15 Ideas for Remote Work Rituals

My most recent post on LinkedIn cross-posted here.

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In light of what is happening, creating opportunities for your distributed team to connect personally is more critical than ever. In the spirit of this, I’ve collated various work rituals from customers, friends and others to share.

Why are rituals important?

In-office teams have the benefit of natural camaraderie and human connectedness. Your colleague may talk about a fun new board game they’ve recently played while you’re having a conversation in the break room; the next thing you know, every Tuesday is Board Game night at the office.

These non-work related rituals create opportunities to strengthen team bonds, morale, communication, and connections outside of typical work interactions. In distributed teams, rituals don’t tend to form organically because there is simply less opportunity for serendipitous connection. As a result, it is critical for leaders, managers, founders and the like to be more proactive in creating opportunities for team members to connect.

Here are some ritual ideas to consider for your team

In no particular order, choose 1 or more and start doing it, regularly!

🥡 Weekly team virtual lunch – even better, fund their Doordash or handle their food orders

🖼 Share a photo of life at least once a week – it gives team members a glimpse into your life beyond work and will almost always spark some conversation. You can even make it themed each week (eg messy desk pictures)

🧘🏿‍♀️ Zoom meditation or yoga sessions – this may sound a bit crazy but the teams that we’ve spoken to that do this, love this

🎧 Live DJ on Fridays – it’s fun to just watch someone spin on Zoom as you wrap-up your week

👥 Arrange hyper-local meetups – this may only be possible if you have distributed teammates in similar regions – make sure to fund coffee, drinks or meals for them to meet on some regular cadence

🍕 Virtual brown bags – I’m sure this came with free pizza when held in the office but keep it going when virtual. It allows those who don’t normally get to present opportunities to present + you can pair it with your weekly team lunch. Also, it doesn’t just need to be about work, just have someone “Share a skill” (eg how to make sourdough bread 🙂

🎮 Gaming sessions – this might be the most obvious and I am working to aggregate some online games that are fun and team building. At Loop Team, we most recently finished, 2 Truths, 1 Lie and a virtual escape room with Puzzle Break. We’re about to start some virtual quiz/trivia games.

🔥 Wednesday bonfires – yes, that may sound crazy but we heard a team that set up a bonfire in their backyard and they do a regular virtual camping trip with their team. It’s a good opportunity to have “watercooler chat” while watching the fire.

🗣 Start some recurring meetings with ice breakers – each week, choose a new ice breaker question and lead with it. It’s a great way to learn more about teammates, especially those that work across teams that you don’t normally interact with.

🎼 Collaborative music playlists – lots of different apps to make this happen but it gives different team members an opportunity to be DJ for the day

🌅 Meme/GIF and/or Zoom background battles – it seems Instagram celebrities have also picked-up on this and custom Zoom backgrounds are now a business!

🎁 Play White Elephant – yes, this is the same game you may already play over the Christmas holidays but do it with your team virtually. Once you finish, have the gifts shipped out.

☕️ Virtual coffee chats – on Slack, you have great plugins like Donut but take this a step further and make it live. Each week randomly pair with someone you don’t work with closely that you can chat with for 15 minutes or more. It’s a great way to connect and gain empathy with other teams in your organization.

📚 Create a book club – with less commute, many of us have more time to read. Create a recurring event to chat about recent books and share.

🏅 Start a challenge – not everyone may be up for a fitness challenge but simple out-of-box challenges can be helpful each week. For example, one team recorded jumping jacks done each day.

Above is just a sampling of ideas we’ve curated from our customers and networks. The beauty of rituals are that they are unique to your team and culture and in this fully distributed environment, more critical than ever to make your team more connected.

Why Do Zoom Calls Make Us So Tired?

My most recent post on LinkedIn cross-posted here.

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With COVID 19, Zoom and web conferencing have become mission critical for enabling team members to communicate while at home. Pre-COVID, many of us already had days filled with meetings; and with COVID, the need for more face-to-face communication and daily meetings has grown (selfishly some of what we’re trying to solve at Loop Team).  With back-to-back virtual meetings, we are experiencing “Zoom fatigue” and “feeling more tired” at the end of our workdays.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen several Twitter discussions extrapolating as to why a day of video conference calls is making one feel so tired.  I don’t think there is an exact answer, but I’ve collated below some of what I’ve read, as well as some tips that I found that may be helpful.

Why Do I Feel Tired?

  1. Detailed in Nick Morgan’s book, called “Can You Hear Me?,” he discusses that in IRL (in real life), you can see people and their “body language” from head to toe, which enables you to interpret non-verbal cues including moods, feelings, reactions and more.  When virtual, you are unable to see body language nor even make proper eye contact, so your brain must work double-time to fill-in those missing non-verbal gaps.
  2. When you are physically talking to someone, you look at the person. Web conferencing tools recognized this early and pushed “speaker view” as a default experience where the speaker is enlarged.  But speaker view makes it more difficult to see your whole team and some consider this not egalitarian.  As a result, some conferencing tools offer “gallery view” also known as “brady bunch view”, but this means you now have to subconsciously process multiple people at the same time which further exacerbates the problem detailed in #1. Scientists have also given this a name – it is known as “continuous partial attention.”
  3. Extending on #2, you can’t make real eye contact when virtual. This gives a feeling of needing to be “always on” as if the paparazzi is following you.  In IRL, you know when someone is looking at you, and these intermittent breaks give you much needed moments to relax and close your eyes.
  4. Working at an office not only creates work/life separation, but it also provides for natural breaks.  Between each office meeting, you are often walking to another room which provides a few minutes before and after the meeting that help to serve as a warm-up and cool-down period.  These “watercooler” moments help ease the transition to the more demanding and focused discussions. However, virtual meetings see little opportunity for side watercooler chat due to the formal nature of conference calls and the inability to have side discussion.
  5. As alluded to in #3 and #4, our brains need frequent short naps, but the nature of virtual conferences make it challenging to find these healthy “time outs.” When virtual, every sound is amplified to the same volume regardless of whether or not you are wearing a headset. This is considered a feature, which makes sense with the varying microphone hardware across laptops and devices.  The pitfall though is that conversation audio has no depth and no conversation is private.  Everything is interruptive – you can’t zone out.

So What Can We Do?

  1. Adjust your meetings to 20 or 25 minutes, especially if your schedule is back to back. These 5 to 10 minute breaks will give you an opportunity to stand-up and have a more natural break.
  2. Schedule phone calls again. Yes, that may sound counterintuitive, but walk and talk where you don’t have to feel that you’re on camera all the time. Video use is becoming even more of a necessity to feel connection, but audio-only calls take the pressure off.
  3. Have smaller meetings. The more people in the room, the more processing you have to do and the more your brain has to work. Smaller meetings encourage more watercooler chat which provides an opportunity for your brain to decompress.
  4. Invest in an external camera and mount it to the TV. This obviously won’t work for everyone but the idea here is to have a camera that is farther away from your face so you don’t feel always on. In addition, the other party can now see the entirety of you so they can visually read when you are in and out of focus – which actually helps both sides. Of course, this won’t work if you are doing most of your calls from your PJs.

If you have other ideas and tips to help make video conference calls less mentally taxing, please share.