Team Building in a Time of Uncertainty

Covid-19 has changed the way many of us work and engage with our teammates. As with most organizations, DG’s DC-based team became fully remote a few weeks ago. While this was a shift for some of our staff, most DGers are globally-based and had already been working remotely – some for as long as over ten years. We want to take a moment to look at what we have been doing all along and what we have added to keep our team connected and supported, specifically during this time of uncertainty.

Remote Work Fridays and Flexible Scheduling

Last year, we enhanced our remote work policies. With this new policy, all staff members are allowed to work remotely on Fridays without prior manager approval. The policy eliminates the stress and environmental impact of an office commute once a week; allows team members a dedicated weekday to focus in a quiet space; and provides a productive change of environment. Though staff are now required to work at home, this policy (unknowingly) has made the transition much easier as most staff already have space at home that they prefer to work – whether that be a home office, corner desk, or a kitchen table.

Additionally, as a global team with colleagues in half a dozen time zones and partners all over the world our team must be flexible. Each week, DGers set their own schedules around core online hours with flexibility in the morning and evening, so that they can fit meetings across time zones onto their calendars. The flexible workday also allows staff to schedule childcare, doctors’ appointments, and other personal needs without impacting the workday. Now that health department guidelines, school schedules, mental health needs, and community restrictions are changing daily, this flexible scheduling is even more useful.

Slack, Slack, Slack

A slack request for photos of children and dogs followed by a photo of a dog
A recent request for photos

Slack is an obvious solution for a distributed team like ours, and we have been staying actively connected through it for a number of years. We have channels dedicated to conversations about programs, projects, workstreams, and events. Of course, remote team building can happen in these channels alongside day-to-day work interaction. But we also have dedicated channels for other discussions – like #General and #DGPopCultureHappyHour. Here is a sample of our recent ongoing threads that have lifted spirits and piqued curiosity:

The team has also started a Social Isolation Tips shared document, which provides ideas for mental health, streaming recommendations, activities for kids, and more. Actively encouraging teammates to share content that isn’t work-related is a cultural shift in some ways, but it is well worth the effort to increase comfort and cohesiveness across our team. 

Zoom Call Guest Stars

Children, partners, and pets have always been important to our lives, and are especially so now that we’re more socially isolated. For many of our regular team Zoom calls, we’ve had guest stars appear! From partners also working in the background to kids sidling up to the computer screen, to dogs barking and cats standing on the keyboard - we’ve seen it all. Our semi-formal policy is to pause for introductions and hellos when guest stars appear. Again, this policy is not new, but guest stars are now more frequent. This friendly approach gives the DG team an opportunity to meet and know the important connections in their co-workers’ lives.

Virtual Coffees

Holding virtual coffees has been on our to-do list for a few months, and now, we’ve had even more reason to start! We organized interested staff members into groups of three, provided them an opening question (What is your favorite comfort food?) and challenged them to go 30 minutes getting to know each other without talking about work. After a few virtual coffees, we can say that it has been successful – and is something we will continue even after life returns to normal.

Virtual Yoga Sculpt

Emily leads the DG Team in Yoga
Emily leads DG's virtual workout

DG is lucky on this front – Our Engagement & Partnerships Associate, Emily Fung, is also a trained yoga instructor. Emily has been providing 45-minute lunchtime or after-work classes to the team over Zoom - video optional. It may seem trivial, but seeing teammates work and sweat with you reduces feelings of isolation, gets endorphins flowing, and builds camaraderie. A quick team workout is also a great way to break up the day and help stay focused. Not every organization has an Emily to lead them, but doing a YouTube workout together is a great way to feel the same benefits. This activity, while fun and engaging, might not continue in our post-COVID-19 world.

Learning Lunches

Kathryn shows us how to make butter via Zoom
Kathryn teaches us how to make butter

Emily is not the only person on our staff with a unique skill set. We have encouraged any staff member with a skill or talent to share during a learning lunch. Again, it has been a neat way for staff to get to know each other and have unstructured time to connect. So far, we have learned how to churn butter with a food processor at home, to make sorrentinos from scratch, and tips for playing volleyball – and we have more lessons on the horizon. 

None of our solutions are the perfect replacement for impromptu conversations over coffee in the OpenGov Hub kitchen, or regularly seeing someone at their desk. However, we know that team cohesion has valuable impacts, and our patchwork approach has many of the same benefits. We believe in creating an environment that is both productive and fulfilling, and we will continue to be creative in supporting our team to achieve this.
 

As an organization that is fortunate enough to be able to fully and comfortably telework, DG is grateful to be able to make this shift to keep our team safe. Though this has added significantly to the stress of many of us, we understand that remote work is not a privilege afforded to many during this unsettled time. We are thankful to DGers for being flexible and working together to foster a sense of normalcy – making each team member feel socially connected while we are safely distancing. Looking back on this emergency with hindsight, we hope to see how this moment provided us the time and space to develop even stronger practices for supporting our remotely- and globally-based team.

We look forward to staying in touch with partners, colleagues, and friends around the world as we face the next weeks and months of uncertainty. If you’d like to share ideas or input on what your organization has been doing to stay connected, please feel free to get in touch with Vanessa Goas at vgoas@developmentgateway.org.

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