how can suddenly remote teams keep functioning well?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

Like many others, I am now managing a team that is fully work-from-home. I have a team of seven and we are typically dispersed across three cities anyway, but I’m stuck as to how to keep them feeling engaged / connected when they aren’t going into physical offices and seeing the colleagues they do share cities with.

I’d love to hear advice about how to keep morale/motivation and productivity going during this rapid shift in the way we work!

I’m also on-boarding a new hire in two weeks, completely remote as well — so any advice on how to make sure she feels welcome and engaged would be a bonus.

So, let’s talk about all these transitions to remote work. What’s your office doing well that you’d recommend to others? What’s your office not getting right?

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. Bookworm*

    Some things my team has done:

    1. Keeping some of the introductory actions (this was a bit shaky given the suddenness of our move to remote): Welcomes via Slack, email, video.

    2. Having virtual happy hours, lunches, coffees, etc. Some are team-wide, some are done on a case by case basis depending on availability (child care, grocery shopping, etc.).

    3. Emphasizing communication. It’s fine if we have to go grocery shopping or have to take care of a child or family member or do some sort of maintenance, etc. Just give a heads up to the team via a status message or informing the affected co-workers, etc.

    4. With the new hires I understand there have been daily calls with their team/supervisor but I’m not sure how long that has gone on (I think they might have transitioned those to daily team check-ins). I think the new hires also got small welcome gift packages or boxes of snacks or coffee or something similar.

    1. George*

      I dunno virtual lunch/coffee/etc would drive me batty. I’m at home. With kids. We are all stressed and all spending way too much time on screens. The LAST thing I’d want is to feel like there is virtual ‘mandatory fun’ to do as well. And for those of us who hate video conferencing, this would be horrid.

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        Lunch and learns with mandatory video conferencing is my current living nightmare. How are you supposed to eat, on mic and video conference? You can’t, so you don’t. Which means you just don’t get lunch that day since often meetings are scheduled 11-12 and 1-2. It also robs me of the greatest pleasure of WFH which is walking my dogs at lunchtime.

        1. andy*

          Turn off mic and eat, putting mic at use only when you want to say something. That is not that often unless you are running the event.

          1. Not a Girl Boss*

            Its still super awkward to eat on camera, its up close and personal in a way sitting around a conference table isn’t.

            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              turn your camera off… that’s what I do when I eat on a video meeting.

              Sometimes I’ll announce it like “I don’t want you to have to watch me eat” and others I just quietly turn my video off after the first few minutes. Depends on the size of my meeting/group.

        2. Frenchie*

          I am working from home. I live alone. I love living alone. At the same time, I do miss seeing some of my coworkers. Reaching out hasn’t been too effective with some. But a few do stay in touch. Mostly those who also live alone.
          Not sure if I would enjoy a virtual happy hour with coworkers. But, some might. Put it out there. See what happens.
          I do get to see some of the staff a few times a week during videoconferencing work sessions.
          In the meantime, I keep self-isolating, wash my hands often, and do what I can to stay healthy.
          Best wishes to all!

      2. Nita*

        I know how you feel! My company has rolled out quite a bit of virtual socializing stuff, and in the first weeks I really wanted to join but couldn’t. Right after the work/school day ends, all my family needs is time to decompress. I guess what worked was, that the door was kept open for people who didn’t sign up right away. So now that things are a little more organized at home, I join in when I’m able, but it’s definitely optional. So far, I’ve only joined activities where it’s OK if the kids join in also, because keeping them out is pretty much impossible. Having them jump into a virtual happy hour has been… interesting… but I’m keeping our call-ins very short so they don’t derail everyone else’s conversations.

      3. KTJ*

        I don’t think any of those should be mandatory. What a nightmare! We have them, and they are scheduled during the work day, not after hours, and they are optional.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          Yeah. I’ve mentioned this before — I instituted a virtual coffee break with my team, twice a week, but it is truly optional, not “Fergus, I noticed you weren’t at coffee break yesterday” optional. It seems very popular with the folks who attend it regularly, and those who don’t have a need for it don’t have to come.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            My office s doing this too, every Thursday at 4. It’s actually really nice. There is no pressure but a lot of people are popping in, even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s a nice way to see everyone’s face and chat a bit at the end of the week.

          2. Mongrel*

            It may be worth reaching out after a week or two, just to make sure everything is OK. It’s a fuzzy line between Introverted\Doesn’t like ‘Zooming’*\Depression\Apathy
            Make sure it’s one to one and emphasis that the socialising is voluntary but you just want to make sure they’re fine and are handling the current situation well.

            *Other video conferencing apps available…

          3. Can you hear me now?!*

            I do the same type of thing. Friday at 3:30 (since some of my team is done at 4:00) I’ve offered a virtual happy hour. But I told them ahead of time it was totally optional, and if they had other things to do it was fine, or if they didn’t want to be on camera it was fine. My team has generally seemed to enjoy it, and not everyone stays on the whole time – they come and go as needed. I think it’s all how the option is offered to the team. Plus, nobody on my team has young children, so they have a different dynamic at home as well.

      4. I love lima beans*

        I’ve worked remotely for years – national company and a lot of remote employees. Leadership seems very concerned about everyone working from home now. It’s actually been pretty insulting. Suddenly, we need to see each other’s faces on awkward Zoom meetings. Suddenly we need to reinstate those weekly meetings we decided were not adding any value. My boss suggested the ‘watch each other chewing once a week so we can all bond’ idea and nobody had the energy to pretend they weren’t horrified.

        I think the key for management is to TRUST employees as adults and professionals who have a pretty major interest in keeping their jobs, not treat them like they’re suddenly in Kindergarten and simply will decide to be unproductive because they’re not sitting in a beige cubicle.

        Honestly I can’t understand why remote work isn’t already the new normal since needless commutes and business travel will help lessen climate change. We really don’t have a choice anymore if intend to keep living on the planet. I know nobody likes to acknowledge it, but we are out of time. Companies that can’t deal will be left behind.

        1. Crabby Patty*

          I love this post. I’ve grown tired of being informed that I’m struggling. I LOVE working from home. I’m terribly sorry for the circumstances under which I do so, but OMG. WFH is awesome.

          1. On Fire*

            THANK YOU! I’ve wondered if I’m a sociopath, because I am LOVING working from home. I’m more productive than ever, and my stress levels are way down. Like you, I’m sorry about the circumstances, and I feel for those who are struggling. A cousin is recovering from the virus; it’s not like I’m “lalalala” ignoring the facts. But work wise? I’m thriving.

          2. Faith*

            Same here. I do miss the one part of my job that I can’t do from home (but doesn’t need to be done when everyone is WFH), but aside from that, WFH is so much better than going to the office every day. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon, but I’d rather spend my breaks with my pets than my coworkers. Besides, we have an ongoing group IM that gives us plenty of interaction.

        2. Deejay*

          Some have predicted that the current crisis might turbocharge the move towards WFH even after the various national lockdowns end. The sceptics who said “It can’t work” are now being proved wrong.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Exactly. No one said these are mandatory things. If you don’t want to participate, don’t. If you don’t want to eat lunch while on video, either opt out completely or turn off the video and/or mic.

      5. anonymoose*

        I am decidedly NOT an extrovert but I do enjoy the virtual happy hours. The big difference for me is they are very not mandatory, explicitly and culturally; they are toward the end of the work day so not during lunch but also not keeping me late; and they are relaxed. People hold their babies or talk to their kids, sit with their dogs, log in and out whenever.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          This is how it is at my company. My department is fullllll of introverts (self included), and plenty of them go and enjoy these–because “introvert” doesn’t mean “never wants to have a casual chat with coworkers” or “just wants to do work at work.” Since they’re very much not mandatory, if you really don’t want to go (because you’ve got a lot of work to do, you’re exhausted, you need to watch your kid, you’d genuinely rather chew your arm off than socialize, etc.), you just don’t go.

          I’ve worked from home full-time for thirteen years, and I’ll be honest, it’s been an unexpected silver lining. I don’t go to all of them, but I go sometimes, and it’s been lovely for putting a face/personality to what had previously been just a name on an IM or email. And I, in general, truly like many of my coworkers. They’re not my best friends or anything, but several of them are people who I totally get lunch with or play board games with or whatever when I’m visiting the office, and it’s nice to “see” them more than three or four times a year.

          (Probably doesn’t hurt that the meetings are toward the end of the day, but during normal work hours, so it isn’t eating into my “personal” time.)

          1. allathian*

            Agreed. Some socializing is very welcome, but it needs to be truly voluntary. Although I would say that for new hires who are onboarding under these exceptional circumstances, some socializing might be more strongly encouraged than for longer-term employees, so they get to know their teammates like they would in an office. It’s much easier to reach out and ask a question as a newbie when you know someone as a person, rather than as a name and title.

      6. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “I dunno virtual lunch/coffee/etc would drive me batty. ”

        Then don’t join. Or go to to a few and leave.

        I blew off the virtual checkin organized by our CEO’s office last week. Most people like it, I don’t. So I RSVP’d “Too busy” and skipped it.

        If you don’t like something like this, skip it. Really.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          That’s great if you can’t, but at some companies they’re either explicitly or tacitly required.

      7. Lavender Menace*

        While I agree that this is also my nightmare, I have found that many people on my team actually really get something out of this. I was going to cancel my weekly team lunch and they asked to keep them. I just shortened them and added slightly more structure.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I agree with George. It sounds like this is how to help people who are have a certain kind of problem with these stay at home orders. Extroverts. Some people are not needing more human virtual contact with their co-workers.

      I’ve worked from home with a virtual team for over 5 years. We don’t do 2-3 and I don’t want to. But those may be applicable for people and teams who had had an abrupt transition to WFH and not for normal circumstances.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I think that the question is pretty explicitly about people who do not usually WFH…

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Yep! There’s a reason my response includes that second paragraph EventPlannerGal.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Right, I get that? I just think it’s odd/redundant to be like “these suggestions are only helpful for extroverts, I’m used to WFH with no need for these, but I guess if you’re suddenly WFH when you don’t usually then they might help?” when that’s explicitly what the question’s about. But if that’s what’s working for you then awesome!

      2. Cat*

        I’m an introvert but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have pleasant conversations with people outside of my immediate family ever.

      3. allathian*

        There’s a difference between introvert and antisocial. I identify as introvert but it doesn’t mean that I never want to see or talk to anyone outside my own family.
        During a typical workweek when I don’t have any meetings until Wednesday and all of my communication with coworkers is in writing using email or Skype chat, I can actually be pretty chatty when we have our meeting. I often log in a few minutes early on purpose just to chat with other early arrivals before we get down to business.
        But if I’ve been in meetings all day and meetings interrupted by my 4th grader in remote school at that, I’m not going to be up to much socializing at all.

    3. Not a Girl Boss*

      Honestly, I am loathing the virtual happy hours and coffees. Especially now that they’ve also crept into lunch-and-learns etc, and suddenly we have 3-5 not-mandatory-but-mandatory “socialization” events in addition to our regular workload every week.
      I’d rather be doing literally anything than sitting around listening to my coworkers interpretation/opinions/conspiracy theories about COVID-19 news or whatever. I’m sure that depends on the office culture and how much you genuinely enjoy socializing with everyone, but something to consider. One of the biggest benefits of WFH is that you only have to put enough time in to get your work done, so this feels like its directly subtracting from my free time each week.

      What is working for us is having core hours so that meetings can only be scheduled 10-12 and 1-3. Before this was instituted, things were getting pretty out of hand where my workday was stretching from 7:30-5:30 because I didn’t have a good enough “excuse” to decline meetings outside of my normal working hours.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I’m with NAGB. I don’t see the need for constant contact or virtual happy hours. If they are truly optional, that’s fine, but otherwise, no thank you.
        And the idea of daily check-ins with a boss, when there wasn’t that before (my group travels and so are rarely in the same place at the same time) seems like overkill. If my manager has a question for me, then we do so via slack. We have our weekly touch-base meeting already.
        It may be that if you are a manager, there may be certain employees that would like/need that constant interaction, while others don’t. I work largely on my own, get my assignments, and work on what I need to do, only really needing to touch base if I have conflicting priorities, overload of assignments, or not enough assignments.
        I feel like I’m being babysat if my manager is just saying, “how’s it going” every day. I can see that for new employees, but other than that, it seems excessive.

        1. Malarkey01*

          I REALLY like the core hours idea and might suggest that for my work. We are being uber flexible (need to work at 9 pm because that’s when spouse can watch toddler? sure) but planning around 3 or so hours a day when people can plan around being available would take some of the stress out of the oh no, someone needs me at 4:30 moment.

          1. Not a Girl Boss*

            I think it only works because we’re still pretty flexible about people saying “sorry, I can’t make this 1pm meeting.” But not feeling the pressure to make a bad time work on a regular basis is such a relief.

            Basically, you can still opt out of meetings during core hours, but there’s no more pressure to say “yes” to a late afternoon or early morning meeting. If someone isn’t working core hours, you just have to find a non-meeting way to communicate. It also keeps me from having 8 hours of **** meetings every single day and is really teaching us to prioritize what we need to bring a bunch of people together for.

            1. Corporate Goth*

              Right. If you need to be outside of core hours, flexibility is critical. But maybe we also don’t text people at 8PM and expect answers, or the 8/hrs a day turns into 10, then 12…

      2. alienor*

        Omg, 3-5 events a week is way too many. My team is in our sixth week of being remote, and we’ve had two virtual lunches–one for someone’s birthday, one just because–and one virtual happy hour. I didn’t attend the happy hour, but did go to both lunches and enjoyed them (we played online games in addition to eating/chatting) even though I’m not particularly social in the regular office setting. Having to do it multiple times every week would become a burden really fast, though, especially if it turned into a lunch and learn situation instead of just a casual get-together.

