Virtual Christmas Party or some ramblings about staying a team in remote times

How do you stay together as a team or rather connect as people in a time, where you only see each other on a screen?

Maria Gebhardt
Dec 24, 2020 · 6 min read

2020 is the year everything is different. Covid-19 has changed the way we live and the way we work. We’re all missing human (like real human) interactions, be it in personal life or at work. As you can read here, our company is basically completely remote.

We would see each other’s faces from time to time during a Zoom meeting, but you hardly saw someone outside your dedicated team and you especially never saw everyone at once.

In most of 2020 there was no chitchat at the coffee machine, deep talks on lunch breaks or going out for drinks after work.

In the beginning everyone was highly motivated to stay connected, we tried hard to keep the office feeling alive. Among other things, we had virtual coffee and lunch breaks, a check-out chat at the end of the day to talk about the day we just had and weekly ChitChat Talks about personal stuff.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but for me seeing someone on a screen is definitely not the same as actually being next to this person. You don’t see their body language, you cannot “catch them” off-guard to learn how they’re actually feeling. It is always staged; these virtual social talks never build up upon the coincidence of two or more people getting coffee at the same time and start talking. It feels a bit forced. Though I only speak about my own feelings here, overall, participation in these social activities slowly died down.

We still have our Hack Days (which we will definitely explain sometime in another post, so keep your eyes open), and really enjoy those. But they don’t happen on a regular basis yet and in the meantime, you do not see anyone outside your own team that often.

One of our virtual ChitChat Talks.

The only virtual gathering having survived the months and months of working remotely is our aforementioned ChitChat Talk. It was never specifically encouraged to not talk about work in there, but most of the time we really don’t and instead talk about our dogs, cooking and other private ventures. But it’s the same here. As the year progressed, fewer and fewer people were taking part. And probably the only reason this is still a thing, are our lovely colleagues Kyrsten and Harry, who remind us to take part.

Like:

Every.

Single.

Time.

And I’m really glad for that. It makes it harder to withdraw, to just pretend it does not happen. Like the inevitable human interactions in a real office, before Corona. You clearly had to talk to someone when you were ending up face to face in the kitchen, the bathroom or out for a smoke.

I mean it can also be a blessing to just be on your own, to have a chance to fully concentrate on your work without that many interruptions and without having to talk. Especially when you’re in a bad mood. On the downside, this way there is also no one, who can cheer you up by accident. It’s more about you all the time. You start to feel disconnected and do not see the whole picture, meaning the “we’re all in this together”, anymore.

But to stop the rambling and get back to the point: virtual team activities died down.

And then one day, a little envelope arrived in the mail. In it some Christmas greetings and beautiful recipe cards for a three-course menu.

A little blurry, but you still can see the effort that went into designing these cards.

A virtual Christmas Dinner was on the table. To be honest, I feared it would get really awkward. I mean, how do you think 22 people can zoom without the concept of listening to only one person? And it was. Awkward I mean.

But here’s the story:

We had our own Gordon Ramsey for the night, guiding us through the evening, or at least through the cooking part. And as long as everyone was busy cooking and following instructions everything was fine. But the little pauses in between grew larger and larger.

I guess we’re all quite humble beings, as there was no one waiting to occupy center stage. Long silences emerged, which were kind of awkward. But somehow also not. They actually felt kind of good. At least for me. We were all in this awkward situation together. As a team. So, in being silent you also felt connected.

But do not fear. It got better. After we were done cooking and eating, we were randomly thrust into Breakout Rooms. Like almost literally thrust, sometimes midsentence. But that made the fun. It felt a bit like speed-dating, but the kind where you knew and liked all the dates before.

Some of us ended up on Zoom for over 6 hours. And as the years before, there were even some who had to call in sick the day after…

This was a good way of ending this Zoom dominant year. Still tired of staring into a screen all the time to see the others, but leaving the year with a positive feeling about us as a team.

We do not know how and if 2021 will be any different than 2020. Even if life will go back to normal at one point, I guess we still need to improve this virtual social-at-work-life. We won’t go back to a fully on-site company. We always need ways to connect everyone, new formats need to be found and more effort needs to go into this.

We’re nevertheless all more than ready to leave 2020 behind. Cause you know, as Alexander Pope already said: Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

With these words, we are wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! See you in 2021.

PS: How is it going in your company, how do you keep up the team spirit? Do you have virtual team events or do you still see your colleagues in person? Let us know in the comments!

diesdas.digital is a studio for strategy, design and code in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of designers, developers and strategists. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. Let’s work together!

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