The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of us into isolation and redefined “normal conditions” in both our personal and work lives. Most of us are not working from the office right now, which brings new challenges in keeping our work lives distinct from our personal lives.

There is, of course, a natural overlap between work and personal. A big part of the workplace experience is the daily interaction with our “work family.” This personal and social aspect of work has suffered a blow. How, then, do we maintain our corporate culture? What are the keys to staying socially connected even when we’re physically distant?

Technology to the Rescue?

We hear a lot about how technology in our lives has interfered with personal relationships, but this might just be one time where tech actually helps us. There are several ways that technology tools can better connect us with our coworkers.

Being apart means we can’t just poke our head into our neighbor’s cubicle for a quick chat about a work problem, an upcoming meeting or what we watched on TV last night. Watercooler talk can be a productivity killer if it’s too much, but when it has been reduced to almost nothing, we lose a bit of humanity.

My work team consists of a bunch of technology people. Stereotypically, we aren’t the most social group of people, but we still need to maintain human interaction and a collaborative atmosphere. Since several our staff are gamers, it was only natural to turn to a voice chat app such as Discord. This allows our team to jump in when they want to talk and be social, or disconnect when they need some focus time. There are a variety of solutions that offer this capability, and you most likely already have one available. Most of the web conferencing applications like Skype or WebEx will do just fine, or if your company is using a collaboration platform such as Slack or Teams, you probably have voice capability already. So, throw on a headset and invite your coworkers to join in! You don’t need a scheduled meeting to just chat.

Another thing that has helped us stay together while apart is scheduling a virtual happy hour once each week. We use Zoom video conferencing to connect. A simple and free download gets you in and allows you to host a 40-minute get together. It might not be quite the same as your favorite after-work hangout, but you can certainly enjoy a favorite beverage and decompress with the rest of your team.

Keep Your Cadence

Separation causes emotional distance. The suggestions above are close to what you might normally do at work on a regular basis, and they foster familiar habits. This principle applies to most every aspect of work life. We need to continue doing the things that we would normally do if we’re to maintain our corporate culture.

Hopefully you have some standing traditions such as celebrating your coworkers’ birthdays or handing out praise to teammates for a job well done. Keep doing that! If you have regular staff meetings, leave them on the calendar and find a way to conduct them remotely. Work must go on whenever possible, so it’s important to find ways to connect your team to the resources they need that they naturally have when they’re in the office. Consider securely connecting employees to your internal systems via Virtual Private Network (VPN) technologies or other remote sharing applications.

Embracing change can help too. If you normally work independently or don’t have a regular work cadence, now might be a great time to experiment with creating one. We software developers love to talk about Agile development. Agile practices dictate that we meet regularly, agree on what work is needed and then go our separate ways to execute the work. The following week, we reconvene to review progress and set up the work for the next week. This idea can be applied to almost any work process. Even if you’re sure your team knows what they are supposed to be doing, consider a weekly or bi-weekly meeting to discuss the work. If nothing else, it keeps you talking and leads to a collaborative effort in reaching your goals.

Stay Human

You probably feel like it’s more important than ever to maintain focus on your business priorities. If you’re in a leadership position, reiterate those priorities regularly, and make sure your team knows you care about them as well. Reiterate the need for safety and social connection. Check in with your teammates individually to ask how they’re doing to make sure they have what they need to stay productive at work and happy at home.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to give one another some grace in this period where we are all adjusting to our new work lives. Nothing is running perfectly for any of us right now, and an extra dose of patience and understanding will go a long way toward reducing some of the stress. Ask your colleagues how you can help share their load and make life easier. That might not be a common thing in your workplace, and it might feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s a key component of letting others know you care. With a little luck, these tips will have a positive impact on your corporate culture that lasts even after we all come back to the office.

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