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Make Remote Work Feel Human

The shift to remote work has created a watershed moment, albeit under unprecedented circumstances. What passes for normal right now for many involves WFH — working from home, while juggling pets, kids, bandwidth, technology, worries, and a constant blur of work and home. This is not what we meant by improving work/life integration for the future. Yet here we are.

But I’m seeing leaders step up to the plate in amazing ways. I’ve talked to CMOs, CEOs and executives who are facing the responsibility of remote leadership with incredible grace, compassion and ambition — to ace this new reality and bring out the best in their people. They’re providing emotional, logistical, educational and technical support, and factoring in the importance of employee experience. And given that we’re experiencing work in a virtual space, that means finding ways to brighten up the workday.

So let’s get real and bring some fun into the virtual workplace. Try these approaches to lighten up your remote meetings:

Practice Intentional Interruptions

The imposed monotony of video conferencing is starting to be a thing: we’re seeing tutorials now on challenges unique to remote working, such as how to combat Zoom fatigue. Building interruptions into remote meetings on purpose can provide a welcome reprieve and work as an ice-breaker. If you’re on an hour meeting, schedule a five-minute break so people can get up and stretch, get a snack (working at home is big on snacks), take a bathroom break, or just switch gears for a moment. Make it clear: this is a break.

Create Virtual Water Cooler Sessions

Launching into long video meetings does little to reduce the sense of social isolation that can come with remote working. We are social beings — we get energized from interactions — but digital interactions deliver a lot less than face to face. So create a water cooler session and make the talk spontaneous (leave work off the table). Some ideas gaining traction in the remote workplace now: brown bag virtual lunch hour; half-hour highlights jams to share something that happened in the week (again, not work-related); online game sessions; book clubs; kitchen table hangout rooms. These should be by choice, not mandate, or it will just feel like more work. And one hint: don’t try to bring people together with a remote happy hour. According to the Wall Street Journal, as the novelty of remote work wears off, it’s going to take more than scheduled virtual cocktails to keep us engaged.

Let Kids Crash the Meeting                                                             

Why is it more comforting to not have to banish our kids from the room when we’re on a work call? There’s nowhere for them to go. We’re on lockdown, schools are closed. Some 98,000 public schools and at least 34,000 private schools in the U.S., have switched to remote learning. That accounts for nearly 50.8 million public school students and 5.8 million private school students.  Balancing work and parenting is never easy. Now? It’s a whole new ballgame. But we’re all working together in the same location — and instead of pretending they don’t exist, it’s far better to embrace these times. So let the kids crash the meeting to say hello. It’s great for them to see other kids and see a bit of what their parents do. Think of it as a very informal “take your kids to work” day. It’s also great for us to see we’re all in this together. Consider a round-robin to say hi to each others’ kids. Then get your team back to focus on the work at hand.

Bring Your Pets to Work 

Instead of hiding the pets, show them. Pets can reduce stress levels and provide tactile connection we’re not getting during social distancing. And they remind us to see the humor in all of this. Witness Illinois meteorologist Jeff Lyons, who decided to make his cat Betty part of his daily broadcast on Channel 14. A district sales manager has been declaring his dog employee of the month for years now, with endlessly popular posts. Create a social campaign to share your pets — and if possible, bring them to the conference. We may as well give into a little playful subversion here: who hasn’t wished they could bring their dog to the next team meeting?

Invite a Goat

Another way to break up the monotony of seeing the same faces in the video call: invite a special guest to the meeting — in this case, a farm animal. A California animal sanctuary, Sweet Farm, was looking for a new way to drive revenue and stay true to their mission. They came up with the idea of Goat 2 Meeting. (Yes, it’s a pun.) For a fee, you can invite a goat — or a llama, sheep, turkey or cow — to make a cameo on a live video call. It’s a great way to break up the same-old-same-old and get your team smiling. 

If we can give our employees a way to reduce their stress and anxiety for a moment, we’re helping. And this is the time to get creative and give your remote work culture a boost. Consider creating team Instagram pages with weekly challenges. Set up video conference yoga and exercise classes. One team I know swears by IG live dance classes with the irrepressible Ryan Heffington. Offer learning labs and plenty of opportunities for training: we’re hungry for knowledge now — as we see on our #Worktrends podcasts every week. Do quick check-ins via chat and text. Connect teams with volunteer opportunities. 

There are endless ways to bring some fun — and meaning — into the remote workplace experience. And whatever we can do to ease the burden and make work easier, we owe it to our employees. When we’re through this and we’ve returned to whatever the new normal we’ll have, we’ll all remember how we solved the problem of isolation as we worked remotely, whether it involved a llama, a toddler, a terrier, or a dance party.

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