Remote work isn’t a new thing for many organizations, but with pandemic-driven shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions, it’s the new normal. For most, this experience is a mixed blessing.  Work-life and home-life are melding together, more time is being spent with family and furry-friends, and commutes are non-existent ­­– unless you count walking from bed to the home office.  But during work hours, instead of chatting around the water cooler at our leisure, we’re now being inundated with virtual meeting requests.

This increasing trend of moving meetings on-screen is certainly an effective tool for teams to maintain relationships, easily communicate, and instill a feeling of togetherness while employees remain far apart.  But, with a gallery of tiles reminiscent of the Brady Bunch staring back at you several times a day, folks are starting to feel the collaboration overload.

So how can organizations encourage employee engagement without pushing teams towards what is now called a sense of “virtual fatigue?”

Here are four things to try that will encourage community and engagement without tiring anyone out:

  • Establish virtual rituals like weekly coffee breaks where coworkers can meet around the digital water-cooler for a casual meet-up to combat the afternoon slump. If you want to make it more educational than casual, turn it into a “latte and learn” to cover interesting industry topics or company updates.  Companies like GitLab made it a staple in their company by writing it into their handbook.
  • Take advantage of existing instant message software by making chats or channels with themes like fur-worker photos, quarantine recipes, or shows to binge-watch to build a sense of community and encourage friendly banter among coworkers. This is a great way to learn more about coworkers beyond your immediate team.
  • Build a collaborative playlist by choosing monthly themes like “Motown-May” or “June Jams.” Set up a company account using Spotify or your preferred music service and encourage team members to add songs or send in suggestions to your resident DJ.
  • Friendly competition always sparks interaction. Use virtual games like bingo or trivia and compete individually or as a team to win prizes and bragging rights.  Choose a platform like Zoom, Google hangouts, or Skype so you can see the players in action.

And, when we find ourselves migrating back to cubes, board rooms, and possibly away from the camera, we’ll know each other a bit better and benefit from that.  Until then, let’s keep up the fight against virtual fatigue and experiment with creative digital solutions.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.