The Social Distancer’s Guide to Working from Home

Teague LaBrosse
May 11, 2020 · 5 min read

To quote one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “DON’T PANIC!” This has been my personal mantra since the start of social distancing. As the People and Facilities Coordinator at Animoto, it has been an interesting transition for me not to be around our people or in our facilities. Fortunately, with the help of my team and our wonderful executives, we’ve managed to keep our company culture alive as we’ve adapted to this new normal.

Creating a Space to Work

On the first Monday of working from home, our CEO, Brad Jefferson, took the virtual stage at our first entirely remote all-hands meeting. He announced that each employee would receive a $100 stipend to improve our work from home setups.

Brad also created the #wfhbetterfied Slack channel, so everyone could share their new setups and purchases. Since then, my co-workers have been showing off their new standing desks and monitors, their beautifully decorated work spaces, and of course, the furry little critters that live with them. It’s helped lighten the mood and bring home (literally) how fortunate we are that our company is in position to make such a seamless transition to fully remote work.

The Struggle is Real

Wait a second…$100? No commute? No pants? Working from home sounds nice. And it’s true! But it doesn’t come without its challenges, too. First and foremost: getting out of bed. It’s amazing how much of a motivator catching the train or trying to beat rush hour traffic can be. No longer having that to kick start your morning is hard!

Our marketing team is a great example of how to get into work mode. They’ve taken to wishing each other good morning when they sign on each day. Then they all join in a 9:45 a.m. video chat, where they share their priorities for the day.

See that wasn’t too bad, we’ve done it! The rest should be easy! But the challenges don’t stop there. Add a kid or three to the mix, and oh, buddy, it’s a whole new game. Talking with my co-worker, André, about how he and his wife are adapting, he said, “We’re outnumbered! The kids are stir-crazy from being quarantined, so they are extra spicy and hard to manage.” At the other end of the spectrum is another co-worker, Ali, who said, “I have to say, I’m glad they’re older. Most of the time I can leave them alone,” He went on to say, “For me, it’s a few more interruptions, and I have to make them lunch sometimes. They’re probably less work than a dog.” And hey, perception is reality, right?

If you’re more like André than Ali, try teaching the kids a new game to keep them busy. Some of our parents have done memory games and puzzles for little ones or even chess for the older ones. If all else fails, some snacks and a good book will keep them busy for a while.

Keeping the Culture Alive!

With this universal craziness and the unique struggles of each employee, I think now more than ever is the time to make sure our company’s culture is not only alive, but thriving. A prime example of this is our long-standing “Welcome Buddy” tradition. Usually this means a current employee takes our most recent new hire out for a nice cup of coffee or tea on their first day before they even make it to the office. We adapted this to a stay-at-home cup of joe, done over a Google Hangout with a few current employees to keep things light and fun. We had to make this adjustment quickly, since we had three new hires starting the first three weeks of our office closure.

We’ve also started new Slack channels like #healthimoto, which sends out daily reminders to eat and stretch. We still have our 15-minute random one-on-one meetings, but these now take place on our living room couches rather than our office couches. The People Team ordered pre-made snack boxes, with individually wrapped snacks, to be sent out to our employees in the mail as a gift to the company. Our Vice President of People, Jennie Lee, compiled a mental health email, with links to resources for employees to take advantage of. I also put together a Wellness Guide full of fun and relaxing quarantine-friendly activities.

But most importantly (to me at least), we’ve even found a way to keep everyone’s favorite tradition alive in this time: “Other Demos”. Every other Friday, the aforementioned Ali and assisting team members delight and surprise us all with funny videos, silly games, and unique viewpoints. Our first virtual Other Demos was just that: a virtual version of the Animoto office Ali had created himself. The next time around, he went for a prerecorded news report, with me as his delightfully clumsy co-anchor. Needless to say, Other Demos is the best way to end the week and an even better way to stay joyful.

Don’t Panic!

Now, I don’t think I made an ultimate guide to the universe and everything, but I do hope this helped ease your mind about the transition to a work from home situation. Working from home can be a sedative to any company’s culture when team members feel isolated from each other. But there are ways to encourage and foster solidarity — even while working from home. Being creative in how you communicate with each other (and having fun with it) can make all the difference. So keep your chin up, stay safe, and hop on Zoom to have a nice chat with a colleague. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Tips for Social Distancing as a Tech Company

Here’s the TL;DR for tips from the Animoto People Team.

  • Provide a work-from-home stipend to improve employees at-home setups. And let them show off their new work spaces.
  • Host a low-stakes morning meeting, just to check in and help team members get into the workflow.
  • Keep the kids busy! Challenge them with strategic and memory-based games.
  • Create virtual versions of your current traditions.
  • Send employees helpful links and articles. The more centralized your list of resources, the better.
  • Have fun! Make silly videos, play games. Keep things light for your employees, and they’ll appreciate you brightening up their at-home workday.

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