Career & Jobs

How To Navigate Them During The Pandemic

The end of the year tends to be a time where leaders start planning team get-togethers and holiday celebrations. Due to all the stress employees have been carrying and the strain they will most likely encounter in their own family holiday traditions, it’s a critical time for team building and connectivity.

However, our usual approach to team building is definitely not an option with many still working from home, health and safety requirements due to Covid-19 making in-person activities difficult and budgets being held tight at best or completely slashed at worst. With that in mind, how can leaders build teams and celebrate the holiday season with their employees while navigating social distancing and remote work requirements?

Facilitate short and socially focused virtual events to foster a sense of community. If things have been hectic and the team building somewhat neglected, it’s best to start small and provide opportunities for team members to get to know one another simply as humans. This will help build trust and connection and integrate any new team members.  

Begin by hosting virtual calls focused solely on one of these topics or something similar for 20-30 minutes:

  1. What’s in Your Virtual Vault? – Team members bring an item to a virtual team call that they have a fun story about. The item can be an award, picture or random object. The idea is to have people share a bit about themselves but that they get to choose what that is and how much they share. Leader Speaking Point: The leader should acknowledge that there are not as many organic moments for us to get to know one another like we naturally do while in the office but that it’s important for us to know one another to foster trust. Post Survey: After the session, send out a survey asking for more ideas around how to continue to foster getting to know one another.
  2. Best in Show Pet Share – People are invited to introduce their pets to the team and tell the story of how they ended up bringing their pet into their lives. For team members that don’t have pets, invite them to bring what they use as their substitute pet or source of comfort. Leader Speaking Point: The leader should speak on how important it is to find comfort in our lives at this time. They should ask team members to begin thinking about how to create a greater sense of safety or comfort in the way the team works together. Post Survey: After the session, send out an anonymous survey asking how the team can create a more comforting space in the way they work together. Results should be discussed in another meeting and action taken on suggestions shared and agreed to by the team.
  3. Who Could It Be Now? – Team members email an interesting or funny fact or story about themselves to the leader. The leader reads them off to the group during a team meeting. The team has three guesses to identify who the fact or story is about. After three guesses the person shares who it is and the story behind it. Leader Speaking Point: The leader shares that we all come from unique backgrounds and it’s important to remember that everyone has their own story going on right now. Ask the team, “How can we get better at showing grace to one another and assume good intent?” Encourage everyone to use curiosity to uncover where the other person is coming from vs. judging them negatively when they don’t meet our expectations.
  4. Well Being Adventure – “The holidays can be stressful, in general, and especially this year. Often times self-care takes the back burner, so offering wellness activities are a great way to help employees take time for themselves,” shares Erika Zauner, founder and CEO of HealthKick, a comprehensive wellbeing platform designed to help employees thrive both professionally and personally. “A make your own meal kit cooking class, gentle yoga, stretch class or guided mindfulness sessions are great ways to bring employees together, or get employees moving with a dance cardio or boot camp class,” recommends Zauner.
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Leverage team building technology that goes beyond virtual meetings. In the past few years, many organizations have gotten comfortable with using project management focused tools, such as Slack or Google Teams, to help drive collaboration and productivity. However, this year we find ourselves in need of replacing those water cooler moments that working in an office provides us.

Mark Sawyier, CEO of Bonfyre, a workplace culture platform designed to build human connections, shared that, “the price we pay for remote and hybrid work is fewer face-to-face interactions with our co-workers. This leaves employees feeling burned out, lonely and isolated.” He cautions that what made those water cooler moments special was that they were separate from work and focused on relationships vs. deadlines. Bonfyre has designed a platform to fill that gap.

Their approach is based on trends we see in how people are using social media to build relationships in their personal lives and applying that to the professional, workplace setting. This includes more of a focus on photos and videos than rapid fire texting. It’s a mobile-first vs. a desktop-centric design. It also revolves around sharing high quality content with larger groups vs. chat communication in small ones. Sawyier explains that 35% of what users share in Bonfyre communication channels are photos, videos and rich media that help co-workers share insight into their authentic selves.

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Determine whether setting up a safe and socially distanced gathering is possible for your team. This is not a decision a leader can make on their own. Instead, there are several layers and steps to consider:

  1. First, check in with your leader or HR partner to determine if an in-person meeting is an option based on current policy.
  2. Next, review federal, state and county protocols and regulations for safe, in-person gatherings.
  3. Finally, send a survey to your team to gather feedback on any concerns, hesitations and interest each team member has towards meeting up in person.

Being prepared the day of can include temperature checks, plenty of hand sanitizer, extra masks and non-latex gloves.

Brainstorm different ideas for in-person gatherings. If in-person meetings are an option, consider creative settings and activities that can help the team bond and participate in the joy that we are used to gaining from holiday celebrations and traditions.

Zauner emphasizes the importance of getting employee feedback. “Instead of trying to guess what employees would value or want to participate in, encourage employees to contribute ideas to the conversation. That way, employees feel like they participated in planning and will be more engaged and receptive. You can even have a submission contest and vote on the best ideas.”

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Possible in-person activities include:

  • Meeting outside at a restaurant: The good news is that many restaurants have found ways to expand their space to outdoor areas. If you reserve a space during their off hours, many restaurants have outside seating options that could accommodate a socially distanced arrangement. Try picking a spot with a pretty view and select a day with mild temperatures and weather conditions.
  • Scavenger Hunt: People can stay distanced and keep their masks on while still exploring something together. This can be done as a picture scavenger hunt where they use their phones to capture key images while walking, biking or driving in a scenic area. Teaming up in pairs or trios makes it easier to abide by social distancing requirements while still providing opportunities to build memories and connections. The hunt could also end at an outdoor restaurant or bar.
  • Potluck at the Park / Beach: This can be catered or have everyone bring their own food and seating. Spots are marked out to be properly distanced. You could do a variety of conversational things and fun ice breaker discussions.

Though 2020 has been a year of taking away many of our traditions and sources of joy, it can be a great opportunity to begin new ones. Any team could benefit from creating opportunities to build stronger ties and experience support from one another.

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