Like many service companies, East End Yovth’s (the v is for “visionary”) team is working from home. The digital marketing agency prides itself on having created a diverse and inclusive team. Cofounder Kevin Poirier says that its multicultural environment improves everything from creativity and innovation to employee engagement and decision-making.
“Ultimately, we have had great success because we established a strong virtual company culture. Because of these platforms, we have seen a significant amount of camaraderie and unity in our team that has helped everyone cope in such an uncertain time,” Poirier says. Platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack have become integral to his company’s operations.
Let’s face it: Many people who work from home miss the camaraderie of the workplace. And companies that recognize how important workplace relationships are have been experimenting with team-building tactics for far-flung workers—some of whom are moving even farther away from the office. East End Yovth and other organizations large and small have found some clever, effective ways to keep teams bonded and effective as they work remotely. Here are some of their ideas.
For East End Yovth, Slack has become a place for employees to share information about clients and projects, but also a place to communicate in real time. They like the Giphy function to share GIFs, which allows them to keep up the banter and “jib-jabs” of in-person office interactions. The team also uses Google Hangouts to connect and share work.
Another digital marketing agency, Amit Digital Marketing, created a separate Slack channel for colleagues to interact and share more personal information and photos. “[Team members] share the view from their window, pictures of their pets, or just talk about other random stuff,” says founder Amit Raj. Slack’s voice note feature “helps add that extra edge in terms of making everyone feel they have more human connection and interaction with others,” he says.
Have some fun
It may be tougher to go out for happy hour after work, but teams are still finding ways to have a few laughs together. East End Yovth has created “Whacky Wine Wednesdays,” where the team members grab their adult beverage of choice and hop on a Zoom call to play games that engage the creative side of their brains. Coworkers play interactive games such as Trivia Murder Party.
At multimedia company Mattress Battle, the team logs on to Skype to play “Storyline Building.” The team decides who will start and finish a storyline. The first person starts the story with an incomplete sentence. For example, “On my first day of work, I felt so nervous but excited at the same time. I was looking forward to . . .” The next person adds another incomplete sentence, and so on. “They develop a comprehensive and fascinating story in the end, which makes my team be more creative and be cooperative in collaborating,” says founder and CEO Mason Culligan. “It’s the oldest but most fun activity ever.”
Eat, drink, and get creative
Forget in-person “sip and paint” get-togethers. The team at Whiterock Locators, an online apartment location service, bought and shipped Bob Ross watercolor painting kits to employees, named for the late PBS painting star. The kits have a corresponding YouTube video, which the team streamed on Zoom during a virtual happy hour. “We all followed along painting, chatting, and sipping on our favorite adult beverage,” says chief operating officer Suzanne Pope. The team has also hosted “show and tell” sessions via Zoom, which lets employees share something meaningful or interesting about themselves.
Companies such as Delicious Experiences create interactive team-building activities around food and drink. “Rather than the same-old virtual happy hour, it lifts the team spirits to receive a fun package and engage in something that feels like our old life, or at least like our new life of virtual experiences,” says cofounder Inbal Baum. Events can be centered around cooking, baking, mixing special cocktails, or participating in wine, sake, whiskey, or other tastings. The company will customize the mix. Tea purveyor Mansa Tea hosts virtual tea tastings, shipping tea in advance of the event and then walking participants through brewing and appreciating the teas.
Meet their needs
Employees working from home have different challenges, experiences, and priorities. Tax compliance software company Avalara has developed a range of virtual activities that meet these needs. To help support parents, the company launched AvaKids Online, a series of fun, educational 30-minute virtual classes for kids. The company also partnered with the KrowdFit app and gave every employee a credit in the Fitbit store to purchase a Fitbit Inspire. The company has a virtual wellness community, and participants can earn rewards for participating. Avalara has also organized events for members of employee resource groups recognizing Juneteenth and Pride month.
For those who are more concerned about the company overall, the company hosts monthly executive “Ask Me Anything” sessions with C-suite executives. The Slack channel opens up a few days in advance, and when executives answer the questions, they prioritize those with the most “upvote” emojis.
Technology has made it possible for companies to address employee needs and create a sense of connection among team members. By creatively and thoughtfully planning virtual events and tools, organizations such as these have been able to tend to the cultures they worked so hard to build in the first place.