4 ways to maintain a sense of community while working from home

Jessica Peterson / May 2020 / Organizational Culture

Chances are, you’re reading this while working from home. Even if it isn’t your first time working from home, this is likely the longest you’ve worked from home. There is no shortage of tips on how to be more productive while working remotely. We’ve published a few guides ourselves in recent weeks. But even after you’ve set up your work space, established a routine, and figured out how to balance your day job and your new side gig as a home-school instructor, you might still find it all a bit … lonely.

The truth is, we spend a large chunk of our lives at work. And the socializing we do there is a big aspect of office life, making work more pleasant and productive.

Over the years, Google’s people analytics team has conducted extensive research on team dynamics and how they contribute to team effectiveness. When it comes to people working in distributed locations, they found the most effective teams were the ones that prioritized getting connected, being connected, and feeling connected.

So how do we hold onto that sense of community when we’re all working from home? There are plenty of resources and best practices for staying connected and productive when your team is working remotely. But we wanted to look at the softer side of things as well. After all, Google has a bit of a reputation for a connected culture and cool offices. Not surprisingly, teams across the company are trying to maintain that vibe even while working from home. Below are a few tips.

4 tips for fostering community while working from home

Overlapping message app bubbles: 1. Get to know each other. People icons connected in a circle by arrows: 2 Connect over common interests. An array of 3D shapes: 3. Remember the beauty of play. A hand holds a heart icon: 4. Show a little gratitude.

Get to know each other

Show off your workspace. Whether it’s a spot on the couch, a seat at the kitchen table, or a proper home office, giving your coworkers a look at what’s beyond the three feet of wall space they see in a videoconference is a great way to forge connections (and maybe build a little empathy).

Host a virtual happy hour or virtual lunch break, something that is agenda free and meant purely for socializing. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce your children or pets — something you rarely have the chance to do in an office setting. If a meeting sounds a little too aggressive, simply sharing photos of your children or pets is a great way to stay connected.

Connect over common interests

Cooking clubs, book clubs, movie clubs. There are plenty of areas where your team can find common ground. Perhaps pick one book to read, movie to watch, or recipe to try. Those virtual happy hours and lunch breaks don’t have to be completely passive. Some teams here are learning how to make cocktails and mocktails during such meetings. One did a virtual cooking lesson. This not only gives colleagues something to do, it’s another way to learn more about each other.

If the thought of looking directly into a videoconference for an extended period of time is a bit much, there’s always Netflix and chat. Netflix Party, a Chrome extension, lets you synchronize video playback and add group chat to your Netflix experience. In other words, you and your colleagues can participate in watch parties.

Remember the beauty of play

A little friendly competition is a great way to build bonds. Engage in a little online karaoke. The Freddie Meter, for example, lets you test yourself against Queen songs. If the results are a little too embarrassing, you can keep them private, but there’s no shame in sharing with coworkers. After all, how well can anyone stack up against Freddie?

Trivia contests are another way to go. And don’t forget old standbys like board games. While a large number of them are available online in digital formats, many people are now learning how to play real-world board games over video chat.

If you’re looking for something a little more active, consider physical challenges like virtual cycling races.

By putting people first, maintaining a sense of structure, and carving out time to lift each other’s spirits, we can foster a more resilient workforce.

Show a little gratitude

Finally, don’t forget to be kind to one another. This is likely a stressful time for everyone. Even if your workplace isn’t typically prone to displays of emotion, something as simple as recognizing coworkers’ achievements can go a long way. A Google team in one of our Asia markets has created a virtual gratitude wall, where they can give a shout out to colleagues for everything from a completed project to just hanging in there. (Or it can be as simple as giving someone a shoutout at the start of a meeting.)

By putting people first, maintaining a sense of structure, and carving out time to lift each other’s spirits, we can foster a more resilient workforce. No matter how busy you are, staying in touch reminds us that we are in this together, which helps to soothe the mind, body, and spirit.

Will social distancing accelerate a trend toward home as headquarters?