what might fit your teams bonding needs at this juncture…

Recreating Office Delights

Snail Mail
Back in the day when I was new to being an Office Manager, I was obsessed with stationary and writing accessories and channeled that indulgence into getting coworkers to write special notes to each other. Can you imagine going to the bathroom only to walk back over and find a special note on your desk? Talk about wholesome joy.

So how can we translate that intangible delight in our virtual world?

  1. Thought: What if every coworker at your company (or even a small group to start) was sent stationary and stamps and given the name of someone NOT in their department to send a letter to? You could even share prompting questions or ideas to get the letter started for those that don’t know where to begin!
  2. And what happened to the group card? With all the miniature hand written notes all squeezed into the tiniest space? Whether it was someone’s last day, anniversary, birthday, or a pet died, or they were going through something just plain awful!? Passing the card from desk to desk in secret so that special person didn’t know anything about it… If your coworkers are dispersed and you want to recreate that feeling, look no further than GroupGreeting! The digital version of group support from your coworkers, delivered to their email with the aesthetic of group love ❤.

Large Scale Events/Meetings: Zoom Breakout Rooms

Zoom can be intimidating. So much functionality when sometimes all you want to do is just hop into a meeting and see and hear someone. But let me tell you, those levers and pullies can be so worth it when it comes to large meetings and events. The one feature that is really greasing my work wheels right now is the: Zoom Breakout Room.

This feature allows a larger body of people that are part of a meeting/event to break out into smaller groups. It is a way to create those private conversations that can usually be had in person when you bump into people in the office kitchen or in line for the bathroom at an event.

To prep this idea in advance, pull a list of all people at your company (or those that will be attending said event) and be sure to have each person’s name and department/company/location etc. Create evenly sized group clusters (if there are 100 attendees, do 20 groups with 5 people in each group). Then add those names into group when doing the backend Zoom setup. This will need to take place before the event/meeting/all hands begins.

Ways this can be used: Sweeping people away for brainstorms or problem solving prompts. It can be used in a party scenario where people are spontaneously brought together to mingle, play a game, answer a trivia question, you name it!

We will get in deeper in an upcoming post so we can tackle the brainstorming and logistics sides of using this feature!

Virtual Cafe

At the beginning of the pandemic so many employees expressed sadness for their quite lonely ritual of making coffee at home by themselves. When it used to be their daily office kitchen dance with coworkers before moseying on over to their desk to start the work day. Even the sound of kitchen clatter was missed… who knew!

Hence, the Virtual Cafe.

An opportunity to create a recurring (or spontaneous) invite at the same time each week where there is light music and people casually make their morning breakfast and beverage with their camera on. It sounds weird, but it’s not, I swear!

This is a low lift event that brings joy. As you never know who will show up to the “virtual cafe” or what kind of music might inspire the day! Also, ambient noise, I know some nomadic workers are missing their cafe time as well. This Spotify playlist is my favorite for easy cafe listening.

Add an extra layer of fun by having employees send over their favorite songs ahead of time so you can compile them into a playlist!

Outsourcing Fun

Manhattan Zodiac

I want to give a callout to the best virtual event I went to in 2020 called: Manhattan Zodiac who host the most educational cocktail (and mocktails!) making classes. They will even send you a kit of all the utensils you will need to prep your cocktails. Could this be your next team event? Perfect for joining existing events or requesting a private event.

Also, Thriver put out a compilation of initiatives in honor of Employee Appreciation day!

Humans and Food

You love food, I love food, who doesn’t love food! So how can we make employee lives easier by supplementing out one of their daily tasks? The answer? Food. Food in all the ways!

Food Gift cards

Grocery Shopping: Take grocery shopping off of their to do list! A food gift card or stipend (cadence and budget is a consideration) This can be a grocery delivery service like Instacart or something that is local to said coworker. I know larger grocery store chains will offer delivery services as well!

Meal Kits: Purple Carrot, Sun Basket, Blue Apron, Daily Harvest, Freshly, etc! Let the parents or any employee choose which service they would like that fits their dietary needs!

Take Out: Let’s take things even further, allow parents/employees to stay out of the kitchen entirely with a gift card through a food delivery service like: Seamless or Doordash.

These food options can be part of event offerings, competitions and initiatives. This may not work for all companies due budgetary needs, however, perfect for one-off thank you’s.

For the Kids

I want to give a shoutout to this Mom and Pop business, Sunniepress which creates mystery adventure maps for kids! It is a perfect way to get your kids off the screen and not jumping on you during your Zoom presentation. Awkward!

Days off

After talking to several friends from other companies, a practice we keep seeing more often than not is that offices are doing “personal team off days.”

It can be tough for an employee to ask for time off when the initial reaction might be: Why do you need time off when you aren’t traveling anywhere and/or leaving your house?

Whether you are in a position to propose this ask to your manager or team, request that 1x Friday a month be given off to all those on your immediate team. This way everyone is away from their computer and the residual stress of wondering if you are getting emails or messages will be curbed knowing no one is at their computer.

Another angle to try if this isn’t an option for your team is having a designated “no meeting” day. A day for teammates to get caught up without worrying about virtual screen time, which we all have come to realize, can be draining.

Your team will thank you ❤

Note: These ideas and concepts come from my experience across a multitude of career paths and are opinions based on that lived experience, not just my current role at Medium.

Would love to hear what your company has been up to since the pandemic started! What are ways you are all connecting that you weren’t before? Are you a parent? What is helping, what is not helping? Please share in the comments! Can’t wait to connect with you :)

I like things that sparkle in an obnoxious kind of way. Life is short, make it fun. Book coming Q1 2022