Early into the COVID-19 quarantine, our team learned just how forced conversations can feel during remote social activities due to the fact that our day-to-day lives are limited to our new at-home routines.
Sometimes, there's just not much to talk about. 😅
In order to keep our team upbeat and engaged, we brainstormed a list of inclusive activities and conversation prompts to help spice up our work-from-home life, keep our company culture alive, and connect the team like never before.
Bonusly teams are based in New York City, Boulder, and Seattle, which means three different time zones and many different interests across the board to keep in mind when planning activities.
Here are some of the activities we’ve used to build and sustain our team culture while we're working remotely:
- Show & tell
- Goat 2 Meeting
- Wellbeing meetings
- Special interest Slack channels
- Birthday celebrations
- Donut chats
Thanks to our diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory team, we selected Bonusly Afterhours as our form of a “happy hour” social activity space. Not everyone is on happy hour time when this activity happens due to the various time zones, so we wanted to be sure to include that difference in the name. We also respect individual choices to drink alcohol or not, so Afterhours seemed to be the most inclusive choice.
Every week, we use Polly to decide when the next week’s Afterhours are going to happen. We originally set a recurring time/day of the week for consistency, but after receiving low attendance and feedback from team members who had other obligations during that time, we opted for it switching up every week.
Depending on the type of activity each week, we schedule about an hour to an hour and a half in the afternoon/early evening. We randomly select an activity from our brainstormed list of activities, including:
- Arts & crafts
- A specific department hosts a social hour with a theme (e.g. design can host a collaborative design session around a prompt like “photo dinosaur”)
- Virtual museum tours
- Mixology competition
- Online games (card games, board games, puzzles, etc.)
- DIY project
- Scavenger hunt
- The most random thing you have in your house
- Most ridiculous outfits (Tiger King, handmade, etc.)
- Dress like a favorite TV or movie character
- Talent show
- Pet social hour where all pets can Zoom with each other and their owners
So far, we have hosted a dress like a tv/movie character competition, trivia night, Starch Madness cooking competition, and arts & crafts night. Each winner or participant in the event receives a bonus as a thank you for helping keep the team’s culture alive. If you don’t have a budget for a prize, check out these ideas for free or low-cost custom rewards.
These activities provide a weekly dose of positivity for the team and help us get to know each other better rather than your typical remote happy hour chat. We use remote team tools like Zoom due to the size of our team, the grid capabilities, and being able to use Snap filters and change backgrounds. During the dress like a tv/movie character competition, it was fun for team members to change the background of their meeting to match the character they were dressed as.
Every Wednesday, the team gathers virtually for Bonusly Commons. This space has replaced the Boulder headquarters weekly team lunches in an effort to stick to some of our habits and increase connectivity with the satellite offices.
Every week covers a different prompt or topic like:
- A question
- One new thing you’ve learned this week
- Plant/gardening tips
- Best movies of all time
- A skill you wish you had/want to learn
- Never have I ever (e-rated edition)
The hour flies by thanks to these prompts and it’s fun getting to know more about your teammates in a laid back setting. We post the prompt in our #general Slack channel about an hour before Bonusly Commons begins so the topic is fresh in everyone’s minds.
Show & tell
Learning about your teammates’ subject knowledge or passions provides new perspectives, free professional development, and helps you gain more insight into who they are. Plus, you may learn you have similar interests and create an even stronger bond with your teammates.
We started show & tell shortly after quarantine began. Every other Friday, we dedicate an hour to present and ask any questions. We created a basic shared document with a date, speaker, and topic for the team to sign up for through the remainder of the year.
So far, topics have included daily happiness tracking, the Start Today Journal, a cooking class, a knife class, and a makeup tutorial.
Each session is recorded in Zoom and saved in a shared folder in case anyone is unable to attend. These sessions end the week on a fun note and each presenter receives a bonus for their participation and vulnerability.
Our team is fortunate to have a yoga guru on the team (and she happens to be the head of people ops). Employee wellness is something we value at Bonusly and this free activity helps get our bodies moving and our minds clear.
The sessions are open to any and all levels of experience. Personally, I never really participated in much yoga prior to these sessions, and they definitely push me in the best way possible. It can be difficult to remember to move your body throughout the day when you’re working remotely, so being able to have these sessions is such a blessing.
Every week, the team votes on time for yoga in our #yoga Slack channel. Participants can choose to leave their camera on or off depending on their preference. Each session is recorded in Zoom and shared in the channel afterward if anyone missed it.
Goat 2 Meeting
If you’ve never heard about Goat 2 Meeting, you’re missing out. For less than $100, you can request a farm join your video chat to see goats, pigs, cows, llamas, chickens, sheep, or any other animal they may have at the time.
SweetFarm is a nonprofit sanctuary in California that started Goat 2 Meetings as a way to support their sanctuary and educate on the global impacts of factory farming. You can select which animal you’d like to meet, read a short background about them, and see some adorable photos on their website.