    4. CR*

      The last thing I want to do is have a happy hour or coffee with my coworkers. This is a horrible, stressful time and being forced to have fun with your coworkers is awful at the best of times.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          Nobody explicitly said forced. However, I think we all realize – and have talked on this very blog before – about things (especially socializing at work) that aren’t technically required feeling required, or at least people feeling very pressured that they have to do it. It’s even worse now because a lot of people feel as if they aren’t seen at their desk that people are imagining they’re not working, and honestly, a lot of terrible managers aren’t doing a lot to alleviate that concern. Nobody has to explicitly say this; humans are really good at communicating things without words.

        2. Tuppence*

          Right? The question was specifically about how to support people who aren’t used to WFH to maintain connection. Someone says “here are some things which have worked in my team/organisation” and there’s this immediate chorus of NOOOOOO MANDATORY FUN IS HORRIBLE!!!! when that was never even implied?

    5. Not A Hippy*

      We have a clearly very optional “Social Hour” starting 4:30 every Friday. The whole team is invited (about 40) but only 5 or so show up every week and stay for the whole time (often longer). Which is fine! It was clearly communicated to the team that this was 100% optional, and it’s there for those who need/want it.

      Interestingly enough, because much of our team is usually spread out between different offices, those who are on the call are getting to know colleages they wouldn’t usually share an office with.

    6. Oh No She Di'int*

      OP, my team does a few of the things Bookworm suggests, and I’d say they are solid recommendations. Despite many of the comments you’ll read, I don’t think you can assume that everyone has such a pronounced distaste for spending time with coworkers. Though some, of course, do. The important thing I think is to make whatever you do a logical extension of your in-office culture. If you’re suddenly having virtual coffee hour every day, when everyone used to just keep their head down and stay focused, that’s going to be jarring. But if you’re having a virtual coffee hour that somewhat sorta kinda replaces social activity that was already happening in the office, then it’s likely to be mostly appreciated.

      In my office, we didn’t do a huge number of group lunches or happy hours. And we’re not doing them now. But we always did break for people’s birthdays. And we’re still doing that. So continuity is key.

      1. Bostonian*

        I think this is a really key point. Not that we are going to fool anybody into believing things are business as usual, but keeping the amount of contact similar to how it was in the office is really important. I.e., if you have weekly check-ins with your manager, continue doing that- don’t add any more. If you had social hours with colleagues once in a while at the office, set those up virtually.

        If there are any social virtual events added, then make them optional. Some people will enjoy them; others don’t and therefore won’t show up.

        1. introvert_extrovert*

          Yeah the point of virtual social events in just to replace events that otherwise would have happened in person. It’s not trying to create more events, it’s just making sure that you don’t lose those moments, especially the ones that happen more spontaneously, like morning coffee.

      2. Sarah*

        Agree, with my team of 5, we are doing twice daily (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) check-ins. We are a close group that has worked together for years. They are only 15 min, but are a mixture of social and business. Now I will say, I have made sure to ask each of my employees if these are too much – but everyone likes them because, I think, they do somewhat mimic what we do in the office (check-in with each other, talk about work, talk about Netflix, etc.).

        1. allathian*

          I’m glad that they’re working for you and for your team.
          One thing that I’m missing a bit is just chatting non-work stuff with coworkers who aren’t my teammates or people I regularly work with otherwise. We have coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon (on the clock) for about 10-15 minutes. I attend whenever I’m not too busy just because it’s great to talk to people I don’t work with every day but who work in the same org. This isn’t really happening now that we’re WFH.

      3. alienor*

        I agree that keeping it at a similar level is key. When I was working in the office, we’d have a group lunch about once a month for a birthday, plus maybe an optional happy hour, and that’s pretty much what we’ve continued to do. I know other teams with different cultures are doing different things (several seem to be having a happy hour every Friday) but that’s normal for them and they’re welcome to keep it up.

      4. Peep*

        I agree! I’m an introvert so I do feel tired of general screen-time bleeding over into every friend and family group, adding up to like 14 hours a day in my computer chair… but I’m not bothered by certain socializing strategies we’re doing with coworkers.

        That said, what I think has worked, which is mostly an extension of our current culture:
        – a Slack for the entire staff has dramatically cut down on obnoxious 5 person CC emails; we have some cross-department channels and project channels, but also a “lounge” channel where we keep each other updated on how our elderly volunteers are doing
        – a separate Slack for my 3-person department — my boss set this up a year ago and we never used it, but now we’ve integrated google drive and we have a few channels and it’s working so well for us, but we’re a pretty cohesive tiny team
        – occasional coffees of our department + another where it’s informal but vaguely work related (no plague worries, light brainstorming about collaboration but not feeling like you have to show up with ideas, but also pets show up)
        – my boss being amazing and realizing we’re human beings who need to shop at strategic times, as long as we’re getting work done she doesn’t care when we work
        – surprisingly, a virtual annual fundraiser — we had a month to pivot on this, and it worked fairly well considering people were creating from home… but I’ll find out more about $$$ in our next all-hands

        Things that are not working:
        – our last all-hands meeting where we were badgered into turning on cameras for a mass-screenshot which was then used in our virtual fundraiser, where we all looked sullen because we’d been badgered
        – all-hands meeting being at 12 noon. I can’t look sullen on camera -and- eat…. ;)

        We used to have socials that were elaborate but 100000% optional — like a root beer tasting that ended up having 32 flavors of root beer and a scoreboard. I miss that kind of silly socializing -with the good group of coworkers- so I’m debating seeing if anyone wants to have a virtual ice cream get together.

        1. zora*

          Oh about the ‘silly’ socializing, I forgot to mention this below. We did a couple of virtual happy hours we called “Wacky Wednesday” and we had a ‘theme’ like one where everyone wore hats, or Flannel day. We were all laughing at each other’s oversized beach hats or cowboy hats, and I realized afterwards that it felt REALLY good to just be silly and laugh for 5 minutes. I don’t think any of us have done that much lately.
          Other theme ideas: Hawaiian shirt; Denim Day; Stripe day; Sports Team Day. Simple things that people probably already have in their house, but it’s still kind of fun.

          1. Peep*

            Ha! Silly hats and Hawaiian shirts sounds really fun, I know my coworkers would do well with it! Glad we’re not alone. Definitely an opt-in thing, but you never know who will show up and surprise you! We discovered that a really weird cross-section of my org is obsessed with Lord of the Rings, many who I would not have suspected, which we discovered on a zoom call when our IT guy had a LotR background and a bunch of people were arguing about the regular vs extended edition. lol.

            Oh! Another one I forgot — (extreme YMMV caution) we just had a virtual show and tell with my department + our closest neighbor department (we share a grand-boss). The 6 of us are already very collegial and know a lot about each other, but grandboss wants us to have dedicated deep dive time for each person to share. We’re going to go around showing personal projects — yesterday my colleague showed his incredible black and white photography from the 10 historical sites related to our organization. It was amazing to see the arrested decay of these sites and see things that don’t exist anymore. This definitely would not work for more private people (and I’m definitely the person who hates long pointless meetings, but these are genuinely interesting topics for the 6 of us). I worried a bit about what to show since I’m not an artist like our 3 associated colleagues, but I have a great topic and it actually was a surprisingly introspective assignment. I’m excited to share and get to use work time to be creative.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            That’s a great idea! My company has a weekly half-hour ‘pet pawty’ where people get on camera with their cat/dog/bird/guinea pig/snake/whatever, and chat. Often about the animals, but not always. (People without pets, or people whose pets won’t stay on their lap or whatever, are totally welcome too.) It’s fun because everyone enjoys showing off their pets and it creates an immediate icebreaker.

            My husband’s team did a ‘silliest mug’ themed meeting, which sounded delightful too.

      5. Sarah in Boston*

        We have a decades long tradition of afternoon coffee/tea, so I started a daily 3 pm video tea. Totally optional (I’m not a manager but am a social glue kind of person who’s an introvert FWIW.) . We have 4-8 of 23 invited people show up everyday. And we do indeed still snack and drink hot things. It works for us because it’s our normal and it helps make all of this feel more normal.

    7. But what if ...*

      My team has had a long-standing monthly optional team lunch … If you’re available on that day, and if you want to go, you can. (Nothing official, everyone pays their own way, no company treat). We moved that to be a virtual lunch, same policy – if you want to attend, fine, if not, that’s fine too. The understanding with the call is that nobody minds if you’re eating (to not eat would defeat the purpose of lunch). It’s been pretty informal. Kids and pets have joined us for lunch.

      I’m mostly an introvert, and not always a fan of “forced fun”, but this is low key enough that I’m OK with it.

      1. MayLou*

        I feel like this is the key thing – as much as possible, replicate what was already working. If you didn’t already have a standing lunch date, don’t try and make one happen now. If your team has a daily 15-minute chat about their plans for the day and what they need from each other, that’s a great thing to turn into a video meeting with maybe an extra couple of minutes to catch up socially too.

        I’m pretty content in my own company and I’m mostly enjoying working from home, but there have been times when I was starting to feel a bit untethered and a phone call from a colleague really helped. We’ve had video team meetings about once a week so far, which is more often than we manage in the office! But they typically aren’t very long and are timed to avoid people’s appointments.

        We’re not really a happy hours and team lunches kind of group so I don’t think anyone would be interested in that being a regular virtual thing, but just the opportunity to remember that you’re part of a team and other people are also in the same situation is quite helpful.

    8. zora*

      Yes, this.
      We have put a handful of social activities on calendars/by video. They are all optional, and it’s totally fine if people can’t join or just don’t want to. But it’s also been really nice to have a couple of conversations each week that aren’t work related, where we can see each other’s kids and animals and just decompress a little. Even the time isn’t strict, some people are just popping in for 10 minutes, but it’s really helping us focus on each other as human beings instead of being completely lost in work.

      And we do checkins with different groups of people, too. Like we have some for our geographic team, but also the Admin team has been having a video call every other week to also just say hi and hear how everyone’s doing.

      And encouraging everyone to use their calendars!! With scheduling needs all over the place with child care/shopping, etc, it’s really helped to make sure that people put that as blocks on their calendars so we easily see when people are available, instead of playing lots of email/phone tag.

      And for managers, I would recommend just picking up the phone/video call every once in a while with people on your team, even if something could have been an email. It really makes a difference to hear someone’s voice, rather than going weeks only reading emails. It can be like once every 2 weeks, you don’t have to spend all of your days on the phone, but that has definitely made a difference for me.

    9. EventPlannerGal*

      Aw, I like the gift packages idea. We usually have a flower bouquet for new hires, but couldn’t get them for the latest hires that have started since lockdown – hopefully we can get them something when we’re all back in the office.

    10. Windchime*

      We are also having virtual happy hours They are totally, 100% voluntary. People pop in and out as they wish ; there have been 3 or 4 and I’ve only attended 2.

      My company is also having more check-in meetings. Cameras are encouraged, but it’s also understood that some people don’t have them, have bandwidth issues, or are camera-shy and that’s OK. Sometimes it’s more of a meeting where the manager shares information and sometimes it’s just time to socialize and shoot the breeze, like we would at work.

      I work for a healthcare system, so there have been tons of emails letting us know where to get emotional, social, or spiritual support if necessary.

      All in all, it’s been a very positive experience and I feel like my employer has handled it very, very well.

  2. hanners*

    My team is about 20 people under our director. We typically work in an office of around 1200, so I have definitely started to feel a bit disconnected, but some things have helped.

    We started doing video calls as much as possible and I think it has helped keep people connected and still get the “in person” feel of a meeting or casual conversation. I also have a colleague who sends out a daily brain teaser to the team through our email (folks can opt out if they do not wish to receive it). We’re on MS Teams and I’ve set up some channels for things other than “work” (water cooler chat, wellness tips, etc.) and so far a number of people have been engaged. I’ve also had friends from other teams reach out for “coffee dates”, which has really helped with social isolation. One of the biggest things my management team has done is allow people to not be their most productive selves and protect their own well-being by taking time off and making arrangements to get work done. We aren’t exactly “business as usual” but we are still a team.

    I will also have to hire and onboard someone new who will be working remote, so I look forward to hearing some tips from others.

    1. MediQueen*

      I have a similar sized team and one thing I’ve been grateful for is that our workplace culture is very much NOT one where using video is the norm. However, we’ve had some requests from the team to use video to foster connection, so my boss has set designated meetings with video on and others that do not. This is documented in the meeting invite so it’s nice to know in advance! We did have a video meeting this week and it was nice to see faces, but I am glad I don’t have to be camera ready at all times.

  3. Malarkey01*

    I’ve been on a dispersed virtual team with almost full telework for 12 years- my first piece of advise is that “this is NOT normal virtual or telework”. My incredibly high functioning team that you’d never know were all virtual, are not having the same success now. Acknowledging that and trying not to replicate the office is my biggest advise. Acknowledging that people have kids, pets, anxiety, etc going on and to every extent possible taking down the pressure is great. I’d make a general announcement that anyone who needs to talk or needs anything to reach out but wouldn’t try to manufacture team building right now. Telling everyone you’ll try to help support them should go the furthest to motivating.

    1. Marie*

      Seconding this! This is NOT NORMAL. A normal telework situation is agreed upon by all parties beforehand, and the employee would likely have a dedicated office space in their home plus all of the necessary equipment and a comfy chair. Additionally, the employee would have arranged childcare during work hours, and have worked out a working schedule with their family or roommates beforehand.

      Now, everyone is thrust into working from home with everyone else in the household there all the time, children staying home all day, might not even be able to walk the dog, PLUS the added stress of a worldwide pandemic that might be affecting them or their loved ones directly.

      OP, the biggest thing that I see some companies get WRONG right now is to do things like “Work happy hour! It’ll be fun! Ha ha ha!” “OMG Trivia Night!” “What are you wearing today ha ha ha!”. While *some* lighthearted activities are absolutely welcome, I think that forced lightheadedness during a time of crisis can be really tone deaf. Not everyone is in a good emotional state to be jovial right now, and understanding and recognizing that (both in day to day interactions and meetings and in any extracurricular activities) is what everyone needs from their employer right now.

      1. EnfysNest*

        “Not everyone is in a good emotional state to be jovial right now”

        Absolutely this. Not everyone is up for being jovial and *that’s actually okay*. The forced positivity and “what are the happy things you’re focused on right now” and “tell us your silver lining” elements are really wearing on me from so many angles (for me, it’s from some friends and community/FB groups, but thankfully not from work currently). Keeping lines of communication open where needed is very important, but focusing on trying to make everyone cheerful no matter what is coming off as patronizing and tiresome to me in many cases.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        This is why I think it’s important that everything be really, truly, clearly, explicitly mandatory, and that the work culture backs that up. Some people thrive on the distraction that a “silliest mug party” brings, or a “let’s play board games together on Tabletopia;” other people find it jarring and exhausting. It’s entirely possible to satisfy both groups–by making things opt-in. Provide a list of options along with the videoconferencing links, and let people choose to do it on their own, or, if they want, ignore it and never even open the document.

        I swing from one group to the other depending on the day. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is socialize and try to be upbeat, sometimes I’m dying for a chance to distract myself, and a half-hour virtual “coffee break” or an online game of 7 Wonders is just the ticket. I suspect that’s true of a lot of people.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          OMG. Explicitly NOT mandatory. I had originally typed “explicitly optional,” changed my mind on what I was going to say, and messed it up.

          1. PollyQ*

            “Explicitly mandatory” would still probably be better than “passive-aggressively mandatory” though.

    2. Just J.*


      The biggest advice that I have is Be Kind. Be Supportive.

      A lot of my team are taking random mental health days. Everyone needs a day off to re-charge. My immediate boss is being a real jerk about that. Don’t be my boss. Nothing that we have on our plates right now is vital. Taking care of yourself is.

    3. periwinkle*

      I’ll second this. My current and previous teams were both spread across multiple time zones, as is the whole company. Virtual teams like mine were common. It’s also common to have worked closely for months and even years with people you’ve never met in person. A lot of us have been WFH a couple days a week.

      But even those of us used to the virtual work world are struggling. As our leadership reminds us regularly, we are not working from home. We are at home during a crisis, and trying to work. Expectations are adjusted accordingly.

      Regarding virtual teamwork, we’ve relied on webcams during team meetings to maintain a human connection. Our company has Mattermost, similar to Slack, which my previous team used extensively for both work conversations and off-topic silliness. (my current team doesn’t and I definitely notice the difference – much stronger team bonding with the constant informal communication).

      1. Avasarala*

        So true. I also am used to virtual meetings in a global company, but I’m not used to all my meetings being virtual.

        Many companies are using this to evaluate if WFH is feasible and I want to add a big asterisk that these are not normal WFH circumstances! My productivity levels are totally different from Day 1 and Day 20. Day 1 I set everything up just as in the office, jammed to music while working, very productive. Day 20 I was uber anxious, couldn’t bring myself to get dressed, couldn’t focus on anything more than a few emails. It’s taken time to experiment and find what works, and it’s still not ideal (see: stress, inability to go outside, my desk is also the kitchen table).

    4. Janie*

      Agreed. I’ve worked FT remotely for years and all of my direct reports do, too. It’s a whole different ball game.

    5. anon for this*

      Yup. I and my partner have both been remote on remote teams for many years. Ostensibly my life is exactly the same as it ever was…except it isn’t. At times over the last two months, many coworkers aren’t sleeping well so their schedule shifts, people are struggling with being productive, now have to spend an hour bleaching down grocery deliveries, have childcare issues, etc. Everyone have been flexible and sensitive. We’re all respected enough to be trusted to get our work done. Otherwise it’s just being communicative: I have to step away because my kid needs help with their distance learning, back in 20.

    6. ursula*

      Deeply appreciate the note not to manufacture team building right now. It’s a fine line between support/connection and this, but the difference is very much felt.

    7. A*

      This! My employer has been really great about this, and it’s trickled down nicely. They reiterate this in every meeting that includes management – all the way from the town hall with the CEO down to my weekly 1:1 with my manager. They’ve also been clear to call out that expectations around productivity are solely that the immediately time sensitive tasks/projects be handled, but that’s it. Everything else on the back burner.

      It’s been a saving grace. And I live alone, so I can only imagine the relief it’s brought my coworkers with kids at home etc. It’s changed my view of my employer for the better.

    8. FT Remote*

      Absolutely agree with all of this. I’ve been working remotely for over 15 years in a distributed team of mixed office-based and teleworkers. It was a difficult enough transition for me when I first started working full time from home, and the former office workers on my team are having to go through that now with the additional anxiety and pressure of the current environment. Some of them are dealing with kids and spouses at home, too, while trying to figure out a totally new work rhythm and carving out an office space at home without having had the luxury to plan ahead for what that would look like or mean for them. I think that patience and kindness is key, not teambuilding exercises or (heaven forbid) invasive video or software monitoring of people’s productivity.

      As others have said, even those of us already used to full time telework are finding it challenging to be as focused and productive as we normally are.

    9. ArtK*

      Yes. I’ve been a teleworker for 20 years now and this isn’t normal. Patience is necessary

      1. Midnight Mother*

        Amen to that. It is very difficult to focus. Not only that, but I have seasonal allergies, and on bad days I start freaking out a bit. It’s very hard to concentrate!

  4. No Tribble At All*

    Following for information about how to keep myself motivated— I feel like it’s harder to collaborate and ask for help remotely.

    1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      I also would like to hear about this. I have had a few days recently where frankly, I barely wanted to get out of bed, much less be productive and get things done all day. Now that it’s setting in that we are in this for the long(er) haul, I’m struggling with it again.

      I’m also the only person in my office who can easily work remotely, so I think there is an odd expectation from above that I will be hyper-productive right now. It’s making me feel like nothing I do is good enough, which makes me want to work even less.

    2. A*

      One thing I’d say is to take people at their word if they say you should reach out if you need help, have questions etc.

      I’m helping onboard two employees that have not been working from home longer than they were in the office, and one of them is struggling (understandably so). I tell her every chance I get to please, please, PLEASE reach out if she has questions – email, IM, text, call, whatever – I’m happy to help! Unfortunately it’s become clear that she feels like she is a bother if she needs to reach out in any way other than in person – she’s also hesitant to reach out to our international coworkers despite having several hours of cross over each day.

      I ended up setting up daily one on ones…. just so I can directly ask her is she has any questions. She always does. It would have saved us both a lot of time and trouble… if she would just hear and believe me when I say I want her to reach out if she needs help, no matter how often/silly she might think it is (there are no stupid questions) etc.

      1. Kate*

        Maybe suggest they batch questions in a “questions for A” running doc. It could be that the implied urgency of a message is throwing them off. Ask them to differentiate between urgent (EoD answer needed) and not (“where to I find info about X”). And, if you have not answered to the urgent by EoD, ping you directly at the end of the day?

    3. zora*

      Oh good point about collaborating.

      We use MS Teams, and have a separate channel for each client team. There is a lot of casual chatting there, asking for thoughts, brainstorming, sending news that might be relevant. I think that’s a good way to do the more casual collaboration.

      But also, setting up calls or video chats is happening a lot more, and I think it works and is helpful. Have you tried scheduling a 30 minute call with a couple of people and saying “can you help me talk through this problem/idea?” I think we are all happy to jump in and help each other right now, we just have to be a little more intentional about it.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I’d be pushing for more use of MS Teams in my organization with little uptake for a couple years. I got much much more pushy about it when everyone started working from home and have been getting some traction.

        Also, in one-on-one and small group video calls we often start with informal check-ins/socializing MUCH more than if we were all in the office. This is legit and good.

    4. Windchime*

      I have a coworker on a different team that I work with very closely. When we were working on a sticky issue last week, we had frequent zoom chats (with camera). It felt very much like it did in the office, where we would walk back and forth to each others’ cubes. At first I was not digging all the camera time, but for me it really does help.

  5. FunTimes*

    My fully remote team uses Slack, and we have channels dedicated to different work areas plus some fun channels for sharing kid/pet photos, YouTube videos, recipes, etc. It’s a good way to keep up communication about work, and feel more connected throughout the day. We’re required to share our daily tasks (quick bullet point list) in a dedicated channel – it felt burdensome at first but I’ve come to like it for focusing me and helping me stay on track; it also gives visibility into what everyone is working on. Some other things – we have a COVID-19 channel, which keeps that news siloed so people can opt in or out. In addition to regular team meetings, we also have an optional virtual happy hour every couple weeks with no work talk allowed.

    For onboarding, have stuff documented so the person has resources they can refer to. Schedule regular meetings during their first month so they can get to know coworkers and have reliable check-ins for asking questions, etc. Make sure they’re invited to all the relevant communication channels, shared drives, etc., and encourage people to reach out and be welcoming! It takes longer to learn a workplace culture when you’re remote, so they may appreciate some guidance on that.

    1. Just J.*

      Our office has started a Task List as well. We’ve tried to keep it an Informal List and not a Carved In Stone List.
      Many of our junior staff have said that the Task List has been very helpful to them. It let’s them know what everyone is working on, what’s expected of them, and what they can jump on next.

      1. FunTimes*

        Definitely! I edit mine throughout the day as tasks are completed, postponed/cancelled, and as new ones come up. It’s less an accountability tool and more for productivity, direction, and transparency, as you said. It’s also given us all more cross-departmental insight (oh, you’re working on X today – do you need Y from me first? etc.) which has been useful.

    2. AVP*

      My team (always fully remote, still struggling with all this anyway) does the same although for us it’s optional. It does still help, especially to see what others are working on.

      We also have 10-10:30am blocked on our schedules for a morning team call – we don’t use it every day but it’s there when we need it, and generally have it 2-3 times per week when there’s something that needs discussion or just for general check-ins.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Ooh, yes, “for fun” Slack channels! We have a bunch, all optional of course, including one for pet photos, one for discussion of video/board games (we have a board game club in the office who plays together at lunch/after work and now they coordinate online for playing Tabletopia and share game reviews and stuff), one for book discussion, one for food/recipes, one for just general random stuff…. it does a good job of partially replacing water cooler talk/lunch table talk. At first we were concerned that the Powers that Be would see it as just procrastination or whatever, but they’ve been encouraging of it.

  6. Jamie*

    I’ve been asking my team to go to the chat channel every day at 10 for a quick check in. We report on what we are doing and also joke around…..much like any office morning. I started it to be sure everyone had enough work to do but what I’ve found is that people are liking the normalcy and connection.

  7. Purple*

    My office is doing a daily morning meeting just to check in and see who is doing what for the day. I have found it helpful because we are used to coordinating in person & the first few weeks saw us doing a lot of duplicate work.

    For a “don’t” I’d say don’t panic! Constant panic-induced changes by upper management just leave everyone confused about expectations. And when there are no clear expectations, or unrealistic panic-induced ones, people default to doing less or just ignoring new guidance.

    1. Amber T*

      I’d prefer morning meetings… we have daily evening ones at 6pm. Which… that’s the time I usually leave the office and my brain is done. And there’s almost always something that needs a response after said meeting, so our working day ends up ending at 7pm. This is after starting between 8 and 9am.

      Honestly, daily is too much for us. Try to coordinate with your team and figure out what is best. Maybe daily meetings would be best. Maybe every other day, or once or twice a week. And do it earlier… either mornings or like, 4pm.

    2. Anja*

      We’ve always had a weekly standing meeting for 15-30 minutes – time to check in, talk about deadlines for the week, any issues going on – on Tuesday mornings (we have a program where people work a bit more every day and get every second Friday or Monday off so Mondays are usually no-go for recurring meetings). We’ve now transitioned that meeting to a video chat meeting.

      We also have a group text chat (Google Hangout) for the team, though, and in there everyone said “good morning” or “hi” in the AM if they’re working. We find we don’t necessarily need to check in on work with the full team every day but it’s nice to have that confirmation of your colleagues being out there. This is also the chat where people will throw something out if they just want to bounce an idea off of someone or check if anyone has heard about an issue.

    3. Avasarala*

      We also started doing daily morning meetings. Just 5-10 minutes and we record it in a spreadsheet in Teams. Even turn on the cameras to feel a moment of humanity. It’s really helped and I’ve noticed more collaboration in work matters and overall.

  8. Person from the Resume*

    I can’t imagine onboarding from home just because of the concerns of out of sight, out of mind and the new employee having no one to ask when questions come up. Working from home requires self-direction and self-direction requires an understanding of what you should be doing which a new-hire might not have.

    I would recommend daily (first thing in the morning) check it with you or a co-worker/mentor to tell them what they are expected to do and accomplish that day answer any questions from yesterday.

    Have someone available via phone or IM pretty much all to answer questions as they come up so your new hire can keep working.

    1. DashDash*

      I’m the IT person at my company, and onboarded a staff member after we were fully remote. We had to mail them their laptop, so the first thing on their first day was a call to go over logging in, the laptop, an introduction to what they should expect for the current tech culture at the company – whether people mostly IM via Teams, or if the office is an email-by-default kind of place – and end by confirming they’re able to make video calls once they’re logged in and set up.

      I also made sure to follow up with the staff member that afternoon to see if they had any ongoing questions, and so they’d have an IM chain in Teams that they could respond to if/when they do. HR notified the company of their first day in advance, and send an all-company welcome email inviting people to welcome our new team member, and schedule 1-on-1 introduction meetings over the next few weeks.

    2. ABK*

      I”m on boarding from home, into week 4! The most important thing is to have enough to do. Have training stuff plus actual work set up so that they’re not wondering what they should be doing each day. Having stuff to do, especially if some of it is team based, so that I’m naturally checking in with people as my work progresses, really helps keep me engaged. Boredom=insecurity, disengagement and frustration.

    3. introvert_extrovert*

      I just onboarded onto a new job remotely and it’s been fine! Slack has been helpful for quick convos/questions, and I am a proactive person. Video calls were also helpful so I have an idea of what my coworkers look like, my manager had a lot of onboarding and documentation planned, and I scheduled one on one meetings with a lot of other colleagues.

    4. Windchime*

      Yeah, we had to onboard a contractor remotely and it’s been rough. He’s having a hard time getting the into the swing of things and hasn’t been super valuable, but I’m not sure it’s really his fault since he’s never really met any of us.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        Yeah, I’m onboarding a new contractor on my team too and it’s been rough, especially since their job completely changed literally the week before they started for the same reason (their job was predicated on in-person events that can’t occur anymore because of the pandemic). So I had to onboard a new person AND figure out a new set of things for them to do. To be fair, this person is fantastic, and I’m really lamenting the pandemic because they would’ve been EXCELLENT at what I originally contracted them to do.

  9. AvonLady Barksdale*

    We do a weekly open lunch that’s been pretty nice. It’s a small thing but helpful. Just show up one day a week, if you want to, and chat about non-work stuff for an hour. Unfortunately we just had a round of pay cuts and have to keep expenses down, and if we didn’t, I would have suggested sending people a gift card for takeout, maybe 10 bucks once a month. We’ve talked about story times for kids (and I’ve offered to do that for individual co-workers– put the kids in front of the computer and I’ll keep them occupied for an hour) and maybe games, but nothing has been scheduled yet.

    What we’re not doing well… until last week we had a weekly meeting that was all-caps REQUIRED and just felt like 10 minutes of “here’s what’s happening with the business”, very one-sided. Very little discussion of things like flexibility in hours, understanding that schedules are weird, support if we need/want it, that kind of thing. We hear that things are going to be slow but we get no guidance on how to fill time, which some people need or would like. I find it to be strangely hands-off.

    1. OtterB*

      We do the weekly open lunch also. We used to do this in person in the office, Thursdays were drop-in lunch, usually just random conversation, occasionally a slide show from someone’s recent trip. (Not going to be any of those for a while, sigh.) It’s a nice piece of continuity.

      We’re having staff meetings via Zoom every two weeks. Our norm for in-person is monthly, so it’s a bit more frequent check-in.

      We have Slack but aren’t using it much – a couple of project-based things but not for the casual chat. I wish we would, but am not sure how to encourage it.

  10. I'm just here for the cats*

    My company just onboarded a new person. We have set up individual meet and greets via Microsoft teams. Normally they take the new person around the office and meet everyone.
    As for engaging everyone can you guys do team meetings online where your just checking in and chit chatting, kind of like you would so in the break room when your in the office?

  11. M*

    I really needed the weekly video chat happy hours when I was working with a remote team. They were extremely humanizing and gave us stuff other than work to talk about over Slack or before meetings. (“How’s Mr. Mittens doing today?” “I love your bookshelves, where’d you get them?” “Did the weather finally clear up over there?”)

    It can be hard across timezones to coordinate this, so a breakfast/lunch could work as well. It might make more sense to make them bi-weekly or monthly at this point now that everyone’s a little Zoom-happy-hour’ed out, though!

    Another thing I’ve been seeing is having physical “gifts” or whatnot mailed to the employees’ homes. Could be company swag, could be something funny/useful from Amazon. My sister’s boss shipped her a bottle of her favorite wine and a costume for her dog as a “1-year anniversary at the job” gift, and it really meant a lot to her.

  12. Nezumi*

    Something that’s worked for my team is having a daily scheduled “Snack and Chat”. It’s just something on our calendar where at 1pm we have a audio or video call and do water cooler talk. The scheduled part is important for my team, because we have a tendency to not do something if it’s not on our calendars.

    We talk about recipes, what we thought of whatever show someone just watched, funny things a kid did, whatever. The point is to replicate the mental refresh some people get when they chat with co-workers by their cubes for a little bit. We titled the standing meeting “Taking a Brain Break”, and for those inclined to that sort of thing it really does help. It’s important to recognize that not everyone is into that sort of socialization though, so don’t bug anyone if they decline the invite

  13. Alex*

    I feel like there’s been too much emphasis on making employees feel “engaged and connected.”

    I think it is much more important for employees to feel like they have the support and freedom they need to find a new normal that works for them. For some people, that means lots of check ins and virtual contact, but for others, that means being left alone as much as possible while they try to figure out how to fold work life into their home life. The best thing you can do is be as flexible as possible and allow for different people having different styles.

    Personally, all the efforts to keep everyone “engaged and connected” from my employer have felt like just another obligation, and not at all helpful. This is because I have no desire to actually be engaged or connected! I just want to complete my work.

    As for new employees, I think that just naming the problem will go a long way towards making them feel like you are taking care of them. “Normally I’d introduce you to the team X way, but since we’re not in the office, we can’t do our usual things” or “Normally I’d sit with you and train you on X. Since we can’t do that, I’m going to have you do Y and read Z. I realize this isn’t ideal.” Also, lay out specific expectations. “Normally, someone in your role would do A and B, but I expect you can probably just do C for now, due to the circumstances.” New employees are probably feeling particularly vulnerable to scrutiny about how their work is going, so giving them extra feedback about where they are vs. expectations would probably be helpful.

    1. nnn*

      Yes, this is exactly what I came to say! “Engaged and connected” is either going to happen by itself, or is too much to ask in the context of a global emergency.

      Focus on keeping everyone healthy and getting the most essential work done.

    2. juliebulie*

      I feel the same way. Or, I suspect that my idea of “engaged and connected” is not the same as the company’s idea of “engaged and connected.”

      I’m engaged in my work and I am connected to everything I need via VPN. If I have questions, I know how to get in touch with the right person. That’s my definition of “engaged and connected.” I can thank our local leadership for this.

      On a bigger scale, the company’s idea of “engaged and connected” means sending me lots of emails and newsletters with inspirational tales about our customers. (No useful swag, lol.) Also emails telling us how lucky we are to work for such a great company. It’s very much one-way (the opposite of engaging) and not meaningful to most of my coworkers nor to me. (I should mention that most of these customers work with a totally different business unit, so it’s barely relevant to the work that the people do in my group.)

      Given that I am “engaged and connected” in the way that keeps me satisfied and productive, I’m a little sad that the company is so out of touch with what matters to us. They’ve done surveys and I’ve explained this, but I swear the company has been doubling down on its existing approach. Oh well. At least local leadership is good. (knock on wood)

    3. pamplemousse*

      Yeah, I think it’s important to keep “engaged and connected” in the context of the workplace. I think of it in terms of collaboration and communication: are we doing what we can to make sure that people are in the loop about projects and assignments they need to know about? Are people able to interact in a way that helps them do their best work, particularly brainstorming and strategizing that was formerly done in person?

      Our higher-ups have tried to arrange game nights and coffee chats, but most of my direct reports and I just want it to be easier to talk about our work and find ways to interact by working together on something.

    4. Foxing*

      God yes, surprised I had to scroll this far down to find this. Maybe I’m callous but it feels like nannying to me. I don’t need you to help me feel connected, I have connections in my personal life. And honestly, those are more tiring now than they usually are because a broad sense of concern for everyone’s health. All the “connecting” via chat and email feels cluttering to the point of distraction in a way I can’t tune out like I can with headphones in office, because it’s unofficially mandatory.

      I was going to post about this tomorrow in the open thread, but I’ll vent a bit here: I’m a younger employee age and time wise in a department of mostly older colleagues who have worked here for the majority of their careers. They’re close, I get it, I’m not heartless. Our boss’s boss scheduled what is essentially mandatory camera on small talk once a week for an hour. Fine, whatever. Then a lot of staff got furloughed. It was difficult for many, emotionally. And now, the boss’s boss has decided these small talk sessions should take place off of the official workplace video conferencing platform, and be our “on-break time” (at the same time, in the middle of the work day, via a private email invitation from my boss’s boss) so that they can include the now furloughed staff. She said it’s to contain no work talk, but this feels legally murky to me at best, because to me this is very much a work obligation. I wouldn’t attend if it weren’t during the work day and from my skip-level boss directly, and the dept is small enough I know I would be called directly to join if I tried to surreptitiously just not get on the line.

      I don’t like it. Errrghh.

  14. Tamsin*

    My company already has work from home and my manager and direct team are in a different Province (I’m in Canada), so was already used to a remote situation that for the most part worked well. However now we’re all working from home 5 days a week, my manager insists on all meetings being FaceTime or video, which is to much and feels a little micro managed (to be fair I think she’s doing it to maintain a sense of team).

    There are other things going on that are annoying, and I just want to be left alone to do my job! I have one team member who is in the same location as me, we have started putting a dollar into a jar (well a note with $1 on it) every time we get annoyed and the plan is once this is all over we’re going to have a night out with the money! It’s quite therapeutic to add the $ when our manager is annoying.

    I also make sure I walk away from my computer before replying to anything.

  15. Student Affairs Sally*

    We have 3X weekly check-ins with my team that are optional but pretty well-attended. My boss shares updates from the department and larger institution, each team member shares updates with what they’re working on that day/week and asks for help or support when needed. We also usually have a fun icebreaker question and share updates from our lives or weekends or whatever. It’s nice to see everyone’s face and connect in that way (and reassuring that I’m not the only one who doesn’t shower daily anymore, lol).

    My larger department has weekly “mingles” via Zoom, where we play games with colleagues in breakout rooms. Recently it was Taboo. I actually hate these because outside of my small team I don’t really click with the rest of the department as well, and I always seem to end up in a room with my grandboss so I can’t fully relax. But I know a lot of my colleagues really enjoy these and look forward to them.

  16. Internal Consultant*

    I’ve exclusively from home for four years now. I can tell you that there’s a line for managers to walk – on one hand, feeling like they are always looking for me makes me feel like I’m being watched. On the other hand, feeling like they’ve forgotten me was bad too. Here’s my best advice for right now — try talking about long-term things: career goals and interests, skills they want to build, or the like. That always made me feel good as a remote employee that my boss was still doing normal, long-term things with me like they would with any other employee.

    As far as on-boarding, I think you just need to be more explicit, especially with cultural things. Tell them how you want them to behave in video calls, what level of conversation is okay in chats, etc. Their abilities to absorb culture are going to be hindered without the in person part!

  17. Alex*

    My team of 25 has been mostly remote for a long time. We’re in software development. Some things that work:

    1. We have a daily update call where everyone mentions what they’re working on and then people talk about specific problems at the end (if you’re not needed for the discussion, you can leave after updates, which are a max of 10 min)

    2. Slack is good for keeping everyone looped in to discussions that used to take place via email.

    3. People are quick to take things to a phone call if there’s too much back and forth on slack

    4. We’ve got a lot of flexibility with working hours, as long as people know when you’ll be online and you’re not missing meetings

    5. Upper management keeps telling us that we’re more important than any deadline and to take care of ourselves and our families, and everything that I’ve seen backs that up

  18. Jill of All Trades*

    Some of the below may be basic, but in the places I have worked, many people have needed reminders about everything below.

    – Cut some slack on productivity and motivation. My boss tried to be upbeat and happy through all this. Not great when my job involves helping people navigate cross-border moves while all the borders are closing, which requires seriousness and empathic conversations while trying to keep difficult situations moving forward.

    – Be responsive and proactive to reaching out to all of your team members. I’ve worked on remote teams since the beginning of my career, and the best way to make people feel involved is to just pick up the phone and speak with them when you have a question, just like if they sat on a desk next to you in the office.

    – Make sure you add any new team members to the regular announcements email lists. If they get them and are able to see that things like happy hours or team gatherings are happening, they will be able to connect with the rest of your team.

    – Make sure they have access to the same technology and benefits as employees who started work in the office with you. If they would normally get a computer, ship them a computer.

    – Assume that they will be able to get up to speed on their own. They still need training and ideally shouldn’t have to ask you for that training unless it’s general support questions as they try to navigate the work.

    – Expect special concessions from a new hire who is starting remote simply because they are starting remote and are new. If you wouldn’t ask for someone else in their position to hold off on meeting with the CEO because of the current crisis, don’t ask the new person to do that either unless there’s a legitimate business region.
    Obviously there is more and you should read other posts in this thread, but the above are some of what I’ve struggled with on remote teams in the past.

  19. Lucette Kensack*

    w/r/t your existing team, start by getting clear about a few things:

    1) What are your goals for the team during the time that they will be working from home? This should include your deliverables, but could also include things like: retain your top performers; avoid burnout; address a performance problem that’s been bubbling; etc.

    2) What is working, and what is not working, right now? Is your team as productive as you need them to be (and is that level of productivity feasible, given the stress that everyone is under now)? Are they giving you reason to be concerned about morale or motivation?

    3) If you are having problems with productivity, morale, or motivation, think through what is causing those problems; the solutions will vary based on the reason. Performance problems that were in evidence before you started working remotely? You need to actively manage the problem. Lower productivity because parents are juggling child care and their workload? You need to prioritize projects, shift workloads around, and adjust your expectations.

  20. WellRed*

    We use slack for quick communication. We have flexibility on scheduling and are trusted to do our work. What we have NOT done is implemented additional check ins, or special bulletin and games and motivational speeches or required additional demands on people’s time. We may or may not do a zoom happy hour at some point. Don’t assume people can’t handle this. Adjust as needed.

