A strange feeling is spreading through workplaces up and down the country right now. It’s called connection and it’s come about as a result of the extraordinary situation in which we’ve found ourselves during the last few weeks.
For the first time in my working life, people are sharing their homes (virtually) with their work colleagues. They’re being video-bombed by their children during meetings and they’re using the virtual backgrounds available on Zoom to provide insights into their lives that no ‘water cooler conversation’ in the office could ever achieve.
They’re also asking different questions of each other. No more the casual, almost meaningless ‘how are you?’ before moving on to discuss work priorities. Now it’s a genuine ‘but how are you really?’ followed by a pause to wait for the answer, with no rush to move on if someone has something they want to share.
I work in communications and, until lockdown began, knew pretty much nothing about my colleagues having worked at the organisation for just a few months. In a matter of weeks I feel like I am really getting to know and understand the people I work with, not just work stuff but home stuff too. It’s really interesting to watch it develop and see how the things we’ve introduced as a result of the lockdown are making a difference to the team.
Here’s what we’ve done, I know there will be lots of similar examples from up and down the country.
From the first week we established a regular call. When we were working in the office this didn’t happen as people were sat alongside each other and could have random catch ups through the day.
This call has been the basis for everything else that we’ve done and provided a structure that has been helpful for everyone in the team.
Again, something we introduced from the first meeting. Each day someone would be nominated to ‘show and tell’ something from their homes. Cue many cute pets, some fabulous glass work and even a child or two!
A few days in to lockdown and people started playing with their virtual background, flying off into space, sitting in front of the golden gate bridge or in the woods.
One day I appeared with a selfie picture of my best friends because I was missing them and it sparked a lovely conversation about the special people in our lives that we aren’t able to see right now.
From that day, each member of the team has come to the call with a different picture each day, with everyone saying something about their photo. So far we’ve had mountains and beaches, leopards and monkeys, uni days, families and babies. Every single photo has given another insight into each person’s life, building connection and relationship.
We also introduced a Friday morning quiz, an idea stolen from my husband and his journalist colleagues and now take it in turns to be quizmaster. It’s been a tricky thing to get right as the team is made up of people of different generations but everyone enjoys it, especially as it marks the last day of each working week.
It’s not likely that my colleagues and I will be back in the office anytime soon. Communications is definitely one of those things that can be done remotely, however as the likelihood of the lockdown being lifted increases, my thinking is beginning to shift to how things might be different in the future.
I have no doubt that these last weeks have changed the way we work for ever. I’m convinced it has proven that it’s possible to work remotely and be productive – consigning phrases like ‘home shirking’ to the bin forever.
It will be interesting to see how some of the less obvious gains, like building real connection despite physical distance, will develop. I’d be sad to see a return to the superficial conversation and connection that was prevalent in many offices and teams. I guess only time will tell…
Fresh Air Fridays offers bespoke, effective and workable solutions to the challenges faced by society around mental and emotional wellbeing. Currently we are working virtually with individuals and organisations. We will return to face to face working as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.
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