How to have fun as a team while working remotely

fun dept. cofounder Technikal.ly Nick Gianoulis stresses that your team still needs to bond, even when it’s social distancing.

One of the most difficult things workers who have transitioned, abruptly, from fast-paced offices to kitchen tables and living room couches, is the feeling of isolation. On top of the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be hard to adapt.

Nick Gianoulis and his team have been working remotely for years, meeting in person mainly just for a once-weekly meeting at their space at 1313 Innovation and for events (now online).

The company he cofounded in 2005, fun dept., is all about human connection. Specifically, the biz, which has a national client base that includes companies such as WSFS close to home, helps teams connect through curated games and fun exercises that take five to 15 minutes.

As it happens, long before working at home skyrocketed due to social distancing requirements, fun dept. was getting so many requests for games that were tailored for remote workers that it created what it calls Virtual Video Connect, a model that takes those team fun breaks and made them accessible for remote employees.

“Our number one question is how do we connect remote employees,” Gianoulis told Technical.ly. “Beyond the benefits of remote working such as efficiency and less expense, there is a sense of isolation and not feeling part of the team. That’s one of the realities. But to ease people’s minds, [remote working] is not something that is brand new or a result of coronavirus — it’s something that has proven to be effective and work well.”

Lessening that feeling of isolation virtually can be as simple as taking a few minutes at the beginning of a video meeting to share something simple.

“We recommend things like an activity called ‘background check’ where you go around and have everyone talk about the background photo on their phone,” Gianoulis said. “You will learn more about an individual in those 30 seconds than probably would in five years of working with that person. It’s a great quick way of humanizing a remote meeting.”

Another suggestion? Kick off meetings with a light video that relates to the meeting topic.

“It can be a TikTok or a TED talk or just something that’s flat-out humorous but relevant to your meeting subject,” he said. “For example if it’s a leadership one, there’s the dancing-guy leadership TED Talk video. It puts everyone at ease.”

Remember that even if you incorporate something fun into a meeting, to keep it reasonably brief.

“Business interruption is a real thing,” he said. “It’s literally a five- to 15-[minute] break — we’ve recommended that since we started in ’05,” he said.