  21. Kitty Cathleen*

    My boss is doing a daily conference call for our team, in the morning on M/W/F and the afternoon on Tu/Tr. I was afraid it would be too much, but it’s actually been great. It’s never longer than 20 minutes, it’s an opportunity for social chat as well as work check-ins, and no one is pressured to talk. It’s worked very well for us. We’re a team of 9 who are used to all being in the same room, so this has been a big change. There’s usually some amount of chatting during the day, and I think a lot of people have missed it, so setting up these low-key calls has been great.

  22. Janie*

    I’m going to be a bit counterintuitive here.

    1. I’d NOT recommend happy hours/socializing etc.
    So many folks are working so hard to get their work done, and a lot of them have the added issues of also dealing with new working arrangements, childcare, and all of the other things that have become more difficult. Adding performative socializing just cuts into time needed for other things.

    3. I’d also suggest not instituting a ton of meetings, calls, check ins, etc. Again, not only are they more of a time burden when people need all the flexibility they can get, it can often come across as intrusive and overly controlling. If you didn’t have daily (or more!) meetings in the office, you don’t need them now. If you didn’t make everyone account for every minute of their time before, you don’t need them to do it nw. If you are having trouble knowing what people are doing, or if you don’t trust people to work that’s your issue, not your staff’s. Don’t bury them to self soothe yourself. And maybe accept that many people are NOT going to be as productive as usual.

    3. Not everything needs to be a zoom call. Seriously. It doesn’t. Nothing saps my productivity that having to continuously break for video calls for things that could be dealt with via an email or a quick phone call (and without needed to dress up and comb my hair).

    4. I would help people prioritize and make clear what needs to be done, what needs to be communicated, etc. and what is less important right now.

    5. Don’t go overboard in trying to counterfeit an “in office” environment. People AREN’T at the office. Everything is different. Trying to fake or perform normalcy is just…disheartening and not productive.

    What keeps me engaged and connected is being trusted to do my job, and the acknowledgement that we’re in weird times and that I am supported by being allowed the flexibility and autonomy I need to get my job done and manage my life.

    1. Malarkey01*

      All of THIS. It should be put on a poster and made the official virtual office art for our times.

    2. Alan*

      Can I slightly disagree with points 1 and 2? You are absolutely correct that there is a danger of making meetings/socialising an extra demand on people’s time. However, for some people staying in contact with coworkers is very important and a bit of a lifeline if you live on your own. My advice, would be to make non essential meetings and socialising as optional rather than getting rid of them all together.

      1. kittymommy*

        This. Some people like them (even people who aren’t typically extroverts) or may end up feeling that they need them. Make them voluntary. Let the employee decide whether than can/want to participate.

      2. coffee cup*

        I really appreciate our weekly coffee break. I live alone and like my colleagues, so it’s nice to actually have conversations. They don’t have to be mandatory but I think having the option is nice.

      3. Malarkey01*

        The hard thing with these optional events is that they really don’t feel optional. They did that here but then important information was given during them and absent people were noticed. Whether that has negative consequences I don’t know, but while so many people are trying to squeeze in work before childcare, spending any time doing non critical things is stressful.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          The problem is that NOT connecting with coworkers, having to be “all business” all the time, etc. is stressful for others. There’s no solution that is perfect. Having something (truly) voluntary seems like a reasonable compromise.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Right, but I don’t think you can generalise that to all social events. Sometimes it’s optional-but-not-really, but plenty of workplace socialising truly is optional.

          (Speaking more broadly, I do often think on here that a lot of commenters seem to interpret even very low-pressure open invitations as orders. If someone simply says to you “hey, we’re doing virtual coffee at 11, feel free to join”, perhaps in some offices such as yours that is actually your marching orders but I think that in most it isn’t, and if you don’t join people likely will not even notice. Certainly it’s never been a problem in any office I’ve worked in. Other people don’t think about us as much as we think they do.)

        3. Turtle Candle*

          The problem is that “no extra social stuff, even optional, because people might not believe you that it’s optional” is that it prioritizes one person’s reaction to stress in favor of another’s to a pretty complete degree. It’s essentially a ‘no compromises’ position. And that seems pretty unfair: maybe you, or I, don’t need (or want) another socialization outlet, or a continued more-personal-than-IM connection to their coworkers, or non-work talk in a work context… but lots of people thrive on that and really, really suffer in its absence. Isolation has real, serious effects for many people; a couple of serious, normally somewhat antisocial introverts at my workplace are attending these because they live alone, and otherwise it’s easy to go days without talking face-to-face with someone. (Not that all introverts are antisocial; I’m not. But these two are…. generally. Not right now.)

          Maybe “truly optional socialization options” is more stressful to you than “no extra socialization options for anyone,” but it seems like it’s a pretty good middle ground, given that both extremes can have serious deleterious effects on someone.

    3. Most things may never happen*

      I posted my own suggestions below, but I agree 1000% with the stuff Janie wrote. I especially love the last line:

      What keeps me engaged and connected is being trusted to do my job, and … that I am supported by being allowed the flexibility and autonomy I need to get my job done and manage my life.

      (I edited it a bit because I believe this is true always, not just now).

    4. Djuna*

      Another important thing for managers to think of when they want to add additional meetings is that if you have a cross-functional team, they’re getting extra invites from other teams too. People are tripping over themselves wanting to have Zoom calls to check in with anyone and everyone. I am so tired of being asked how I’m “coping” when I’m trying my hardest just to get on with things.

      My favorite meetings right now cross-functional ones on a project I’ve been involved with for months. There’s chatter at the start as people dial in, but it’s not about coronavirus or how we’re all doing with WFH, it’s watercooler chat like in the before times, then down to business.
      These meetings are a beacon of much-needed normalcy in my week, and I am so grateful for them.

  23. Jamie*

    Looking forward to hearing how other offices are getting this right.

    Mine has done nothing and I feel completely disconnected. I should be concerned that this will hurt my standing when all is said and done but I can only worry about so much at one time. We were told to work from home if possible, but those who can and choose to come in are being allowed to work in the office and if my staying WFH hurts me, I guess it hurts me.

    I live with two family members who are essential workers and one works in a healtcare facility where there have been deaths and have multiple infections from Covid-19. I’m taking it seriously.

    No check in, communication has always been a problem and that hasn’t changed, business as usual for the most part except for my growing sense of being out of the loop and fear about what that means for me long term.

    I’m as productive as I am in the office. I was hoping I would be more productive given the change, but the interuptions from work have been replaced by my distractions with the news and just our new normal.

  24. Meredith*

    We have a daily “stand up” (SCRUM) meeting. We have a digital board we post our top priorities on, and then can move them to “in progress,” “in review,” or “complete.” We can also assign “hot potatoes” to other staff members and discuss during the daily meeting. It’s good to see what other people are working on, if they need help, or if someone you need to help you is overloaded, so everyone can help prioritize. It also gives us a little time to check in with each other, but since the goal of the call is work-related, it’s not just a pointless shooting-the-breeze type of call, which some employers are trying to implement without great success.

  25. Corporate Goth*

    Don’t switch between a million new pieces of tech and make me come up with 15 new logins and passwords that can’t be reused and require different levels of security. Please, please, please.

    I am so tired of “this isn’t working, so we’re switching to X, but we’re still going to kind of still use the first one too.” If you must do this, at least clearly shut down the previous versions. Be clear on which comms are using which channels, and consolidation would be appreciated. I spent too much time logging into everything just to find the only message is a dumb meme.

    Oh, and don’t give out people’s home email addresses without their explicit permission, even if you know it and their work email is having connection issues. Not cool. Give me a chance to shunt work stuff to my spam account and keep my personal life separate.

    I also second Alex’s idea above regarding how normal would be, so any new hires keep in mind there will be new new-hire processes once we’re back to normal.

    Finally, a postmortem on which meetings could remain emails once we return to normal is definitely advised. I hope my organization will managed to keep this in mind, but I doubt it.

  26. Sunset Maple*

    Understanding your team’s work flow is key. I only need occasional help from my manager, but I usually need it quickly (i.e., pushing an upper-level manager to stop dilly-dallying and make a firm decision). My boss is responsive when I need her, but otherwise gives me the time and space I need to get things done.

    Our grandboss was asking for daily progress reports, because he’s a bean counter who expects butts in seats, so my boss was having our team do a group Skype chat every day. She quickly realized that it was a huge time waster, given the long-term nature of our work, so she switched to requiring a weekly e-mail summary.

  27. New WFH*

    As someone who recently started a new job that is for now full-time WFH, assign a tech buddy to the newcomer. To explain how to log on, how to access files, etc. That way the newcomer doesn’t make a bad first impression by asking the wrong person or publicly asking “newbie” questions. Also tell the newcomer the office culture re: zoom meetings. For example, we all use our cameras or no one uses a camera.

  28. Patty*

    My office has been doing theme days, like everyone wear a certain color or hats or whatever. We’ve also started a workout slack channel and people will get together around lunch to work out virtually. We’ve also kept a few in-person events, like our monthly “coffee and conversation” hour but moved them online, which I think gives everyone a sense of continuity.

    A lot of individual managers who are used to managing in-person have transitioned to an additional 1:1, and some teams are doing daily slack-based stand-ups. The messaging around this is “this is a crazy time, we could all use a little structure” rather than “we don’t trust you.”

    Of course, our HR has been very busy, and I think it’s easy for little “fun” things to fall by the wayside while companies are dealing with things like layoffs, transitioning to WFH, loans, budget cuts, etc. But I think making an active effort to continue those little things helps establish a sense of normalcy, especially for a team that’s used to greeting each other in the hallways every morning.

    1. StlBlues*

      Obviously everyone likes different things, but I feel compelled to be a voice of dissent from the above. Having to remember what color I was supposed to wear or to find a hat or to GOD FORBID have to work out in front of my coworkers on Zoom would probably make me rage quit.

      That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it in your office if it’s working, Patty. I just want to remind everyone to know your team. I would seriously hate every second of what’s described here. I’m a director with a team of my own and…. dear god, I think they’d murder me.

      1. alienor*

        Yeah, early on we had some attempts by department-level leadership to get everyone to dress in costumes, etc., and I haven’t seen much of that lately. Much like in the office, there was a limited handful of people who were super into the idea and a large majority (including me) who went NO THANKS.

      2. allathian*

        Goodness, I agree! No silliness like hats or dressing up or whatever. I’m just glad to have a job where I don’t have to dress in nice clothes for work. But now my boss just said that for our weekly meetings with video, she doesn’t mind if we look like homeless people, just so long as we show our faces on video for five minutes. I’m having bad hair days every day, but other than that, I’m cool.

  29. AnyaT*

    Reading this with interest. I really like the suggestions around lunchtime “water cooler chat” meetings (voluntary of course!) to try and keep some of our usual human connections – and I say that as an introvert! We have a weekly team meeting every Monday morning with a check-in on how people are doing, but it feels a bit forced as it is mixed with our regular business. When this began 5 weeks ago we all had some trouble adjusting and I think some normal conversation on how we felt would have helped. I can tell you for sure it would have this week – I live in a small province that just experienced the worst mass murder in our country’s history. We are all reeling with shock. If we had been in the office we would have discussed and bonded over this shared experience. Instead we just plunged ahead with business as usual Monday morning and it felt so tone deaf. I have no idea what we even discussed that day, and I don’t know how my colleagues are coping either. So I don’t really have any advice, just to acknowledge that these are strange and stressful times and to try and create spaces for people to continue their usual human connections.

    1. Cloudy with sunny breaks*

      I don’t have any of the right words for what happened, so I’ll send my best supportive internet vibes. I think the entire country is thinking about you, but we don’t have the normal ways of showing support.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Oh, no. Sending you love and healing vibes over the internet – I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you all.

    3. CV*

      I’m in NS, too. This week has been miserable.
      Our team has been reaching out to each other via email just to say “how are you?”. Not to replace EAP (if you have access to one and are struggling, use it!). But just to have a human connection.
      My manager also made it very clear that as long as the “essentials” get done this week on time (about 10% of the job is tied to hard deadlines) everything else will still be there when we are able to be more productive again.

    4. karen*

      I’m in Toronto now, but I’m from Truro, and my parents are still there, so I just wanted to say hi, and I’m so sorry, and hang in there. What a terrible thing to happen in an already terrible time. I couldn’t focus on anything until Wednesday this week, so I can’t imagine being there. Give yourself lots of time to breathe, I guess, is my best advice. You’re not alone, we’re together, but apart.

    5. Catalyst*

      Also in NS, it was glazed over with my team (basically also business as usual), which is a bit weird because we have otherwise done such a good job of checking in with people without being invasive. Thinking of all my fellow Nova Scotians and sending them virtual good vibes, it’s been a rough week.

  30. AnonEMoose*

    Something I’ve said before, but I think it’s important – let people be where they are right now. People are going to be all over the place emotionally and with their ability to focus right now. Let them know you understand that and encourage them to take care of themselves. It’s ok to expect them to be professional, as long as your definition of this doesn’t include being positive at all costs.

    If your team is having any technical issues, do what you can to help get them resolved or figure out workarounds.

    My team has been exchanging occasional “check in” emails, maybe sharing a link or a tip they found helpful. I know I can email my boss at any point, and as long as I get my work done, if I need to log out a bit early and do a bit of self-care, that’s fine. I did take a day off earlier this month just for a mental health day, and it did help.

    Basically, do what you can to be supportive, give flexibility where you can, and check in with folks to see how they are. Maybe ask them what they’d like – virtual coffee break or lunch? Schedule a virtual meeting just to talk casually? I think it really depends on your team and their usual dynamic.