Our team recently created a Goat 2 Meeting as a custom reward and we were surprised with it during our last all-hands meeting. SweetFarm was booked during the time of our meeting, so we got a tour of their sister farm, Catskill Animal Sanctuary. They have over 300 rescue animals and the team got to meet over 20 of their goats––all with the cutest names like Edith, Tracy, and Ferguson.
The meeting was full of smiles and laughs thanks to the goats, 10/10 would recommend. 🐐
Thanks to feedback from company-wide remote work retrospective meetings, we realized there needed to be more communication from leadership on the current state of all things Bonusly and the new normal amidst COVID-19.
Our CEO immediately jumped into action, hosting weekly Ask Me Anything meetings for the team. These meetings happen every Friday and last for about an hour. One person collects questions in the Zoom chat and reads them off to our CEO to answer.
Transparency is a core value of Bonusly and these sessions have helped the team walk the talk. We’ve covered topics like what productivity looks like during these times, when we can expect to go back to the office, various business models and forecasting for the future, updates on the livelihood of the team, and even current Netflix binging.
Talking openly about what’s going on helps ease the nerves of teammates and removes room for assumptions, which helps everyone in the short and long term. If your team is struggling with what to expect from each other during these times, try creating working agreements to help everyone get on the same page.
Holding onto stress hurts productivity and is detrimental to the physical and mental health of your teammates. A working group has dedicated their time to providing a safe space to virtually facilitate team gatherings to talk about how they are doing personally with the coronavirus situation.
There has been one session so far and more are being scheduled after receiving positive feedback on the first meeting. Being able to share or listen to others and how they’re struggling or coping helps each other feel less isolated and gain insights on how to approach what’s been going on.
Although this is an unprecedented time, creating this support system has helped build trust and camaraderie throughout the team.
Special interest Slack channels
At a grassroots level, Slack channels have served as micro-communities within Bonusly. We have channels like #running, #books, #yoga, #fitness, and #terrace-house that all serve different interests throughout the team. I joined #running shortly after joining the team and it has been a great source of inspiration and motivation to get back into running. There are various ranges of experience in the group and being able to receive tips on running from Bonusly’s more seasoned runners has helped immensely.
These grassroots efforts are free and make it easy to connect in smaller groups over similar interests. There has been an increase in the participation of the channels since the beginning of quarantine and hopefully, this will continue as the COVID-19 situation improves.
No matter what age, I love celebrating other people’s birthdays. It’s a chance to recognize how much we appreciate team members’ impact and to show gratitude for the fact that they have made it another trip around the sun and engage our team. While we can’t celebrate in person together, we still want to make birthdays feel special!
At the beginning of every month, we reach out to each team member who has a birthday to learn what their favorite birthday treat is. Then we schedule a special delivery at the beginning of the month to kick off birthday celebrations.
Although they aren’t big surprises, they help show we care and are happy to have them as part of the team. Plus, who doesn’t like getting special treats delivered to start their birthday month off on a fun note? We also give each employee a bonus on their actual birthday and team members add to the bonus throughout the day, full of fun GIFs and warm wishes.
If your team doesn’t have a budget for delivered treats, consider sending a card or special video from the team, or a bonus or gift card of some sort. You can get creative with the surprise—it’s the thought that matters most.
Donut integrates with Slack to randomly pair teammates to share a virtual coffee or donut and chat socially. There are a variety of pairing programs to choose from like larger or smaller groups, CEO lottery, cross-departmental selection, and more.
Donut chats happen weekly and last for 30 minutes. It’s a chance to get to talk to your teammates about things outside of work, and enjoy a coffee or donut while you’re at it. At Bonusly, we allocate a stipend for each donut chat as an effort to incentivize the chats even more. We have found this to be an excellent way to increase cross-departmental socialization, especially when we’re all working remotely.
Donut can start the conversation for you and also checks in to make sure meetings happen. It also shares stats with the entire team on how many chats happened the prior week. These chats have become even more valuable during this time in facilitating one on one or small group conversations that may be awkward to initiate on your own.
Turns out, these activities have brought our team closer together than ever before. We had previously struggled with hosting social activities that included each satellite office, and social distancing gave us the change we needed to finally include each office in team bonding activities.
We have bonded over potato competitions, trivia, remote work struggles, goats, goal setting, and so much more. Finding the silver lining during these times and planning fun activities have strengthened our team in so many ways and is setting an even stronger foundation for our future.
We have also pushed creative limits to find better ways to serve our customers and support each other. We have brainstormed more creative custom reward ideas to support those who no longer have a budget for bonuses, created a comprehensive guide to remote work, and continue to collaborate to find ways to positively impact workplace culture for organizations across the world.
“In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”
We are all in this together, keep going. 💚
For more tips on working remotely, check out our guide: