Article | May 4, 2020

13 Ways To Make Your Virtual Workplace More Like The Real Thing

By Suzanne Bates

Work From Home

Working fully virtually is taking a toll on all of us. Most of us have discovered that through virtual technology, we’re busier than ever on the phone or in virtual video meetings.

At the same time, these virtual meetings can be draining and exhausting. We must maintain eye contact and be sedentary in one place, sometimes for hours. In an office, you can greet people when they come in the door, grab a cup of coffee, or have an informal chat with colleagues who are also friends, trusted advisors, mentors. Work is also a place, and in that place, you can cut a birthday cake and pass it around. 

As we are all discovering though, we can adapt, and some of these adaptations in the way we work are positive – and will outlast the pandemic. We are sharing funny videos, favorite Netflix shows, exchanging book ideas, and posting recipes. We are even having virtual coffee and happy hours.  

Keeping close connections and maintaining spirits is particularly important for leaders in the MSP industry, to support employees as they navigate their remote work while responding to the pressures of dramatically increased customer demands and maintaining peak performance of systems and infrastructure.

Here are 13 ways for leaders to create collegiality, fun and time for being a real person in the virtual world. 

  1. Go around the horn at the virtual staff meeting. Regular communication is important so people know they will see each other. At those meetings, take a little more time to check in with each person. If you have a big team, limit it to what you can say in two breaths.  
  2. Set up virtual lunch or coffee time. Invite the team to eat lunch together. Schedule this on Zoom or Skype and invite everybody to show everybody their plates.
  3. Schedule a 5 PM “Mingle.” Recreate those office mingles virtually. Set up a weekly Zoom meeting and have everyone put aside their work, bring a drink of choice and raise a glass to the accomplishments of the week.     
  4. Hold a virtual birthday celebration. If you usually have a cake in the office for birthdays, or even if you don’t, put the day on the calendar, get everybody together and sing. You might even try to make it a surprise by making it look like a business meeting.
  5. Share fun things and appropriate humor. Set up an all-team chat channel and encourage people to share stories, ideas, jokes—and participate yourself. Humor is one of the best ways to manage stress, and make things feel more “normal.”
  6. Create “channels” for groups to keep the email inbox from overflowing. Create separate internal chat channels for your different leadership, functional and project teams. This keeps the right people in the know without filling up the inboxes or wasting time forwarding or repeating what is said in emails.
  7. Communicate more than once, more than one way. When you can’t be there in person, looking people in the eye, you can’t be sure that anybody got the message.  Some information should be shared in writing and then reinforced when you’re face to face. People are time-crunched and they have different ways of learning, so if it is important, get it out through more than one channel.
  8. Do a virtual “walk by.”  Good leaders and managers have a habit of walking by people’s desks and acknowledging when they go the extra mile. There are lots of ways to “walk by” virtually. Email is nice, or be creative by doing a video chat, or even sending a handwritten note.
  9. Set up a “state of the team” or “state of the organization.”  As things change, people will have a hard time not being overwhelmed by reports in the media filled with bad news. Introduce some balance and perspective just as you would in the office by giving people the “local news” in a “state of the team,” or “state of the organization report.” Make sure everyone can see it even if they aren’t regularly in front of a computer. 
  10. Tell the stories of your team. As time goes on you and the team will be rising to the occasion. There will be tales of courage, support, and kindness. Things people might just “hear” around the office may need to be shared more explicitly. Consider creating some new awards and have others nominate people for being enterprising or going above and beyond.
  11. Allow people to help. Create a “billboard” of requests that others on the team could fill. Perhaps they can volunteer to read a story to a colleague’s kids on Facetime, pick up groceries for a relative who lives near them or help them find a product or service online that they need.
  12. Encourage people to take a break. One of the hazards of remote work is that we get lost in the work, and time passes without standing up or clearing our heads. Permit people and encourage them to take breaks, have coffee with a colleague online or have a virtual chat.
  13. Put on your oxygen mask first. At home, you can easily be consumed with all that you have to do. Virtual work is only adding to the workload. Close your “virtual door” periodically, away from the communication devices. Think, or just close your eyes and do nothing. Replenish body, soul, and spirit so you can be there for others who are going to be depleted.

About The Author

Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates, a global consulting firm that helps organizations improve performance through communicative leadership.