  31. SometimesALurker*

    One of the things that’s useful for me is knowing that the work I’m doing matters, is going somewhere, is being used. Or, if it isn’t being used right now but we want to get ahead on it for the future, that’s helpful for me to know, too. Basically, that it’s not busywork. By the nature of my job, I usually do know this, but it can be harder when there are disruptions to our workflow, and I’ve known it less often lately. I guess this boils down to communication.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Oh, that’s a good point. I came from public health to retail about six months ago, and although public health is a bit of a gong show right now – it’s still where my heart is. It’s hard to feel like I’m making a difference when all I’m doing is working behind the scenes at a business that sells (apparently essential) things to people.

      But I will certainly use that language with my team, all of whom have been in retail for several years longer than I have. Thanks for the reminder!

  32. DiscoTechie*

    I was part of small remote office with a larger corporate mother ship on the other side of the state. We just opened in October and were working on forming our culture and getting our groove going. Our remote office manager has retained our Motivational Monday (ie a treat and discuss the weekend and the upcoming week of work). Our beer thirty on Friday has gone virtual. It’s nice to see everyone via video. I hadn’t expected how much I would need that. Our company on the whole is running a #WeAreCompany campaign where people send in photos of work from home (ie a lot of pets and kids), funny videos, pics, etc. We vote weekly and the winner gets a gift card. Our president does video updates weekly.

    Just a lot of little things is what I’ve found helpful.

  33. SeluciaMD*

    I’d start by individually asking your team what helps them – because there is no one size fits all. I lead a team of six and I already have differing levels of regular interaction with each of them depending on their role. But as my office is currently mandating twice-weekly all staff hangout meetings and three times a week leadership team hangout meetings, after talking with my team members I realized that they didn’t really want to add another weekly team meeting/call to their schedules. And frankly, because we are regularly punting pieces of work and projects back and forth, there wasn’t really a need for it. Some of them want or need more regular check-ins, some really feel like there’s already too much and are just fine not hearing from me more often LOL. I adjust my level of interaction with all of them to better suit their individual needs (and to facilitate the work) but overall we’re only doing one team-specific check in a month and that is working out just fine. They know I’m available by phone/email/text/hangouts if they have questions or need anything and they take me up on that when they need it.

    I think, overall, as an organization we’re doing far too many weekly calls/meetings but I’m hopeful as things start to feel less urgent, I can encourage our Director to back off on some of that. That is the one thing I wish we were doing a better job of balancing.

    What I think we’re doing well, though, is being realistic about people’s ability to be productive given that most of our staff are also parents trying to manage work and home-schooling. We also have three staff who are simultaneously working on a degree so we’re giving them a bit more breathing room as they figure out how to balance work and school, particularly in a week like this one where two are taking mid-terms. Our core leadership – our ED, Finance Director and myself – got together very early on and prioritized what things had to be done and what things we were putting off and/or not doing at all and then were very clear about communicating that to our team so people understood what was a priority, what deadlines still had to be respected, and what things they could and should deprioritize or let go of. And we’ve made it very easy for people to reach out if they are struggling with meeting a deadline so we can collaborate on a workable plan of action.
    I’m also being much more diligent about work time vs. non-work time than I was pre-COVID and I’m encouraging my team to do the same. I think it’s even more important now for everyone to make and take time every day where they step away from the work and just relax and recharge. I don’t email or call/text at night or on the weekends unless there is something really urgent and I’m encouraging them to do the same.

    It’s a weird time but I’m pretty proud of how our organization has been handling this overall. Our staff seems to be doing well and are figuring out where they can pitch in and help more, and where they can (or need to) step back and let others help them. It’s a tough balance and we don’t get it right all the time, but I think we’re getting it right more than we aren’t.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Can I just say how much I LOVE the way you are including your team in determining how and how much to communicate with each of them?

      I desperately wish more managers understood that it is not a sign of weakness or an indication of lack of managerial skills to ask something like “what level and frequency of communication will help you do your job most effectively?” It would help even more if that question was preceded by a statement like “Tasks A and B are real priorities to keep on track, tasks C, D and E can be addressed as time is available, and task X is on hold until further notice.”

      Thank you for being a tuned-in and aware manager.

  34. JR*

    Something that’s really helped in my office is a big expansion of flex time. We used to be M-F, everyone works 9-3, and you can flex your time around that. Now, you can do your 40 hours any time M-Sat. You just have to put your hours on our shared Outlook calendar and email your immediate boss if you’re making a last minute change. There are some individual restrictions based on assignments and due dates, but it has really helped everyone out.

    My section moved from no regular check ins to twice a week teleconferences when we first stared full time wfh. Now my boss has scaled back to one a week. They’ve all been under 15min which I appreciate.

  35. Jules the First*

    My team of 10 is doing a daily chat where we check in with each other and socialise for half an hour. We chitchat about what people have been cooking or baking, swap our daily highlight (samples from today: met the deadline that got moved up by two hours; got great material from a colleague; ran the whole five km this morning; am getting cuddled by my cat) and generally hang out. Someone might raise a question, or I’ll bring up a reminder of something they should be doing, but all lowkey and informal.

    When I on-boarded our new hire (she started literally the day the country went into lockdown), we exchanged a couple of emails ahead of her first day with details about how to get online and who to call from IT for help first thing; then we did the initial orientation that I’d do face to face by video call, and then I handed her off to the team for a video coffee break so she could match faces to names and meet all her colleagues. She has a dedicated buddy who is her first point of call with questions about how to do her job, and who has been gradually feeding her tasks, and newbie and I have a weekly catch up where she covers all the questions she’s been saving up over the last week that didn’t need an urgent answer.

    The most important thing for on-boarding a new hire remotely is to communicate clearly how it works, what expectations are, and what the trajectory of the role will look like.

  36. Gemma*

    My office has not done very well with setting expectations around communication and availability, so I have had to be very proactive around those items.

    After two weeks of not hearing from my manager, I sent her a list of what I was planning to work on that week and she said “Oh, that looks good-why don’t you send me one every Monday.” I also had doctor’s appointments and we hadn’t discussed how to handle those, so I sent her a note that basically said “I’ll be out from 8 am to 12 pm today and my phone will be off” and never heard back.

    I have another higher-up who has always been garbage at responding to emails, and the current crisis has only made him worse. I’ve taken it upon myself to send him a list of what I’m working on for *him* every week as well, and made it a rule that if I send him the list + one follow-up email and he doesn’t respond, I just don’t say anything else to him about a particular assignment.

    We’ve had one call with my department head, which I appreciated, but more would be nice. We’re coming up on 1.5 months of working remotely and I think it would be nice to have a departmental check-in once per month the way we used to. I just feel very disconnected from everyone and the lack of communication of expectations from the higher-ups hasn’t helped.

    1. juliebulie*

      Good for you on taking the lead in communicating with your manager.

      I will say in sympathy with my boss: as worried as I was that he’d micromanage, he hasn’t had the opportunity to because he’s in Skype meetings for hours and hours (sometimes all day) every day. How can they spend that much time in meetings and have so little to tell us afterwards?? (Trying not to get paranoid.) Perhaps your bosses are “meeting” all day long as well.

      1. Gemma*

        Thanks. :) I know that they’re actually busier now, due to the nature of our work and their positions higher up, than they were before. I don’t expect them to be asking me how I’m doing and checking in at every opportunity, but it was very strange going from speaking every day to total radio silence and feeling like I wasn’t getting any direction.

  37. Lemonola*

    I work for a state government and I can tell what doesn’t work. Telling us we are valuable members of the team followed by an email from the inspector general reminding us that theft of time is serious infraction. With a list of prohibited workday activities. That I am reading using my internet connection. On my computer. In my home. There’s more but you get the picture.

    1. Tempononymous*

      My daughter’s company (not government) has been sending out DAILY reminders warning them about “time theft” ever since they’ve started to WFH and it’s so demoralizing. And she one returned from a bathroom break to a chat from her boss saying she had to turn on her video RIGHT NOW so he could see she was working.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Daily reminders about time theft? What the actual. I have no words for some people, some days!

        (Or rather, I do have words, and lots of them. Just none of them are especially polite, or professional…)

  38. Not a Girl Boss*

    What is working for us is having core hours where meetings can only be scheduled 10-12 and 1-3. Before this was instituted, things were getting pretty out of hand where my workday was stretching from 7:30-5:30 because I didn’t have a good enough “excuse” to decline meetings outside of my normal working hours.

    1. Gemma*

      I typically say “I have a conflict at that time, would X or Y time work for you?” Of course this only works if you’re dealing with someone who will take your word for it and not demand that you rearrange your schedule.

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        Unfortunately, we all openly share our calendars and “put a time on the calendar” for meetings – its not really a request.
        Plus there’s just a natural pressure to be agreeable and make a time work for someone else, because its *just* TV time its cutting into.

  39. NW Mossy*

    My strongest recommendation is to recognize that you’re aiming at two goals (high productivity and high morale) that will often be in direct conflict with each other during this crisis. It’s going to be exceptionally difficult to have both, so spend some time thinking about what tradeoffs you are and aren’t willing to make.

    Speaking for myself as a leader, my job is 90% meeting with other people. To be as productive in doing that, I have to sacrifice my family. My kids aren’t getting any parenting or teaching from me, and my spouse is having to shoulder the burden of keeping them just outside of the neglect zone at the cost of his own productivity. It’s a huge hit to my morale, but I’m not in a position to be able to admit that to my leadership because they’re quite clear that they expect business as usual during this time.

    I guess what I’m saying is know what you’re asking people to sacrifice when you’re asking them to do as much (or more, even) than normal and keep the positive-engaged-professional face on while they do it. Some people are going to break under that strain, so that’ll be a cost you have to consider.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry. Sounds awful. I’d hate to think of a single parent in your position.
      Still, your kids are going to remember your neglect forever and your employer’s going to throw you in the trash as soon as it suits them, so ask yourself, is it really worth it? I know I wouldn’t be able to work under those conditions.

  40. MsSolo*

    Ooh, I’m really interested in tips for onboarding. Our training process usually involves a lot of shadowing, which can be partly replicated with screen shares, but not entirely. We’ve had trouble before when new colleagues were in different offices, especially with coaxing them to come forward as soon as they got stuck rather than saying everything’s going ‘fine’ all day and only admitting when the deadline hits that actually they got stuck on step one (there’s a long history of the tools we use being ‘helpfully’ updated without warning, and if you’re not already familiar with the process it’s so hard to tell whether you’re going wrong or the tool is). It’s hard to tell over IM whether someone’s shy, or whether they’re just not doing any work! Our plan was to make sure we get someone in the same office as most of the team this time, which is still how we’ve advertised it, but training is almost certainly going to have to start before we’re back in the office.

    1. BlueWolf*

      Same. We have a new person joining our team next week. Their first few days will be the usual company orientation-type things and then we have a few designated people on the team that will go over the more team-specific training, which will have to be done using screen sharing I suppose. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes since this is all new for us. Luckily, this person is experienced in our field, it’s more just covering the specific way our company does things.

  41. Nerd Gremlin*

    Please go easy on the Zoom/group meetings. It is important to stay connected of course, but I felt my work (12 of us) really went overboard. We were having 2-3 hour long Zoom meetings everyday, which took up the whole morning and left me really drained. I finally said something to the CEO (I report directly to her) that I was having trouble getting my work done because of them, and they have either stopped or I am no longer invited to them. I have to say my mood is vastly improved. Of course sometimes they are necessary, but keep in mind they are exhausting and can impact an employee’s productivity. And don’t require them to have video on- I don’t get why now we have to do that, when in the past being on the phone was fine.

      1. Nerd Gremlin*

        Lol thanks! I do wonder if they are still happening and I am not part of them, or hopefully they just stopped them for everyone.

  42. AndersonDarling*

    Ask people what they want! I’m on a team of half introverts and half extroverts. We have chat sessions 2x a week where the team gets on and makes small talk. Only half the team participates and the other half are cringing because they just want to get back to work.
    Just ask people what they want and set a balance between the requests. Or better yet, set a minimum of interaction and a bunch of optional interaction. So you have a once a week 30 min check in, then a 30 min voluntary chat session, and another 30 min voluntary fun session.
    And please make it clear what is expected at each virtual team meeting. It’s frustrating when I get on a call to ask work questions but everyone is chatting about social things instead.

  43. Liz*

    My office (1 of 22 at a 750 person firm, with 35 people) is holding an optional Zoom call at 4 every day, just to connect and chat about whatever. Usually there’s a theme of some sort, ie: what are you watching? What’s your favorite cocktail? or trivia, or drawing, and there’s a weekly boxing workout by one of my colleagues who normally teaches classes at a gym near the office. Actually, today there’s a firm-wide boxing lesson, for anyone who wants to join.

    As someone who lives alone in a 700 SF apartment, and only gets to see family every 2 weeks, to drop off groceries and read stories to my niece, I thoroughly enjoy the face-to-face (even electronically) contact.

    And my boss has been supportive of a slightly flexed schedule, so I can run errands (less crowded at store/can sometimes catch them restocking necessities), take a walk, or just disconnect for an hour during the day. I totally scored toilet paper, Lysol wipes, and a bottle of bleach when I made a mid-day visit to Walmart last week.

  44. notMichelle*

    I work for a very large corporation and one of the things they did really well was setting up a VPN for us to log in and have some normalcy – I can use our phone system completely from my computer (I’m the only admin for now 2 branches and I have to handle the phones/reception duties). It’s really been the best thing they’ve done for this entire situation.

