At PLUS QA, we’ve always preferred to work on-site with open floor plans to facilitate communication and connection. COVID-19 changed that for us; in order to prioritize the safety of our workers and their loved ones, we quickly chose to close the offices and shift to working from home (read more about our transition to working from home and our WFH tips for employees). Though there has been a learning curve to working from home, we’ve found some fun ways to stay connected while working apart.
Pre-pandemic, we made sure to pass around a birthday card for each employee. We would often have 60+ people working on-site, so the blank card would fill up quickly. As soon as we started working from home, we had to find a new way to celebrate each other. There are options for creating cards online that emulate normal birthday cards, but unfortunately, they aren’t accessible for all. So we decided to record and compile birthday videos instead.
Set to a free instrumental version of “Happy Birthday To You,” these videos are more personalized than most of the messages you’d see in the birthday cards. It also gives the birthday person an opportunity to feel celebrated and see their coworkers (and often, their coworkers’ pets!).
In order to keep track of upcoming birthdays, we’ve created a Google Sheet with templates that list the employees for each team. At the beginning of each month, we check the birthday calendar and use those templates to create a checklist for each birthday person based on their team. We reach out to the team members individually a few days before the birthday to give them time to create a video, compile them using iMovie, and send it to the employee on their birthday.
Care Packages and Team Lunches
We wanted to show our gratitude for how quickly and effectively the team shifted to working from home. To do so, we made small care packages for each employee. We gave each person local chocolate as a treat, a succulent to liven up their home workspace, hand sanitizer to keep them safe, and a Grubhub card for lunch. We recommend personalizing your care packages, especially if you have a smaller team.
Our Office Administrator and HR Manager put together and delivered the packages, making sure to maintain proper distancing and wear masks while doing so. They were able to provide no-contract delivery to employees that live in the greater Portland area and mail the care packages to our remote workers.
Every summer we host fun events like All Company Lunches. This year, we couldn’t gather together (and 60+ people is a lot for video conferencing). Instead, we pivoted to team-specific video call lunches. Each team hosted an optional virtual lunch and got the opportunity to connect with one another without talking about work.
Virtual Trivia Night
We’ve hosted a variety of in-person events over the years, from FIFA and SmashBros tournaments to pumpkin carving movie nights. Although we’re disappointed that we can’t come together for these events, we’ve had success adapting them for 2020.
In the last week of October, we hosted a virtual Trivia Night over Zoom. In order to get the best attendance, we let our employees vote on the day/time using a Google Form. We randomly generated the teams at the beginning of the event. This allowed people who don’t often work together to get to know each other better. Three teams competed for the title of PLUS QA Trivia Masters.
Zoom has a breakout room feature that allows the admin, or our host, to create the teams and allow them to meet for a few minutes to answer the trivia questions together. The breakout rooms worked well for the teams to converse and choose their answers. They even allowed the host to jump in and help if any issues arose.
There are many services that can help you set up a trivia night, but we chose to create our own. We compiled eight rounds of trivia questions, most of which were five questions each. Each round had a specific theme (like Portland, Halloween, and Video Games) that would interest our employees, so feel free to get creative with the trivia questions you select! For a particularly fun round, we used a YouTube video with 10 popular songs played as 8-bit music. It was fun to see people recognize the songs as we listened as a group, and the teams were able to identify most of them when working together. Throughout the night the scores were close, and the winning team was only ahead by two points at the end. It was a great chance for people to work together in a fun way, and help us reconnect.
Transitioning from working in an office to working from home is difficult for everyone, and the solutions can be different depending on the company. We’ve found that personalizing our attempts to build connection has worked best for us. If you’re looking for new ways to celebrate each other and have fun as a team while working apart, try some of the ideas that have worked for us!