Woman at laptop computer

When COVID-19 hit the US in the spring of 2020, to say our world turned upside down is an understatement. Every aspect of our personal and professional lives were changed. For those of us fortunate enough to continue working, a lot of time was spent adjusting to new ways of getting work done. Processes changed overnight, meetings went virtual, “working together” went from sitting in the same room problem-solving, to now using tools and meetings in completely different ways (can anyone say screen fatigue?).

A few months into all of those adjustments, many have adapted to new patterns of work, but people also report feeling more isolated according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). On a personal level, this feels very true. As a leader, one of the things I miss the most is in-person collaboration. I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. For me, I enjoyed when a team meeting led to feeling totally aligned and understanding what the next steps were. 

More often than not, it can be hard to get as strong of a sense of alignment when collaborating virtually. I’m willing to bet there are others out there struggling with the same thing, craving more opportunities for deliberate communication, stronger connection, and clear alignment.

At work, we saw this challenge first-hand, and have been hard at work to address the issue. For our team, it starts with culture and addressing the isolation issue. While being in the office isn’t feasible now, we have gotten creative and approached connectivity a bit differently, with surprising results. 

Bring People Together with Music
It’s no surprise that music can help people working at home feel more upbeat. One way teams can come together is to create playlists and share them with each other. It’s also a great way to get to know the wide-ranging musical tastes of colleagues and make connections that normally wouldn’t happen in the office. Another way to see the power of music is to tap the hidden talents of team members. For example, our team holds an internal meeting focusing on lifelong learning each year. It’s a week of intense training sessions and breakout activities. This year, the internal conference was virtual, and we used the power of music to demonstrate the importance of continuing to practice our craft. Several team members played instruments during breaks and we were inspired by their talent. 

Teach People Something
We’ve all heard anecdotes noting that an active mind can be a benefit to warding off neurological diseases associated with aging. At work, I see that the teams I lead seem more engaged when we’re learning together. That’s why during the same annual conference, various team members kicked off sessions with quick demos teaching a skill — from how to make the perfect plate of scrambled eggs to simple tips about improving web design, we saw many different sides of team members and learned new things together. 

Build a Culture of Collaboration with Tech
By now, everyone has heard of Zoom fatigue. The act of simply seeing someone on your screen does not equal collaboration. Being a software company, our team got to work on how we could create more ways to collaborate. So we crafted a group agenda that is intuitive and easy to share. Group Agendas are a shared agenda that can be created by anyone and allows any user on the agenda to communicate and improve alignment with one another. 

Our end goal with Group Agendas was to create the ability for teams to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate better. We know that because of COVID-19, the ways in which teams work together have been changed forever. We’re seeing that Group Agendas can be used to build stronger connections and communication in teams. 

Find the Funny
Humor in the workplace is important for keeping teams connected and spirits up. Yet, many people shy away from it because crossing a line can cause issues. At work, we encourage people to find the funny in their day-to-day life. By allowing time for sharing stories (remember the journalist whose kid ran in the room during an on-camera interview? We can all relate at this point.) or including an appropriate meme or two in an internal agenda or presentation, we can help alleviate stress.

These are just a few of the ways I’ve seen our teams coming together to increase collaboration during this momentous year. We will be back in the office at some point, and until we are, I’ll keep looking for unconventional ways to collaborate.