Even if you were used to working from home one or two days a week, you may now be making a surprising discovery: Full-time work at a distance is something else entirely. You miss your coworkers—their faces, their voices, even their silly jokes.
If feeling disconnected is dragging your productivity down, cheer up. You’re normal. Says Hanah Yendler, a full-stack engineer at San Francisco–based Eventbrite, “It’s impossible to do your best work if you’re isolated and lonely.”
Yendler started telecommuting full-time about a week before the Bay Area’s official “shelter in place” order took effect on March 17. It’s an especially taxing time for Eventbrite, which in 2019 produced 4.7 million live events in 180 countries, including concerts, performances, festivals, athletic contests, and other public gatherings. As COVID-19 has spread, and thousands of events so far have been canceled or postponed, the firm’s global staff of about 1,000 employees—who call themselves Britelings—are, you might say, a little stressed.
So Yendler, who worked as a professional event planner before switching to an IT career, started thinking up ways to encourage her colleagues to stay in touch with each other and, at the same time, take a much-needed break from the crush of work and have a little fun.
Other Britelings have since joined in, creating online communities of their own for any coworker who’s interested. “Especially in places like San Francisco where all the restaurants, bars, and gyms are shut down, people want to hang out more with each other virtually,” she says. “Everyone craves that human connection.”
Want to try keeping in touch with your now-distant peers? Yendler recommends starting with some new in-house channels on Slack. A popular channel she launched is called Britephotos, where a new theme every day invites people to post, for example, “throwback” pictures of themselves as children. “It’s amazing how recognizable they still are,” says Yendler.
On another day recently, in response to a request for a picture of “an item you cherish,” one New Orleans employee posted a photo of a scrap of wooden door molding, now in a frame hanging on the wall in his apartment. It was salvaged from his childhood home, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Notes Yendler, “You learn things about your colleagues this way that you’d probably never know otherwise.”
Other busy Slack channels at Eventbrite right now let people vent about the day-to-day stresses they’re facing. On a channel dubbed Dear Diary, launched by one of Yendler’s coworkers, anyone can write a brief recap of the workday, complete with gripes, snafus, and triumphs—and then name a coworker and tap him or her to go next.
Also a hit: WFH, a channel for parents working at home with small kids underfoot, like David Hanrahan, Eventbrite’s chief of human resources. One of his tots “loves to walk in when I’m on a call and ask me to turn on Paw Patrol.” In an effort to help out a bit with that kind of distraction, a Nashville-based employee now hosts a regular online story hour for “Little Britelings,” to occupy the kids for a while by reading books to them, complete with big, colorful illustrations.
Perhaps the most popular way Eventbrite employees stay connected these days is through virtual happy hours. “They’re easy,” says Yendler. “Just turn on Skype and pour yourself a glass of wine.” When more than about 10 people show up at a time, she recommends using the Skype feature that allows large groups to break out into smaller ones, “the same way people split up into smaller groups in a bar or a restaurant. It gets really hard to carry on a conversation otherwise.”
With more and more employees working remotely even before the COVID-19 crisis, no doubt people at Eventbrite and elsewhere will keep coming up with ways to stay in touch. “The desire to connect with others is a critical human need,” says HR chief Hanrahan, adding that “taking breaks actually helps your productivity. Think about inviting a coworker to join you for a virtual break, and give your brain time to rest.” Especially at this crazy-busy moment, it may be the best thing you do for yourself all day.
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—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
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