    I actually feel more connected with my neighboring branches (in a major metro area so we have multiple branches/offices) than I did prior to this and I feel like it’s been a great thing. It’s a tad annoying to be on 6 conference calls a day, but I can easily communicate and receive daily updates while also building relationships with people in a similar role to me. Most of these are with different groups of people so it’s not all the same information and I feel like most people aren’t on this many calls.

    We still have our downtimes where someone will call another person and just chat and it’s not frowned upon. We’ve had a few zoom happy hours, but nothing over the top or excessive or mandatory. We’re also taking this time to set up a new chat platform and so this week has been trainings for it.

    Our company has also encouraged everyone to take the necessary hardware home (like, they recommended taking monitors if needed/able to). Of course they recommended that after I had already been home for at least a week and half and bought myself a new monitor. We already had laptops given to us instead of desktop computers so we had mobility built in.

    One thing that I don’t feel was particularly helpful was that they’re trying to find ways to keep the admins busy was by finding essentially busywork. But they did this without discussing with the branches what would actually be helpful. I ran a little training session for my group of admins on putting together dashboards on our CRM in order to work more efficiently and effectively and I feel like things like that would be more beneficial than extra busy work that the managers didn’t really need/want. So yeah, please don’t come up with busy work that’s not particularly helpful or needed. Check with your teams about what they need or want before instituting something.

  45. angstrom*

    We’re keeping it simple. The normal once-per-week conference call with the extended(global) team proceeds as scheduled. Work-from-home changes are a MWF Zoom check-in and the regular weekly one-on-ones with direct reports are Zoom. Team members communicate with each other through email, chat, Zoom or phone.
    No structured feel-good activities, just folks sending an occasional cartoon or humorous video.
    Boss is good about looking at the work getting done, and not fussing about the number of hours planted in front of the screen. He’s also made clear that it’s fine to take time off if needed.

  46. PNW*

    I have increased the frequency of one-on-ones and team meetings through WebEx. When I heard that team members were feeling disconnected from the organization as a whole, I started sharing information with them that they would normally hear if they were in the office such as who is leaving and which departments have new people. When the Operations Director sent me pictures of building upgrades (property managers took advantage of a nearly empty three story building) I forwarded those. If I receive management notifications that I can share, I do. I think it has helped. I’ve received a number of “thank you” responses.

  47. Mockingjay*

    As a manager, give your employees structure and clear assignments. Focus on the business, not the pandemic. It’s a relief not to discuss it – I’m tired of hearing about it.

    My team has a weekly meeting/teleconference (established pre-COVID) in which we start with work and personal bests. Things are just mundane and plodding right now, so this week our moderator said, “you know what? let’s just tell each other what shows we’re binge watching.” That was fun and relaxed everyone without a heavy emotional investment. We got through the rest of the call – work status – pretty quickly.

    These days, less is more for me.

  48. JustA___*

    My company did a lot of virtual meetings before this, but doesn’t do video-conferencing, which is definitely a relief because it’s heating up and I don’t have air conditioning right now!

    Another thing my team implemented was a weekly “Accomplishments” email on Friday to supervisor that also includes a “to-do” for the following week. It’s low-key and not time consuming, but helps me confirm I did something productive in the last 5 days, and the to-do list is pretty helpful for organizing my week when I look at it on Monday morning.

    1. introverted af*

      TBH, I wish my supervisor would do something like this, but he’s too concerned with not smothering people imo. He’s stated quite a few times that his philosophy in leadership is to hire great people and let them run, but I could use the structure, and also, I’m new enough to my team that I’m still not sure enough how everybody works, and as the admin for the team, I find that it’s especially important that I understand what’s going on in our world – the team comes to me and expects me to be the “brain” of the team with all the stories and data of what’s going on, but our supervisor doesn’t want to enforce that people use tools completely or effectively after he’s asked me to set up a new system to get him the info he needs on what’s happening or even really require people to report much. But then he wants to be able to report to his supervisor how much we’ve accomplished during this time?

      Sorry, end rant. I’ve just been frustrated by this for the past couple weeks

      1. Gemma*

        My team has this problem as well, but the problem is that the people at the top are experts, and I’m not. So where they would know intuitively what to do, or would understand an assignment given only bare bones details, I don’t. I don’t have any solutions, but I empathize.

  49. Brett*

    We have instituted two meeting types that seem to be pretty successful.

    One member of our team leadership is responsible for 1:1 meetings. He is scheduling one meeting with everyone on the team once a month (it’s a big team). This is just a generic “how is everything going? what do you need?” meeting that is not about any project/work checkpoints at all. If we figure out anyone is struggling with WFH/stay-at-home specific issues, we set up some extra checkins.

    The other meeting is a weekly touchbase meeting only with the team leads, run by a different member of our team leadership.
    These meetings cover four questions. “What is the main thing your team is working on now? What do you expect to work on next? What is going well? What do you need to change?” We don’t necessarily get through all of these. We use the “What is going well” to develop best practices to share to other teams. Sometimes “what do you need to change” comes up with nothing, sometimes it reveals some big issues. Sometimes the meeting just gives the team leaders a chance to vent. The other two questions just take the place of common face to face chats we might have if we were all in the office.

  50. introverted af*

    I’m not sure if this has been said but also – stay proactive about your plan for returning to the office. In many places, it’s currently still too early to go back, but it’s not gonna be good if the Friday before your locale’s “stay at home” order runs out you say, “Have a good weekend, see you in the office on Monday!”

    In my state (Kansas), our state-wide stay at home order runs out on May 3rd, but our office just emailed today and basically said, that’s not gonna be our first day back in the office FYI, especially given that some of our municipalities have longer stay at home orders in place. They’re going to talk about their plan in a staff meeting Monday, and I’d expect some of our departmental supervisors will be giving guidance and expectations for their area as well.

    Even if you’re just able to say, “I expect to give you as much notice as I can, please talk to me about your needs when this starts happening so we can make plans,” you likely have at least 1 employee that is worried about having laundry and childcare and meals planned in enough time for returning to the office.

  51. Matilda Jefferies*

    I’m a manager of a team of four, two of whom are about to be redeployed from our head office to bricks-and-mortar retail stores. Coincidentally, both of my redeployed staff are dealing with ill family members (one Covid, one not.) So for those two especially, I’m being as flexible as possible – I am absolutely not counting their hours, and I’m doing what I can to help them with logistics and run interference with HR.

    For the team as a whole, I’m having those non-mandatory coffee breaks, half an hour once a week. Sometimes I invite our director as well. And I’m checking in with everyone individually once or twice more throughout the week – usually by email, and then they will either email or phone me back if they want to chat. We’re a team of three introverts (four, including myself) and one extrovert, and I’m on the phone with the extrovert several times a day for operational reasons, so this feels like the right amount of contact for everyone.

    As far as productivity goes, we’re doing what we can. I expect I will get most of the extra workload from the redeployment, and some of the work will just not get done. Most of what we do isn’t super time sensitive, so as long as we keep chugging along, we should be fine.

  52. Dom*

    Major thing my team is doing that I find helpful: maintaining as many normal practices as possible. We do bi-weekly teamwide meetings, and I have a weekly check-in with another team member I work closely with. Even though these are now done by phone/video, having the normal meetings makes me feel a little more like the business is continuing to function, and helps me structure my time (I know that every Wednesday, I’ll be accountable to someone for work done, I know we’ll get more information on a project on Thursday, etc.). Just having some sense of stability and continuity has gone a long way towards calming my nerves as everything else is in flux.
    Major thing my team is doing poorly: “wellness.” I think it’s great to offer options if people are so inclined (our team did a virtual quiz night and that went well) but sometimes it’s veered into too much and you need to be careful about timing – I don’t really want to send a picture of my drab work from home set up for a “cutest desk” competition when the office is discussing furloughs and I don’t know if I’ll have a job in a week. If people don’t seem responsive, don’t cajole or push – wellness shouldn’t be compelled. Forced team bonding is awful at the best of times, so it’s not going to get any better in a pandemic!

  53. Most things may never happen*

    I successfully worked from home for 12+ years[1]. I’ve been a lowly employee and I’ve managed large international teams. I’ve got numerous suggestions and opinions.

    My quick notes on Working At Home:

    – evolutionary process: you’re not going to get it totally correct first thing.
    – morning ‘get started’ meeting: everyone needs to
    a) be brief, and
    b) be empowered to stop people who are taking too long.
    c) try to keep it to 15 minutes total
    – required tools:
    – telephone.
    – email.
    – instant messaging.
    – large document sharing.
    – availability: who’s “at work” at any given time + how to contact them.
    – meetings: scheduling and notification.
    – video / presentation conferencing: needs to share PPT & other docs during meeting.

    Opinion stuff:

    1. There’s usually not a huge benefit to videoconferencing over phone conferencing. We would quite often simply share a document and have a conference call to go over it. Videoconferencing is just ‘sugar’ that typically adds little and quite often delays the meeting, ie, 8 people all going “can you hear me?” yadda yadda.

    2a. I think one of the biggest problems is with management: they need to shift focus from “seeing people at their desks” to “results”.

    2b. Also, managers and employees need to come to some sort of understanding about work hours. That is:
    a) employees will not be working 9-5 every day without breaks, and
    b) employees are not available 24/7.

    Personally, I was exempt and I was okay with taking the occasional late or weekend call – in exchange, I had a lot of flexibility to run out to the dentist. But I’ve read horror stories of mgmt who apparently can’t handle this.

    2c. During work hours, everyone needs to be contact-able. Our instant messaging system would allow us to easily set an “away” message, which I’d set to “Dentist, back at 2pm. Call XXX if emergency”. It was simple and effective.

    3. “Core hours” are often a good idea, especially if the job involves clients who call to ask for things.

    5. Any kind of ‘optional’ or ‘voluntary’ meeting is going to be resented by someone. I’ve seen it happen, someone starts a ‘brown bag’ program at lunch, just for fun, and inside of a month it’s essentially mandatory and someone is keeping a list of who gives the next talk.

    [1] Until the company decided to call everyone back in. How’s that new Open Office stuff workin’ out for y’all, now?

    1. allathian*

      I’ve been working for about 30 years if you count summer jobs and internships. I’ve literally never done a conference call on the phone and would probably need hands-on instruction to do it.

  54. Mill Miker*

    We’re currently dealing with a minor systems outage at my job, and the extra overhead of computer-based communication is killing me right now, so here’s my tip:

    Be extra aware of how much more overhead communication has right now, recognize when “managing” is doing more harm than good, and back off to let people do the jobs you trained/hired them for.

    We had to get a production system back up on Friday after something went wrong, and it took much longer than it should have, because every minute or so I had to find my slack window and update the project manager on what thing I had just tried, what that resulted in, what the next thing I was going to try was, and discuss the pros-and-cons of something he thought I should try based on a quick google and no other context. And then I had to watch the group chat where we were coordinating our efforts like a hawk, because the PM was watching it too, and would answer any questions with a badly-interpreted version of whatever I had just explained to him.

    I know this was his way of contributing all his time and effort to helping with the issue, but it didn’t.

    I mean this tip partially applies during non-remote work too (where you end up having to verbally answer a stream of questions while trying to type something else), but with the extra overhead of having to find the right window, and the right channel, and then actually type out the message the costs are so much higher.

    I know if can seem wrong to not feel the frenzy and the panic during an emergency, but at the office, a person head-down, typing like mad, switching through a thousand windows and swearing under their breath looks very different from a person who’s slacking off in the other room, while remotely they look identical.

  55. IL JimP*

    I’ve worked with mixed team of in office & remote and now 100% remote for a while.

    The biggest key I see is do the same things you would normally do virtually now. If you would normally say good morning to people every morning make sure you’re doing it now too via whatever system you have. If you haven’t been doing that now that a lot of people are out of the office setting it might be a good thing to start. Have set 1on1 meeting times every week or whatever your normal schedule is with them but keep those appointments as much as you can. Have team meetings with video on as much as possible, I know people hate it to start with but it really helps keep people engaged in the meeting and engaged with each other.

    Also, depending on the system you use have some sort of fun chat/email every day that people can respond to if they choose. It will help build engagement and keep things light.

    Lastly, don’t forget about their personal development outside of the job functions. It’ll help make it feel like everything is normal and good.

    There are a lot of great resources out there but these are some of the main things that have helped me keep my teams engaged and motivated remotely

    1. allathian*

      I think that really depends on circumstances. If people are working home more or less alone, it might work. Or it might not. But wrangling a couple of kids can be more distracting than the worst open plan office could ever be. I think the crucial thing here is to recognize that these circumstances are not normal, and while some are thriving and able to be even more productive than in the office, others may be struggling.
      Everything is not normal nor is it necessarily good, and managers who think it is, are deluding themselves. Seriously.


    I worked for a company with business offices in the North and South. A lot of teams were mixed with some team members in the North and some in the South.

    What worked really well for non-management teammates was IMing and video chatting. There was kind of a culture around it where someone would ask via IM, “Hey! Do you have 10 minutes to chat about problem xyz?” Which was followed by, “Sure, let me video call you” or “I can’t right now, but I can get on video call in 15 minutes if that works.”

    From a culture aspect, video chatting was used as a literal substitute for stopping by someone’s desk. It did take a while for people to become accustomed to video chatting, but once it started feeling “normal” it really helped the team feel and work more collaboratively.

  57. M.L.*

    The boss of my 50-person team has a weekly all-staff meeting for 30 minutes each Monday on Google Meet. He opens it with an icebreaking question and then we talk about to-dos for the week, things we’re encouraged by, and things we need to work on. If you can keep it mission-oriented and you know that your team believes in the mission, that meeting can make a big difference throughout the week. (It does for me.)

  58. George*

    My two cents: Encourage phone calls, IF they are helpful. If people have pets/kids, they may not be.

    Understand that people may not have an actual home office. They may run out of printer ink. They may not have green pens. They may have a crying baby in the background. Their internet may go out and leave them unreachable.

