Technology in the workplace is often considered a boring necessity. But in today’s socially-distanced work environment, it’s become the main avenue to connect with others and maintain sanity. Social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat can be great for maintaining personal relationships, but for work relationships, most people are relying on Slack or Teams chats, virtual meetings, and the occasional, awkward Zoom happy hour. At Kinetix, we’ve been experimenting with using technology tools in innovative ways to continue and extend the social atmosphere we had while working at an office.
One of our most successful experiments has been to run team challenges over Slack. In one, we split the company into teams and conducted a good, old-fashioned, high-school Spirit Week. I rolled my eyes at the start but, to my surprise, it was easily the most active Slack channel of the week, filled with pictures of crazy hats, wacky hair, sports jerseys, and Aloha shirts. People got super creative and competitive with their entries, and we learned about each other personally (especially how much some people hate the Red Sox), and we felt closer as a team as a result.
One lesson we learned early was that just scheduling weekly Zoom get-togethers didn’t go well. In-person lunch gatherings or impromptu hangouts were always lively at the office, but there’s something about the dynamics over Zoom that didn’t generate nearly the same buzz. After a couple of attempts, attendance waned, making the gatherings even less fun. But the introduction of games at the meetings made them a hit. It didn’t seem to matter what the game was; once people had a reason to interact, engagement took off, and everyone had a great time. There are a lot of game options out there, but we’ve had great success with the Party Packs at Jackbox Games. With those successes, we explored Slack’s game integrations so people could take breaks from their isolation and randomly connect with others.
Another successful experiment came from creating channels for specific hobbies and for entertainment recommendations. Our hobby channels include things like cooking, mixology, video games, music & video making, and nutrition & exercise. We’ve discovered new motivation in seeing what others are up to (especially seeing the elaborate meals and cocktails) and we learn more than we ever would have before about each other’s personal interests. The Slack channel for sharing movie or TV show recommendations was one of our most active forums, including an unhealthy amount of discussion about Tiger King.
Lastly, we’ve been using Donut, a Slack integration that attempts to replicate the random interactions that happen in an office. It randomly pairs up people to encourage a spontaneous virtual get-together. I didn’t realize how much of a typical day is lightened with these random interactions, but Donut does a great job of approximating this (though, actual donuts would be a nice addition).
We talk a lot about using technology to foster productivity or security, but social interaction, culture, and sanity are just as critical to maintaining a successful organization. We’ve had success with the ideas described here, but we encourage you and your team to experiment to see what works for your team to maintain, and even build, the social connections we all need.