We’ve all been through them, those meetings that tend to drag on and you’re left sitting there thinking to yourself; “Don’t fall asleep, don’t yawn.” Taken virtually, it can be even worse; you’re sitting at your kitchen table (or, if you’re lucky, your home office) trying to pay attention but the neighbors outside are having a drive by birthday party and you can’t help but sneak a look every couple of seconds. It’s harder to keep people engaged in a virtual meeting, but done thoughtfully, we’re here to tell you that it can be done. And besides, this is Portland, what would a recipe be without a few artisanal ingredients, might as well give it some flair and make it interesting!
Recent studies have shown that at least one third of all Americans are either depressed or experiencing anxiety. One antidote for people experiencing these feelings is connectedness. Holding virtual events for the sake of staying connected with your team is imperative when it comes to maintaining the company culture. In more normal times, our office is buzzing with conversation; whether it’s at the lunch table, in passing over coffee, or at our Friday happy hours. But now that we’re not together forty hours a week, the distance has even the more introverted crowd missing chit chats. Since transitioning nearly all of our team to working remotely in March, we’ve taken our Friday happy hours virtual. And to our surprise, the turnout and engagement has been stronger than ever. This Friday marks our twelfth virtual happy hour, and during that time, we’ve developed the perfect recipe for a successful virtual event.
Step 1. Include some opportunity for everyone to speak at the beginning of the meeting. In general, we start each meeting (be it internal or external) with a short introduction or update from each person. This could be answering the questions “What are you drinking?” or sharing your peaks and valleys from the week, or sharing a professional and personal highlight from the past week. What better way to connect your team than to share some part of your personal life? The point is to get people talking, not just about work. We’d even venture to say that these happy hours have brought our people even closer together; getting to see where everyone lives, meeting everyone’s spouses, children, dogs.
Step 2. Plan a fun activity of some sort. To date, we’ve had a goat farm join our call, played Family Feud, and held a scavenger hunt. Anything really to get people laughing, moving, talking: connecting with one another. The idea is to have a loosely structured activity; something that can be somewhat fluid in terms of timing. Did the intros run a little long? That’s ok! Time spent on the activity can easily be shortened. For instance, when we planned our scavenger hunt, we created a list of 40 items for attendees to find, but we only ended up using about 15 of them. The key is to be overprepared, and also to be flexible to allow things to happen.
Step 3. Sit back, watch things unfold, and enjoy the meeting. Have some questions or topics on standby just in case the conversation gets slow, but if it takes off, just roll with it. The point is to enjoy your time together, so do what feels the most natural.
The recipe for a successful virtual event needn’t be complicated or fussy, in reality it’s just a simple ratio: take one part structured time for introductions and friendly chit chat to one part loosely structured fun activity. Have a moderator lead the discussion. Themes and costumes are optional (but always encouraged!). The rest is up to you, and that’s what makes it fun.