Our yearly in-person workweek now fully remote during the pandemic.
Every August for the last five years, we’ve flown the remote folks at silverorange into Prince Edward Island for a week of work with the rest of the team in the office. We call it “Remote Week.” People come from various locations, including British Columbia, Montreal, Halifax and Ecuador (since this writing we’ve now added Calgary to that mix). It’s something we value at silverorange because in-person meetings can break the digital barrier and allow remote folks to connect at a more intimate human level that Zoom and Slack messages sometimes lack.
This year at silverorange, our Remote Week was different than most years. COVID-19 has shifted the way people work and although half of our team was already working remotely, the rest of the in-office team began now working from home too. Hence the birth of our first ever Remote Remote Week.
In the past we used this week as an opportunity to share the same working space and have some real life “watercooler” moments as we wait for coffee or prepare a bite in the kitchen. Many of us would choose to sit together on the third floor of our Charlottetown office. This space has a large table and couches along the walls, providing a relaxed environment where one can work while also engaging in side conversations. We usually plan lunches and dinners together and generally hang out after work for a few drinks too.
Given the circumstances of 2020, our main goal was to connect with each other in fun ways that were not directly work-related, either during or after work hours, through some required and optional activities. Although we didn’t quite hammer down the “working together” as much as we would have liked, we did manage to create a work week that was uplifting in these uncertain times of COVID-19.
So we hope the following activities will inspire other workplaces to come up with their own ways to uplift morale, provide ways for people to express themselves, and ultimately have fun with each other.
1. Zoom backgrounds with a twist!
We started off our Remote Remote Week with a light activity to slowly wind people into the week of planned activities. Everyone was asked to download or create a fun background for our weekly standup Zoom meeting. Five minutes before the meeting we reminded people to prepare their backgrounds but told everyone to refrain from using them until they were told during the call.
Once on the call, we gave everyone the surprise that those backgrounds were actually meant to be used by someone else. Each of us were assigned a random person to send our background to, and then were told to go ahead and activate the Zoom background each person had received. Some funny moments occurred, as some had naturally customized their backgrounds thinking it was for themselves. Each person was then given a moment to talk about their background and this resulted in some of us learning a few things about each other and overall got everyone smiling!
2. Team Collage with theme of “Music”
At silverorange we have a Slack channel called #out-and-about where we post a theme every week which encourages us to go out for a walk to take a picture with a goal in mind. For this activity we put everyone in groups of 4–5 people and instructed each team to create a “collage” borrowing from the #out-and-about theme. Since we have a few designers/photoshopers, we made sure there was at least one per team to digitally put together their team ideas into one composed image.
The theme for that week was “Music”, so lo and behold, we had some pretty amazing outcomes and truly memorable results.
For our Queen photoshoot, we had to take photos in dark rooms/closets. Jenn noticed everything was shoved out of the way in our closet yesterday and asked: “What were you doing in the closet!?” I told her I was taking a picture for work. — Steven Garrity
3. Game Night with Jackbox
We used Jackbox for our games night because there are a variety of interactive games you can choose from as a group, and the games are usually simple and silly with light competition which allows everyone to feel comfortable enough to participate. The games we chose to play included Drawful, QuickPlash and Fibbage. As seen in the screenshot above when playing Drawful, we had some pretty silly answers.
4. “Back to the Future” movie night
A movie night is a classic activity that can be done remotely quite easily with the help of Netflix Party! Each participant is asked to download and add the Netflix Party plugin to their browser. The person sharing the movie sends over the movie link and each person can see the movie on the left side of the screen and a chat box on the right. The movie can be controlled by anybody in the party, which does lead to accidental pauses.
As an experienced roast-host, it’s better to watch a dumb movie together so you can make fun of it. — Jacky Gilbertson
The best advice is to pick a movie that is either a classic, or intentionally bad to get some juicy commentary. The final choice was between “The Predator” and “Back to the Future”. After some fun slack polls and banter , we ended up choosing “Back to the Future” which honestly made us think twice about some norms in the 80's.
Thanks for the movie night organizing- it was fun to pick apart Back to the Future with you all. — Isa Grant
5. Learn-to-make-tortillas cooking night
I volunteered to teach the group how to make tortillas, a simple dish that can be made with minimal ingredients found at home, and participants can easily follow along in their own kitchens. This turned out to be a fun family event as Steven’s children joined in to learn how to create this timeless wrap that you can eat with a variety of things. Others joined just for the entertainment of watching and commenting as we cooked together.
6. Bop 🥁, banger 🤟, 🎷groove, 🎸jam
For this activity we split into teams of 3–4 people. We then jumped into a Zoom call where the organizer created Zoom breakout rooms for each team. Each team then collectively decided what makes a song a “bop”, a “banger”, a “groove”, or a “jam”, essentially deciding what characteristic each category has versus the others. Once each team had their criteria set, the activity began.
We had prepared a list of 10 songs chosen from our #jams Slack channel (where we share music) to categorize according to each team’s criteria. The organizer sent everyone off into their breakout rooms meanwhile the song was posted in our remote week channel. Each team then had a chance to react to the song with the appropriate emoji- 🥁, 🤟, 🎷, 🎸.
Each breakout room was set with a countdown of 3 minutes, allowing people to listen to a bit of the song, apply the criteria, share their opinions, and try to make a group decision. Once the time was up, the breakout room would end and everyone would regroup into one Zoom call to discuss, debate, and proceed to the next song. This resulted in some good spirited debate and fun GIFs while listening to some music.
7. Fancy dinner and happy hour
To finish off the week our last activity was a Fancy Happy Hour where the requirements were to order-in some delicious food, wear a fancy top and/or bring a fancy-looking drink. This made it easy to break the ice and by talking about our drinks and clothing choices we all learned a bit about each other in a more casual setting.
I put my food on a square plate because square plates are fancy! — Clara Campos
Normally during our remote week, silverorange pays for a nice group dinner out at the end of the week. This time around each team member was provided with a stipend to encourage participation and to allow flexibility for partners to join as well. This activity was voted number one by the team after we made a survey for which activity people enjoyed the most.
Lessons from our Remote Remote Week
Having a dedicated Slack channel for the week allowed for a casual space for people to share GIFs, funny comments and general praise for all the activities happening during the week. Using Slack surveys to choose games and movies made it a collaborative process that allowed for some friendly competitive banter.
Who came up with that game of categorizing music? It was super neat! — Kendra Kohler
We also did a survey to get some feedback and the responses were all very positive. Many had mentioned their interest in more team activities during the year and were generally feeling happy that this was planned out. We learned that connecting with teammates in a casual setting is truly important in creating a culture of creative expression, compassion, kindness, and trust. Overall this was a rewarding experience despite the slight challenges of being entirely remote.
That was great, @malena and @charles! Thanks for organizing our remote remote week! — Keith Burgoyne