Take the “Work” Out of Teamwork to Build It Remotely

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Jul 30, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

If somebody had asked me before this all started — and we know what “this” is — how I’d stay connected to my work family while sheltering in place during a pandemic, I probably would’ve cited the usual methods: chat, text, talk, video. Little did I know after working from home for nearly two months that we would need to go beyond that to maintain healthy and productive relationships.

So we quickly put together a virtual QuaranTEAM program that includes weekly workouts, book-club meetings, and baking classes. It also entails special events like happy hours and live music performed by our talented employees. Different associates were naturally drawn to different activities, and I quickly became a baking instructor — not a job title I have ever had or ever thought I would have. Just as other colleagues probably never thought they’d be a fitness leader, a book club host, or GoToMeeting musicians. 

Nonetheless, the experience has been truly rewarding as numerous employees, from the newest hire to our CEO, have joined the fun. 

“Working from home makes it a challenge to stay connected with colleagues. It’s important to find ways to fill the void of the daily interactions we normally have in our offices but are missing in a remote environment. The QuaranTEAM program provides us that opportunity to socialize with one another and stay connected. I always look forward to participating in QuaranTEAM events because it makes me feel more connected to the team.” — Dan Neuburger, chief executive officer

Here are three things I’ve learned about virtual team building:

Associates enjoy trying new things outside of work with their co-workers. 

Think about how ridiculous it sounds: employees gathering necessary ingredients, opening up their laptops in their kitchens, and simultaneously baking — step-by-step — a pie, cake, quiche, you name it. Really? you might be thinking. Who would want to do that? 

The truth is, lots of people. Because the baking is not ultimately about the baking. It’s about doing something new and unfamiliar with co-workers in a way that permits vulnerability. It’s about having a chance to learn together. It’s about having fun! Baking puts us all in our kitchens for one hour to focus on creating something other than work. After all, as TLNT editor Vadim Liberman often says, “We are all people before we are co-workers.” [A clear editor’s edit if there ever were one!]

“I am the person that usually burns toast and hates cardio, but the minute that I saw the QuaranTEAM program was put in place, I jumped and signed up for everything. It has been  great hanging out with other co-workers and getting to know them in a different setting than at work.” — Nadia Hercules, marketing 

Associates love to involve their families.

Creating an environment where you can get your kids and co-workers together means sharing more of yourself. We opened the class up to families, and week after week associates have involved their kids in baking. They get to see who mom or dad works with and that they can have fun. This creates an all-around positive environment and enables work friends to interact outside of the office.

Additionally, this helps improve work/life balance, a concept that seems to have been recently thrown out the window given that it now feels like we either work from home or live at work. 

Hopefully, when mom or dad says, “I have to hop on a conference call,” the kids understand. And when it’s noon and mom or dad needs to feed Bobby, work understands.

It’s a great bonding experience with me and my son. He looks forward to the baking classes every Wednesday, and he thinks Dan is the funniest person alive.” — Heshy Greenberg, sales

Learning something new is the gift that keeps on giving. 

You are making memories. After the cake comes out of the oven, the experience still lingers. So many people have said that they baked an item two or three times after the class and that their families look forward to a new treat each week.

When we look back on 2020, what will we remember? I’d like to think cheesecake or pie will be one of those stories that gets told. How once a week for months we learned to bake. How we now have another outlet for any stressful days that both includes and provides something we all can enjoy. In the words of Julia Child, “This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.” 

The only thing I would add is to take that lesson to work, as well. And don’t forget to savor the end result!

“I love QuaranTEAM baking so much that I look forward to each Wednesday. I’ve become the Betty Crocker of the family, and they now expect something from me every week. LOL!” — Tealye Nieves, finance

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.