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Physically Distant But Connected During COVID-19

By: Kristin Wattu

There wasn’t a great deal of warning before the COVID-19 restrictions hit. We were in our office conducting business as usual on a Friday and by Monday everything had changed. And although our work with the Department of Defense and medical device companies classify us as “essential”, the decision was made that the company would move to working remotely to ensure the safety of all our employees.

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Some of our team already had home offices outfitted with the latest technology. Others, not so much. Brian Geisel, our CEO, encouraged us to set ourselves up in a way that would allow us to be productive and minimize issues. Some made a quick run into the office and transferred their entire workstations to their homes, others were encouraged to order what they needed to get the job done whether that was downloading software or buying new headphones. Our engineers patiently helped the less technical folks establish remote access to servers and storage drives. A shared goal developed: let’s help everyone get set up for success.

PHYSICALLY DISTANT BUT CONNECTED
Let’s face it, working at home can be lonely – especially when you are used to the camaraderie of working in an office. We are no longer bumping into coworkers in the kitchen or hallways, chatting about weekend plans or the latest Netflix binge.

To replace this type of sharing and team building, we created a “Remote Breakroom” channel on Slack, our internal messaging platform. To get the conversation rolling, a question is posted every day for employees to comment on. Some of the conversation starters included “If you could choose one superpower what would it be and why?” “If you had a time machine would you travel to the past or the future?”  “What’s the most adventurous food you’ve ever eaten?” (I won’t be trying the microwaved Circus Peanuts suggested by one coworker!)

The channel has evolved into people sharing memes, photos of their home projects they are working, artwork and projects they are tackling during this time of sheltering at home. We’ve shared opinions on paint colors (Who knew there are so many different shades of blue?) and commiserated about projects gone wrong. Someone even shared a Richard Simmons workout video for those of us who have been quarantine eating. This has been a great way to get to know our team better and has encouraged people to share things about themselves that build connections on a personal level.

IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE
It’s easy to blur the lines when you are working at home, hopping on to your computer to just update one thing or answer one message. Brian makes sure to remind us to be mindful of balancing work and home life. Someone may send a direct message saying they are taking a break to go for a walk, and it’s met with a thumbs up emoji or “enjoy!” During phone calls he may mention he’s seen you logged in more than usual and ask how you are doing balancing your work schedule with home demands. He encourages us to reach out to check in with our teammate to lift their spirits or offer help where we can. Recently, we’ve even started a “workout” channel for those of us who need a little encouragement to take care of ourselves physically while stuck at home.

SCHEDULED FACE TIME
While the asynchronous communication provided by messaging platforms has its benefits, it’s also important to connect in real-time. We’ve established a Friday virtual company Zoom meeting which allows us to not only share what’s going on across the company, but to chat “face-to-face”, share some jokes, meet our team’s home co-workers (kids and four-legged friends alike) and stay connected. 

One of my favorite sayings is “This too shall pass.” Eventually, this crisis will too. And the silver lining is that we will have gotten to know our coworkers in a way that under “normal” circumstances never would have happened. That can go a long way towards strengthening teams and professional relationships once we return to the office. Until then, be well and stay safe!

 

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    Kristin Wattu