Get a Friendly Office Vibe (Without the Office)


It’s not only work that goes on at work. A significant portion of the day in traditional offices is taken up with complimenting new hairstyles, joking about a colleague’s poorly performing sports team and the like. Web workers get far fewer of these quick doses of human connection. As a result, the texture of working life can tend towards the cool and barren, as hours roll by with only the inbox chime and the end of an album on iTunes (s aapl) to mark time.

While opportunities for unbroken concentration are one of the advantages of remote working, the chill of solely utilitarian communication can also be a problem both for the web worker herself and the team as a whole if they fail to gel on a personal level. Jill E. Nemiro points out in her book Creativity in Virtual Teams, “a personal sense of connection can lessen the problematic misunderstandings and faulty assumptions that hamper creativity.”

It’s a real but nebulous problem, so unsurprisingly hard and fast solutions aren’t easy to come by. But that doesn’t mean some folks haven’t been trying to bring a little more of the warm camaraderie of the office to web workers. Take designer Philip Gordon who has developed a gizmo called LightSync (pictured above). Trendhunter reports:

This simple object is essentially a communal mood indicator designed to connect people working on the same project from different places… The LightSync encourages you to adjust your lamp to the color that represents your sentiments, and the feeling is broadcasted to other employees.

If the adult equivalent of the junior high mood ring doesn’t strike you as the perfect solution, Nemiro suggests old-fashioned playful games. As one member of a close-knit virtual team she studied relates: “We do crazy, silly game things, little competitions, or silly things that we share. And those become the inside jokes that people outside don’t know, but it forms identity and helps build community.”

Things can be particularly chilly for those new to the team so MIT Sloan Management Review also recommends welcome packs. To get newcomers integrated into the warm group atmosphere, managers should provide “a list of team members with personal and contact information and photos,” and encourage “team members to welcome the new employee with offers of help and support and share their experiences and best practices for remote offices.”

How do you keep up a human connection with co-workers, despite working virtually?

Image courtesy of Philip Gordon

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