Make Remote Work or Your Next Zoom Meeting More Fun & Engaging
With so much of work being mediated through our computer screens right now, businesses and leaders have gotten creative in their attempts to bring levity to video conferences. “Tired of seeing the same old faces in every Zoom meeting?” one article asks. “Don’t be a cow-ard, invite a farm animal to join.” The wittingly named “Goat 2 Meeting” nonprofit can help you out. They make it possible for you to invite a llama or a goat to your video meeting calls.
Others have suggested hiring a comedian or magician to liven up your calls. But what if you want to bring a little fun to your virtual workspace without resorting to magic tricks?
We’ve collected ideas for how to bring fun and fellowship to your remote work teams. More than just adding a little frivolity to a busy workday, research* shows that fun at work can increase job satisfaction, performance, and employee retention while decreasing emotional exhaustion and turnover intentions. It can even contribute to informal learning.
Here are six ideas for adding fun to your virtual work week–no goats required.
Have a talent show
Recently, Ford Motor Company’s Product Development Electrification Engineering Division hosted an online concert before an all hands meeting. “The motivation was a way to build community by creating a shared experience we could all do remotely,” says Brett Hinds, Chief Engineer.
Employees and their families were invited to participate. The acts included instrumental and vocal performances; the closing act was a music video written and performed by a metal rock band of musicians who are also Ford employees. The song, “Stuckhome Syndrome,” parodies the work-from-home experience. The first verse:
If you think you have Covid-19
Get ready to QUAR-AN-TINE
I’m logging onto WebEx Teams
Waiting on that COVID vaccine
“The concert was a huge success and we received a lot of positive feedback,” Hinds says.
Host a mystery desk contest
Our next idea comes from the IT department of Exelon, a national energy provider. After moving 24,000 employees and contractors to remote work on a day’s notice, the IT team wanted to normalize the experience of working from home, says Angela Karesh, now Chief of Staff for Exelon’s Chief Operations Officer. To accomplish this, the team launched a “guess that desk” game using their Sharepoint internal communications channels.
To play, an executive was asked to take a picture of their work-from-home environment. This picture was then posted on a message board and colleagues were asked to guess whose workspace it might be. Winners received a $10 Amazon gift card.
“It has generated conversations about our backgrounds on calls,” says Karesh. The game also helped normalize the process of working from home. This has been further aided by the willingness of senior leadership to show their real home working environments. Karesh recalls seeing the Chief Information Officer on a video conference, at work at his home as his teenage children walked past. “This is just part of our new work environment,” says Karesh. “It shows respect for remote workers.”
Of course, many video conference participants have begun using artificial backgrounds. This, too, can be a source for fun, says executive consultant Aleen Bayard in a recent article. Before your next team meeting, ask colleagues to create a custom backdrop. These unique backdrops can be a lively conversation starter, especially if around a theme of “where I’d like to be traveling,” or “on the set of a TV show.” Online design site Canva is currently offering a free template for designing your own Zoom backdrop.
One of the best we’ve seen: a video producer in Sydney, Australia, created a background video loop that appears to show himself walking in through an open door, while he also appears on camera.
Organize off-camera activities
When social distancing closed down face-to-face activities for her staff, Fiona Cummings, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, began brainstorming how she could keep her team connected and moving. One idea was to turn off the cameras and go for a walk, separate but together.
Cummings and her team set a goal of walking the equivalent distance as going from their district to Savannah, Georgia, the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. The equivalent of a 2,000-mile roundtrip is being walked by staff members and volunteers who use a fitness tracker to record their progress. While the activity occurs separately, over a number of weeks, it’s giving the team a shared project during this time of separation.
“Walking is a safe way to get out of the house; this gives us something we can work on together,” says Cummings.
Host brain breaks
Teachers at some elementary schools have started hosting virtual “brain breaks” for kids who need to step away from the keyboard but still have a little interaction. While the elementary school version of this includes dance contests, the adult version can be a little more sedate.
We’ve seen companies set a “virtual happy hour,” where everyone brings a beer to their desk and chats with colleagues informally. Bring your dog and it goes from “happy hour” to “yappy hour.” Others have used games for virtual breaks with colleagues; you can find online versions of trivia and other games with a simple search.
Brain breaks can also be a break from work but still focused on something important. One organization held a “virtual water cooler” session for parents of young kids, giving them space to share the frustrations of working while also parenting a toddler.
Show and tell
Working from home means occasional interruptions from barking dogs or bored children. Since it’s unavoidable, invite the interruptions into the conversation with “show and tell,” an idea we borrowed from this article.
Invite your child, pet, partner, or roommate to make an on-camera appearance. Or change it up, and have teammates show-and-tell their most prized possession, their favorite travel souvenir, their oldest concert t-shirt, or their favorite book.
Take meaningful action
While fun is important, one of the most significant ways to support employees right now is to demonstrate that your company is worthy of their loyalty and effort.
Laura Guilliam, Research and Development Consultant for Progressive Insurance, points toward her company’s “Apron Relief Program,” which is giving back over $1 billion to customers, employees, agents, and communities.
“’I’m proud of our leadership team. They are breathing life into our core values every minute of every day right now,” Guilliam says.
Guilliam’s comment illustrates an important outcome of good corporate citizenship behavior: employee loyalty. In our earlier article about Wahl Clipper’s efforts to provide plastic face shields to hospital systems, the company’s National Director for Education, Lisa Finucane, said their charitable work “Makes me want to work that much harder, and I’ve been on 24/7 days since this started.”
Note: This article was originally published at Forbes.com.