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How 10 Companies Keep Connected and Sane Through Virtual Channels Amid COVID-19

9 minute read
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The coronavirus crisis has kept the world under much duress, and companies are not immune. Here are some virtual channels companies have used to tame the chaos.

The COVID-19 world health pandemic has caused high levels of stress in pretty much every facet of life, at home, at work, during walks in the neighborhood. Stress about the future, about the past. Simply, no one knows where the virus lives, and no one knows how they will be impacted. “Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.”

Many workplaces are taking this to heart. The new normal is remote work, collaboration channels and video chats. And many employees are turning to these virtual channels for outlets during work hours, serving as one way to support each other during a time of global crisis.

Just how are organizations managing? 

'Parent-Sanity' Slack Channel

Let's start with us at San Francisco-based CMSWire. We created a Slack channel on March 17 called “parent-sanity,” a place for working parents to vent about their little work-focus-stoppers, or, ahem, children. With schools closing down across the world, children of the work-from-homers have been running roughshod through living rooms and making common cameos on video conference calls. “We lost the Apple TV remote, so that's gonna make for a fun quarantine day here!”, one employee wrote. 

“The pressure on every dedicated parent who is also dedicated to their job is intense in this situation,” said Dylan Wright, vice president of marketing and agency services at Simpler Media Group. “Shared frustration and shared humor lighten the load.”

Screenshot from Simpler Media Group's parent-sanity Slack channel.

Related Article: Working Remotely: A Manager's Perspective

Virtual Pictionary Anyone? 

Employees at Tripwire, based in Portland, Ore., hosted a virtual happy hour with the customer experience team recently that turned into a game of Pictionary (social distancing artwork to the right).

Screenshot of a game of Pictionary played by employees at Tripwire

It was a fun way to connect, with some employees using whiteboards and others paint-sharing their screen via Webex, according to Sarah Holt, customer experience manager at Tripwire.

Here are five tools you can use to play Pictionary via video conferencing: 

  • Whiteboard & dry erase pen
  • Pen & paper 
  • MS Paint 
  • Adobe products
  • Google products 

“It is vital to stay connected, have fun, laugh and find moments of joy with our co-workers, friends, family and greater communities during these turbulent times,” Holt said. “Prioritizing social hours that incorporate air high-fives and virtual hugs are simple ways to boost the employee morale allowing us to continue to show up for one another and our customers.” 

5-Minute Music Breaks on Zoom

Some are turning to tunes in the virtual workplace. Nichole Devolites, senior manager, customer experience and advocacy for Irvine, Calif.-based SecureAuth Corporation, said her company is doing daily five-minute music breaks on Zoom. Employees sign up to share a song; some have had their children perform, and sometimes they perform as a family. Others just play a song on Spotify that has meaning to them. “We’re all required to be on video, and we are spread all over the world, so we’ve got to meet new faces we would never have met otherwise,” Devolites said.

SecureAuth has two locations: Irvine, Calif. and one in Buenos Aires. It has a lot of remote workers, such as Devolites, all over the US, UK and Australia. “The Buenos Aires office is a very tight-knit group, and they were sad they'd have to work separately,” Devolites said. “Our leader in that office loves music and like so many of us, believes that music is a way to connect people around the world. When the official word was released that we were to conduct all business over Zoom, email, Slack and phone, he sent out a recurring calendar request called, 'Daily 5-minute Music Break.' He made it mandatory that everyone must be on video.”

The boss also set up a Slack channel called "Music Break" so people could sign up to share their song, as well as playlists, music videos, etc. “So far, we've heard songs popular to our country in certain decades,” Devolites said. “We had one employee perform a song he wrote with an acoustic guitar; another employee's family sang for us with one of the daughters playing the ukulele, and another employee's 13-year-old daughter played Chopin on the piano.”

What's even more special is that people are sharing stories on why the song or performance is so meaningful, according to Devolites. “In the last week, we've seen strong connections form all over the world,” she said. “People are more apt to support each other to get things done, and it has definitely eased any uncertainty we've had. In fact, we had a townhall that to date, in the almost two years I've been here, was the best townhall we've had. I think that when life goes back to ‘normal,’ we're going to be left with a stronger company culture than we've ever had.”

Screenshot of a Zoom call with SecureAuth employees.

‘Dear Diary’ Slack Group

The team at San Francisco-based Highwire PR created a Slack group called “Dear Diary," a healthy place for employees to vent and lovingly complain about their new "coworkers" — significant others, kids, pets, etc. — and “the things they’re doing to bother us/interrupt our work during the quarantine,” according to Talia Hafter, account associate at Highwire.

