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Beyond Virtual Happy Hour: 5 Ways Companies Are Keeping Their Teams Energized and Connected

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

This article, written by Samantha McLaren originally appeared on Linked In: Talent Blogs (7/20/2020) where images, etc can be viewed

When many companies first transitioned to working from home, the idea of holding a virtual happy hour was new and exciting to most employees. A few months on, some of the allure may have worn off. Video fatigue has started to set in, and happy hours that were intended to help employees reconnect and unwind may be having the opposite effect. 

To combat this, companies are finding new ways to delight their teams and keep their culture alive. This often involves trying an idea out, gathering feedback from employees, and adjusting or even retiring it once it ceases serving its purpose. With some businesses extending their work-from-home policies for the foreseeable future, adaptability will be essential for boosting morale and keeping employees connected, without wearing them out. 

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next team building activity, here are just a few ways companies and teams are keeping things fresh.

1. Yotpo has converted its happy hours into talent shows and has a Slack channel for puppy pics

Ecommerce marketing platform Yotpo hasn’t scrapped its happy hours altogether, but the company has adapted them based on feedback from employees. Rather than just raising a glass together, team members now use the sessions to perform mini concerts and showcase other skills. Yotpo has also experimented with yoga classes for employees and storytime for the children of working parents. And for a quick pick-me-up, employees can always head over to the Slack channel that’s been designated for puppy photos.

2. This editorial team is holding meetings around the virtual campfire in a video game

When author and illustrator Viviane Schwarz grew tired of using video calls for editorial meetings, she found a different place for her team to gather: around the virtual campfire in cowboy-themed video game Red Dead Redemption 2. 

“The thing is,” Viviane said in an interview with gaming blog Rock Paper Shotgun, “the Cowboys just look right when they’re sitting around the campfire. They look like they’re in a meeting: scratching noses and frowning, and occasionally gesturing.”

To aid with the immersion, team members have their characters wash their faces before meetings, brew coffee, and browse their weapons catalogs while the team is reviewing shared documents in the real world. Unfortunately, the control to sit on the ground is also the same one used to strangle the nearest character, which has led to a few amusing mishaps in meetings. But overall, Viviane is satisfied with this alternative to video calls, even if it is “extremely silly.” “A perk of this is that when you agree that the meeting is over you can all jump on your horses and do crime or justice,” she noted on Twitter, “which is a lot less awkward than everyone smiling at the camera while they're trying to sign off.”

3. IMPACT’s team is hosting MTV Cribs-inspired tours of their homes

About 60% of IMPACT’s workforce regularly worked from home before COVID-19, so it was in a strong position to help its now fully remote workforce thrive. But realizing that employees felt more stressed and isolated, the digital sales and marketing company stepped up its game, rolling out a range of team building activities to help raise morale. And one of the most unique was its take on the reality show MTV Cribs, in which celebrities would take viewers inside their lavish homes. 

“Our spinoff, IMPACT Cribs, is an idea we’ve had on the backburner for a while,” Natalie Davis, IMPACT’s VP of talent, explains on the company’s blog. “Once we all started working from home, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see where people are working and living.”

Led by digital sales and marketing advisor David Little and content marketing consultant Jennifer Barrell, IMPACT Cribs allows employees to showcase their personal style, prized possessions, pets, partners, and more. The show even has its own logo and intro music. “If we’re really lucky, we even get to meet some parents along the way who have a blast partaking in the fun,” Natalie says.

hroughout each behind-the-scenes tour, employees participate in a lively group chat, commentating on interesting things they’ve spotted. The show has turned out to be an employee favorite, while also helping team members get to know each other on a more personal level.

4. SecureAuth hosts a daily 5-minute music break where employees take turns sharing a song

Identity and access management solution SecureAuth is based primarily in California and Buenos Aires, but it also has remote employees across the U.S., U.K., and Australia. After the on-site teams began working from home, one leader decided that music was the best way to connect people around the world, so he put a recurring invite on everyone’s calendar for a daily 5-minute music break.

Employees can sign up in a designated Slack channel to share a song or music video. Others have decided to play live instead. 

“We had one employee perform a song he wrote with an acoustic guitar,” Nichole Devolites, SecureAuth’s senior manager of customer experience and advocacy, told CMSWire, “another employee's family sang for us with one of the daughters playing the ukulele, and another employee's 13-year-old daughter played Chopin on the piano.”

One unexpected benefit of the daily music break is that it allows employees to interact with team members from around the world that they might not have met otherwise. And since employees are also sharing the stories of why the song they chose is so meaningful to them, these quick and uplifting breaks are also helping people get to know their coworkers better. 

“In the last week, we've seen strong connections form all over the world,” Nichole says. “People are more apt to support each other to get things done, and it has definitely eased any uncertainty we've had… I think that when life goes back to ‘normal,’ we're going to be left with a stronger company culture than we've ever had.” 

5. General Assembly hosts trivia contests on Slack at the end of each day 

At education company General Assembly, the finance department was known for hosting a team trivia game in the office at the end of the workday. When employees began working from home, the team brought this tradition online and opened it up to the whole company using a trivia Slack channel.

Each day around the same time, the MC will pose a question, and employees will submit their answers in a thread. As soon as someone guesses the right answer, the MC will move onto the next question, posting five in total. 

Well over 100 employees take part in the trivia games, which can get highly competitive. 

“Everyone jokes afterward they don’t need to work out anymore because they got their cardio in by participating in trivia,” Meg Randall, General Assembly’s head of delivery, told CNBC. “Now, it’s the highlight of my day.”

Final thoughts

By getting creative and finding out what their teams want, companies don’t have to hit the pause button on their culture while working from home. 

Whatever type of event you hold, consider making attendance optional or giving employees the choice to turn their camera off if they prefer. Steps like this allow employees to opt-out if they’re not in the right headspace or if they have other obligations, reducing the chances that a fun activity will start to feel like an obligation. (See all the original images and article here)

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