Good Morning, Slackers! - Maintaining Team Spirit in Lockdown

James Cooper

2020 has been quite a ride. Bush fires followed by Covid-19 have seen significant changes to the economy and how we all work. Converting living rooms, bedrooms or the closet into our new makeshift home offices.

For some, life couldn’t be better. More free time by not having to commute, and fewer office distractions. Whereas for others it has been extremely challenging. Whether it be managing young kids whilst trying to work, or managing a sense of isolation due to living alone and not seeing workmates on a daily basis.

No more water-cooler chats and irreverent, but vital, banter as normal human interaction is severed.

So what are Digital Leaders doing to maintain some resemblance of office culture, and to help teams stay connected during these unprecedented times?

Let’s look at some practical and fun ways Digital Leaders are addressing the issue.

According to Rebecca Cornwall – UX Lead News Corp have tweaked their ‘daily stand up’ to just three times a week, giving the team more leeway to chat informally - before having a brief discussion about the tasks at hand. Rebecca has found this to be an effective way for the team to reconnect; as not all participants are necessarily at home in front of their computers during meetings, some could be going for a walk or grabbing a coffee. And being in the design space, using online tools such Miro, Mural and Jamboard have been great platforms to share work, ideas and projects.

Jason Stidworthy – Head of Digital - CBHS Health Fund agrees. They too have reduced their daily stand ups - to twice a week - with the team having more time to chat than usual, with Jason focusing on an increased number of regular one-on-ones with team members.

For some the transition to distant working has been easier, in that the workforce prior to Covid-19 was already either working from home or on a client site. Such teams are already very comfortable with the remote working environment, in fact the introverts absolutely love it.

Nevertheless, according to Michael Sribney, Digital Product and Experience Director from Versent they have employed simple ways to maintain connectiveness amongst their team by using online business tools like Slack, with channels including ‘Random’ and ‘Covid-19 Parenting’. ‘Random’, as the name suggests, is chock-full of completely random stuff; whether that be the latest design for the Virgin Galactic spaceship design, the latest ‘Ev Black’ news or in Michael’s case news on his favourite sport, ice hockey, and the entrance of the Seattle Kraken to the National Hockey League. Release the Kraken!

The ‘Covid-19 Parenting’ channel is essentially full of fun memes the team share, which puts some humour into the day, before connecting on a more serious level with Friday afternoon technical and non-technical talks. All centred around beer o’clock.

Daniel Benton, GM of Neo Media World says company-wide they have a ‘Good Morning’ email - similar to Versent’s ‘Random’ Slack channel - as a way for people across the organisation to connect; from sharing new cooking recipes, to latest podcasts they’ve listened to or good books they’ve read, to a whole range of interests outside of work.

There has also been a particular focus on ensuring that video meetings are kept short, as screen fatigue is real, whilst at the same time encouraging screen sharing to highlight great work. Internal team ‘hackathons’ were introduced to give individuals the opportunity to collaborate in developing solutions for client problems.

Sometimes the best engagement is a continuation of what you were doing in the office already and then transferring that to the virtual world.

This is the case for Gemma Mulready, GM of HR at Integrity Life and the whole Integrity team. Their ‘Town Hall’ meeting has become a whole-business weekly ritual.  More than 65 staff and managers share company news and wins, new starters are welcomed, staff anniversaries and birthdays celebrated and those individuals in the business who demonstrate company values, via suggestions popped into the Integrity ‘suggestion box’, are recognised. It has been the success of this gathering - which is a compulsory meeting all staff now attend online - that has helped maintain the camaraderie between the team. Other initiatives have been introduced but, to date, this has been the most effective.

On the fun side, Simply Wall St, which is lead by Founder and CEO Al Bentley, has embraced what they do as a service with a weekly team stock trading club. They then swap the trading floor for the kitchen floor with regular Friday ‘learn to cook’ lessons, via Yum Tum - an online cooking class, in which you are taught by some of Sydney’s best chefs.

Trivia too is certainly a winner for some teams, as in the case of HCF. Their Digital Product Lead, Anita Timso-Louie, tells us that rather than relying on a team member to run the evening – a fortnightly ritual with her team of 14 - they all log onto an online gaming platform. For the record, Anita says trivia is not her strong suit, particularly when it comes to Disney movies. Would she know who lived in Notre Dame cathedral, for example, or even have a hunch?

Going forward to post-Covid, Christopher Wight, Head of Merchant Services - Slyp suggests companies will still need to offer an office environment but at the same time become comfortable with allowing staff to work from home should they wish. This means hiring the right people and trusting them to deliver if they are not sitting next to you every day.

So what has worked for your company during this crisis, and what does the future hold once we transition to the ‘new normal’?

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