Even though we are seasoned remote workers, By the Pixel has experienced challenges staying connected with coworkers at times. It’s easy to get in a groove at home and forget the value and convenience of micro-social transactions with coworkers over coffee, asking about their weekends, or grabbing lunch together during meetings.
As a company, we value individuality and flexibility, and most of our coworkers are very happy with remote work. For these reasons and more, we aren’t likely to mandate a return to the office any time soon, if ever. However, we also value connection, teamwork, and empathy for one another, so we recognize that it’s vital to maintain our working relationships. So here are 5 ways we replicate the social atmosphere of an office while staying remote.
1. Leverage digital collaboration technology
One of the most significant advantages of our time is the vast array of communication technologies available to all of us. Platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and others have exploded in popularity and features over the last few years, and we’ve fully embraced these tools to nurture teamwork and communication between our virtual team members.
We use Slack almost exclusively for internal text communication, and we enjoy the updates that continue to arise as the tool becomes even more widely used. Zoom, which offers a time-limited free version or an unlimited paid version, is also integral to our operations, as it is already a popular choice for many of our clients in and outside of the tech industry and easily integrates with Slack.
And although some of our team members jokingly rib at Microsoft products, including Teams, others are highly familiar and adept with this tool. We are all happy to adapt and use it to keep client communication smooth and straightforward!
2. Speaking of Slack, create fun channels!
One of the cool things about Slack is its endless customization options. We use several channels for coworkers to chat about interests as well as a few more general topics (Teams also has a built-in option for channels that could be used similarly). Channels like “pets” are heavily used, where coworkers share pictures and stories about our furry friends. Other channels, like “workouts” or “what are you listening to?” offer more niche topics for in-depth discussions between tasks or meetings.
A word of caution regarding Slack/Teams channels: If you are in many specialized channels, you may receive more notifications than you are prepared for! Additionally, channels may not be practical in larger organizations due to the number of people in the company or department. As a small business, special Slack channels have provided us with laughter and invaluable sharing of mutual interests, but we recognize that they aren’t always practical for every type or size of company.
3. Organize a monthly social hour
Let’s face it: No matter what kind of team-building activities you choose, it’s never going to be “cool” or natural feeling. By nature of being at work, people are more likely to hold back, maintain a protective level of formality, or simply be uninterested in joining in. Never the types to force fun on one another, we keep our monthly social hour completely optional, but we have shared many enjoyable, touching, and funny moments with one another over the years.
We’ve played online games with Jackbox, completed escape rooms in Funtivity, enjoyed virtual Happy Hours, ordered food from DoorDash together, done gift exchanges, held costume contests, and played plenty of silly analog icebreaker games you might remember from summer camp as a kid.
The tricks we’ve found with social hour are to hold it on a Friday afternoon and alternate between a mix of heavily technological options, like Jackbox and Funtivity, and less-structured options, like summer camp icebreakers and show-and-tell. Holding it on Friday afternoons ensures that people head into the weekend energized without having to tune back in to work for too long. Alternating the types of events helps keep our teammates engaged without draining each other's social energy.
4. Make employee well-being a priority
Burnout is rampant in almost every workforce in the nation these days, and remote workers may hold a particular risk for it due to the blurred line between “work” and “home.” To minimize this stressor, we encourage flexible working hours (within reason) for coworkers, no matter their physical location. Some teammates take a break in the middle of the day for exercise, meditation, or other personal pursuits, which refreshes their minds for better focus on return. Flexible schedules can present challenges when scheduling meetings, but the return of happy, connected employees is more than worth it.
Most of our coworkers have a large shared window of availability in the middle of the day that more than suffices for meetings. One benefit of being fully remote and having coworkers in many different time zones is that we all think very hard about scheduling meetings: The extra moment of pause, as we consider whether we really need to have an appointment with a coworker at 8 AM in their timezone, helps us keep meetings at a minimum. Minimizing unnecessary meetings then allows us to be more focused and connected when we do schedule a meeting.
Another way we combat remote work-related burnout and stress is through transparent communication, including frequent feedback and regular manager check-ins. Recognizing that text communication sometimes lacks nuance or tone, coworkers are encouraged to start a Zoom meeting on the fly with one another to clarify task items or ask a question. We also provide and receive quarterly performance feedback from direct coworkers and supervisors so no one is blindsided by their annual reviews. Finally, our manager check-ins give teammates much-needed face time with the person in charge of their employment and provide a designated time for both the employee and manager to ask questions and raise concerns.
5. Schedule additional virtual and in-person team-building activities
We also have an approximately monthly dev chat, where developers meet to discuss industry issues, updates, current events, and practice changes. Our design and marketing teams meet at a similar cadence to discuss projects, workflows, and tips to keep the creative juices flowing. Although these meetings are work-related, they are less formal in nature, with coworkers frequently dropping in and out for segments, eating snacks, and working through open-ended questions and issues together.
We try to schedule in-person lunches and coffee with coworkers in the area if we are traveling or happen to be local to our colleagues. About every 2-4 years, we make the extra effort to hold a company-wide retreat for a couple of days. This time allows staff to kick back and cut loose with coworkers in a non-judgmental environment, participate in team-building events and challenges, and build and foster important in-person connections with one another.
An ongoing learning experience
Even though working remotely comes with known challenges, By the Pixel has embraced the opportunity and expanded our pool of coworkers to now represent 11 states and counting. With coworkers in so many time zones, it’s easy to stay in touch with clients across the country and beyond, and we are still finding better ways to stay connected with one another. It’s been a learning experience to find the best ways to continue these efforts, and we hope our growing knowledge helps others find new ways to connect as well. We remain committed to adapting and innovating so that our team members feel supported, connected, and inspired, no matter where they are located. 🌎
Want to connect (remotely or in-person?
We’d love to hear from you! We have years of experience helping businesses of all sizes, types, industries, and locations grow, mostly remotely! Feel free to check out our prior work and reach out with questions.