Here are some entries from the channel:

  • “Dear Diary: Today Dan gave me a shoulder rub/pat on the back which was super appreciated but it was ON A CLIENT VIDEO CALL." 
  • “Dear Diary: My coworker ordered an embarrassing amount of beer and wine to be delivered today. When I asked how much he paid, all I got was: “more than what we pay during a Costco run.” 
  • “Dear Diary: I've been home alone for the last 7 days. My husband is coming back today, and I'm terrified we are going to kill each other in quarantine.”

Screenshot of a Highwire PR Slack channel

Related Article: Collaboration Tools: How Microsoft Teams, Slack, Workplace from Facebook Stack Up

Working From Home Slack Channel

Danny Groner, director of growth PR at New York City-based SquareFoot, said his company at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak created a channel where people share thoughts about what it's like being remote now.

“It's typical, lighthearted chatter, similar to what you'd find around the watercooler at the office, mostly about the adjustment to working from home,” Groner said. “How people are feeling about all these videos calls, recommendations for lighting, and more offbeat stray comments and thoughts that we want to share but wouldn't have the right channel to put it in without this one.” Groner called it a good place to go talk to others about how this work-from-home experiment is going and to find out how to make small improvements.

Screenshot of a SquareFoot Slack Channel

Surviving COVID-19 Channel

Los Angeles-based DISQO wanted to give employees a centralized place to vent and make the best of a crazy situation. So it created a “Surviving COVID-19” channel. 

Learning Opportunities

“In addition to providing people with a dedicated space to support one another through uncertainty and share information, and memes, it’s also given us a fun opportunity to get to know one another even better, as people frequently share photos of their WFH coworkers: their children, pets and significant others,” said Anthony Fabiano, manager of people at DISQO. “On top of this, we’ve also been hosting virtual happy hours and lunches to ensure people have face time with each other outside of the context of meetings.” 

Screenshot of a DISQO happy hour

Multiple Channels Emerge

New York City-based ENGINE, has created a number of new Slack channels including #Productivity-at-home, #all-us-kids-at-home and #Selfcare-at-home, which are regularly populated with articles, tips and resources. 

“During these challenging times, both our HR team and employees contribute, respond and share experiences, insights, pictures and humor, providing everyone with a real-time support system,” said Dianne DeSevo, global chief human resources officer at ENGINE. “Proving to be extremely popular is sharing pictures of our new colleagues: pets.” 

In addition to these channels, the company also has its weekly Zoom meditation series and its ENGINE Connects! Series, where colleagues connect via Zoom for special events including the just launched “Cooking With…” and book club. It is also planning a “Take Your Kids to Zoom” day.

Screenshot of a Slack channel from the company ENGINE.

Related Article: The Remote Working Pendulum Swings Again: 9 Lessons Learned

Seen Any Good Movies Lately?

Rev, based in San Francisco, created a new Slack channel for movie lovers. “In here, folks stay connected about what they're watching across genres and provide suggestions for co-workers,” said Safeena Walji, public relations manager at Rev. “When it feels like we've watched everything on Netflix already, this channel is a great creative resource.”

Screenshot of Rev's Slack channel about movies

How Mr. Rogers Plays a Role

Michael Alexis, CEO of Team Building, based in Covington, Wash., said the company’s favorite channel is its #Random-Mr-Rogers powered through a Slack app called Donut. It’s keeping teams sane and helping them get to know each other better. “This translates into more positive work experiences and more fun too,” Alexis said. “We call the channel #MrRogers because you are getting to know your virtual neighbors.”

At the beginning and end of each week, Slack automatically pairs people at the company off for a 30-minute video call. “These calls are paid work time and the only rule is that you aren’t allowed to discuss work or projects,” Alexis said. “We've heard from our staff that these calls have helped them develop more meaningful friendships as they explore interests and commonalities outside of the office.”

Screenshot of a virtual meeting for the company Team Building.

Keeping Employees Happy with Zoom Happy Hour

Teams at Copenhagen-based Templafy have been holding a virtual happy hour on Zoom to keep spirits high. “It provides an opportunity to share in a few light moments with colleagues and decompress from the week,” said Jean-Marc Chanoine, global head of strategic accounts at Templafy. “Pre-COVID-19, we would spend a lot of quality time together in the office. This continues the tradition virtually. It’s something to look forward to and break up the monotony of working remotely, with an opportunity to share in laughter.”

Screenshot of a Templafy video conference call.

The key thing is to keep as much normalcy as possible, Chanoine said. The team has also started a virtual book club via Zoom, which gives employees an excuse for a hobby outside of work hours and gives them something on which to further connect.

“Templafy is particularly well-suited for these times because of how we are set up: Most of our teams are global and that requires working efficiently virtually anyways,” Chanoine said. “We were used to working virtually, which made socializing virtually less of a transition. Just because you are far doesn’t mean you can’t be close.”

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