    Be understanding. Be flexible. Be kind.

    Maybe allow people to send in a ‘telecommuting fail of the week’s or whatever. Don’t push socializing!

  59. Lynn Marie*

    Not sure why such a big emphasis on creating new artificial social events or why so many meetings. When people are working at a physical office, they’re mostly communicating by email and phone. Just keep doing that. Have the same meetings at the same time you always did, but just go gently and keep expectations low at first.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “Not sure why such a big emphasis on creating new artificial social events or why so many meetings. ”

      You really don’t understand?

    2. Someone On-Line*

      That’s the thing – in my office we don’t communicate mostly by email. We mostly communicate by walking over to someone else’s desk and talking. And we are more project based than process based, so there’s a lot of brainstorming and troubleshooting going on. So yeah, I’m working some virtual chat time in to our schedule.

  60. the one who got away*

    My workplace (an independent school) is making pretty much every meeting optional and emphasizing to us over and over again that they only expect us to do our best, that they know everyone has different obligations, and that they absolutely do not want us to feel pressured to be as productive as we were in the before times. They’ve also been holding some completely optional social times broken down a little bit into groups — so kind of little support groups for people who are quarantined with kids, people who are going it alone, etc.

    My husband’s company (tech) already had some experience working remotely so it has not been as drastic a change for them. He’s on the events committee and they’ve been doing “wine down Wednesday” trivia contests that, again, are emphatically made completely optional. The committee members have been taking turns running them and they’re very well attended; this week he hosted and I kept eavesdropping because it sounded so fun.

    There are tons of articles out there right now about how exhausting video meetings are for people, and one thing I think is really interesting is that my husband’s company does not do its meetings over video — it’s all phone calls. His work is classified and their c don’t have webcams. Someone figured out that they could set up meetings on phones/personal computers and they asked around and NO ONE wanted to move to video meetings. All of my meetings are in Zoom and I’ve started to turn off my audio and video on the bigger ones so I can slouch and roll my eyes and wander around the house while they’re going.

  61. Rhythm of the Night*

    Things that I think are helping: convention setting for our slack so it’s not all over the place, separate COVID-19 slack channel, weekly team meetings, weekly one-on-one meetings, more consistent use of our project management system, no required use of video.

  62. Llama Face!*

    Do not pressure your employees to be available outside of or on top of their regular scheduled hours unless there is a clear, unavoidable, and urgent reason for doing so. If you must, give your employee plenty of advance notice and make sure there are no time conflicts with their other life stuff. Things that used to be easier to reschedule (appointments, meetings, classes, etc) are not necessarily as flexible right now. And just because we are stuck at home, it doesn’t mean we are available. Employees need their downtime protected.

    Keep your remote employees in the loop about any changes to policies or procedures as they occur. Remember that we may not chat with our colleagues as frequently so news may travel slowly.

    Let your employees know what they are allowed to do to keep busy during slow times. Is it okay to take longer breaks? Should they do some self-directed learning or classes? Can they read or surf the internet or watch tv between tasks? Can they go do some housework? Being stuck sitting bored at your home office waiting for any work at all to materialize but without permission to do anything else is the most draining thing!

    1. allathian*

      And the last one, completely demoralizing. Even without permission, people are going to do something else rather than stare at an empty screen.

      1. Llama Face!*

        Yes, and then the conscientious employees are going to also feel guilty on top of it!

  63. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I’d recommend giving a new hire a peer mentor – someone they don’t in any way report to but who can answer questions like “where do I find the reimbursement request form?” and “how’s the office normally do X?” and “can I run this by you before I talk to Boss and get your feedback?” I’m mentoring a new, hired-before-COVID-but-then-we-closed-campus coworker and I think it’s helped her to have someone to touch bases with about random little things – especially since our boss is dealing with even more herself than normal, and is super accommodating/supportive but also clearly super busy.

  64. Ursula*

    I’ve onboarded dozens of people, and am in the process of onboarding a new person completely virtually right now. The biggest difference is that the person can’t just listen in and “pick up on things” as they hand around the team. Everything has to be deliberate. However, any good onboarding always had huge amounts of everything being deliberate anyway, so there won’t actually be much difference between a good virtual onboarding and a good in person onboarding. Forcing people to figuring out a bunch of stuff on their own was always a disservice to them and a waste of time; now it’s just impossible.

    Place without good onboarding (which is, unfortunately, most places) will have a TON of work to do, though. You need to prepare: documentation for all processes, contact lists and a plan of how to introduce the people who need to be introduced, training schedules that involve a lot of 1:1 training and shadowing, a list of accesses that needs to be set up, programs to be downloaded, list-serves to join, meetings to be added to, deadlines and timelines to be aware of, and required online courses to complete (Privacy, sexual harassment, etc). ALL of this should be written down and handed to the employee on their first day.

    Finally, you need to make sure they are deliberately included in however your team is communicating now, whether it’s Slack, Teams, Skype, or whatever. Assume they’re going to be shy and reluctant to message or call someone they’ve never seen out of the blue, and make sure they’re included in socializing if your team does any. Lot of people assume no explicit invitation means they’re not invited. We’ve seen that in letters here, virtual work makes it worse because they might not even hear about it in the first place.

    And one last thing – please remember that being onboarded is HARD WORK. Don’t overwhelm them with too much stuff. This goes double for now, when even the best, most reliable employees are struggling. I’ve only been scheduling 4 hours a day in two hours chunks with my current onboardee, leaving the rest for them to, officially speaking, read documentation, review their notes, and work on any access or online trainings they need. In reality I don’t care what they’re doing, they need a break (to facilitate that, I don’t ever ask what they’ve been doing in between sessions). My current onboardee is a high performer (I worked with them previously so I planned with this in mind); it’s possible that people who are more average will need more downtime than that. Heck, that barely gives me enough downtime to keep myself sane.

  65. CM*

    Here’s what is working for me personally:
    – Fewer meetings. People are keeping meetings to the minimum required, which helps a lot because I have kids around who need attention at unpredictable times.
    – More flexibility in timing. My company had a very face-to-face culture, where you are expected to pick up the phone if somebody called. Now you can say you’ll be available in an hour and it’s not a big deal. This is because of…
    – Messaging from the top that we are all doing our best and need to be flexible with each other. Our CEO sent out a message saying he acknowledges that many of us are not going to have the ideal work-from-home setup where we can fully concentrate on work from 8-6 with no distractions, so he trusts we will all do the best we can.
    – Optional social time, as others have suggested. I always opt out of this, nobody has said anything, but it works well for people who miss that connection. (This benefits me too! They get their social needs filled and I really appreciate focusing mainly on work instead of having to talk about politics and pandemics.)
    – Despite flexibility, no expectation that we will work nights and weekends more than we already did, which was generally limited to the occasional urgent project.

  66. hayling*

    We already have a formal buddy system for newbies, but it’s become extra important during WFH. I’m a buddy to a new person on my team, and I have been very deliberate about checking in with her. I also assured her that when we go back into the office, I’ll be there to orient her to the in-office stuff.

  67. D*

    Monday morning meetings – these usually last an hour and are structured as follows:
    general chat
    team members list off/reflect on previous week and any particular issues or accomplishments
    team members share their priorities for the coming week
    manager shares any other info from management meetings etc. or upcoming projects

    Friday evening wind down – this has become a whole company thing. Our usual work ours are 9-530, but on Friday’s now we meet at 5pm for a catch-up, no work talk. You only have to stay until 530 but they’ve usually gone until 6/630 for me and my team because we’re eager to catch up

    What has become obvious is how much informal work communicating we did in the office – dropping by a desk to discuss something, overhearing conversations and weighing in, being invited to meetings spontaneously, getting chatting in the kitchen and ending up problem-solving – all of that is missing, so I think encouraging more check-ins and catch-ups has been essential to preserving some of that vital informal work.

    As a more senior team member, I’ve also been inviting my colleagues who I am more friendly with to a scheduled tea break once a week or so. Just 30 minutes where we can all take a breather and talk.

  68. Zircon*

    I am very late to this, and haven’t read all the comments but my advice is: Ask your team members what they would like. Ask them individually what helps for them and ask them as a team so they can brainstorm a little and so they can hear what helps for each other – and then they can also understand why you give different treatment to other team members.

  69. KR*

    For the new hire… I just trained a new hire completely remote and several states away from me.

    Some notes…
    I sent a care package with company swag as a welcome.
    Be prepared to spend a lot of time on the phone.
    We get a lot done screen sharing while we’re working. So they can ask questions and I can pop over to the window they’re sharing their screen in and check on them, or if I notice they’re doing something incorrectly I can jump in.
    Screenshots, screenshots, screenshots galore. Pictures from old team gatherings can help so they get an idea of what their team looks like.
    We also set up “get to know you calls” so they could “meet” their coworkers and be introduced *before* they need help. It’s easier to reach out to someone for help via a phone call or email if you already have been introduced.

  70. Buffy*

    There’s lots of good comments about existing team. I’m about to onboard a newbie to my team. She’s not new to the company but is an internal transfer so it does make it easier but one of the conversations I had with her prior to her accepting the position was what would onboarding while we are all working from home look like. It’ll look a bit different from our normal onboarding but will be no less robust:
    1- She will have an assigned person to work directly with (in this case, it’s me)
    2 – we will have daily syncs to answer questions, go over specific information, and just in general, keep her learning going. These are usually 1 hour meetings when I do them in person although I will likely split some days into a couple of 30 minute meetings depending on what she needs.
    3 – we have a OneNote that has all the links she needs for getting her access done and for self driven reading and review of information.
    4 – my team has two weekly work syncs where we all ask questions and get information
    5 – my larger team has a weekly check in as well with our manager.
    6 – I’m available on Teams all day long so she can ping me with questions and get a quick response if she gets stuck, I can get her back on track quickly.

    This plan isn’t any different than what I do with onboarding when we are in the office. I’ll just be doing it via a Teams meeting. How this would look for an external hire would only differ in the initial hardware issuing and company wide new hire onboarding but that’s handled by HR. I simply pick up when the person has their hardware and is connected to corpnet.

    My company has totally rocked this whole COVID-19 problem and based on what I’ve seen, we are setting the gold standard for how companies should behave. I’ve been truly fortunate and I wish you all had this sort of support from your company and managers.

  71. LV*

    Anyone have advice on how to run a virtual coffee hour? I’m a new manager and an introvert, and I think I would be fine listening in on a virtual meetup. But I scheduled the coffee hour (some of my direct reports dropped hints that they wanted more group socializing) so I feel responsible for keeping the conversation going. I’ve made clear that these are optional, they’re once a week, and it’s all casual – no work talk.

    We’ve only had these a handful of times, and I’d say about a dozen people show up, which is half the group. How do I make these less awkward? What do people talk about? Should I have a theme?

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Themes can help a lot. In one of our meetings, people with pets were invited to show them off, which was great because it got the conversation going–it flowed naturally to other topics, but the animals themselves made a great icebreaker and inevitably had a funny story or was asked what breed the dog was or something. Even people without pets (or, like me, with pets that won’t hold still for the camera) had something to talk about. In another it was an optional “silliest mug” contest, and somebody broke out a giant fancy beer stein from Germany, which definitely helped get people talking–when were you in Germany, where did you go, what was it like, etc. I know another group I know they did an optional “suggest an ebook, or a movie/show on streaming, or a favorite YouTube channel. You could pass if you couldn’t think of something, but most people did (and many of the people who passed were like “wait, wait, I thought of something!”), and it branched off into a lively discussion of Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries series.

      (One important thing for all of these was that people who wanted to attend were told the theme in advance, so they didn’t have to scramble for an answer. And if you didn’t have a pet, or a mug, or honestly were too exhausted to think of a book/movie at all, it was fine; manager said up front that people could pass if they didn’t have anything.)

      I think the key to getting the conversation to sustain itself is to make the theme something that has the possibility to spark conversation. Favorite/silliest mug, favorite t-shirt, pets, books or movies, “what are you cooking/ordering as takeout?”, funny stories about [topic] (vacation, family, pets, holiday, etc.), share a photo you took recently, even things like favorite ice cream/beverage/etc.–as opposed to things like “everybody wear a hat” where, unless someone happens to have a spectacularly interesting hat, means five minutes of “haha, that sure is a hat,” and then awkward silence.

      It’s kind of goofy, but it’s a start. And once people start getting in the habit of chatting in these things, you may be able to stop doing it.

  72. Anon for this*

    I feel very isolated and alone since going remote. My manager talks to me once or twice a week, when we used to talk every day. I have no idea what others are doing. I get annoyed about stuff and I can’t vent to coworkers because there’s no one here. I’m also sick, not with coronavirus but I can’t get tests and treatment because offices are closed due to coronavirus.

    I don’t know what I want them to do differently, exactly. I just feel like there’s an expectation that people will continue to perform at 100% , and that’s unrealistic, even for people who don’t have kids. We’re all just trying to get thru the trauma.

  73. Remote Worker Before It was The Thing*

    I’d look at what remote and remote-friendly companies have done.

    You can even buy a book, Remote: Office not Required, by the founder of Basecamp.

    Search for remote jobs. Look at the companies that are largely remote. Some of them have posted methods they have found successful. And not. But hey, that’s part of learning. :)

    In a nutshell, focus on the work. Over communicate. Show grace. This is how many company operated as a remote-friendly company before the current pandemic, and this is how we’re operating entirely remotely now. We’re a global company. We conduct business in English, but that is not the native tongue of many of our workers. Pretend everyone isn’t a native speaker and assume the best of intentions when reading their messages. If something is unclear, ask. Assume you have misinterpreted their intentions if you are left with anything but a great feeling.

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