Like many other companies, we at Zooma have been working remotely for over a year as a result of the ongoing pandemic. In this episode, I spoke to Elisabet about how she makes sure we all stay connected.
Remote work brings a lot of possibilities, and despite the distance, we've still been able to collaborate, complete projects and develop new ideas. We've even found that certain things are easier when working remotely, such as onboarding.
However, it's hard to replicate the kind of everyday social interactions you get at an office through digital tools like Zoom or Teams. We speak with people we're actively working with every day, but when it's no longer possible to have a discussion by the coffee machine, it's more difficult to catch up with colleagues who are working on other projects.
So how do you maintain the social connections within a company when everyone can't physically be together? To find out, I spoke with Elisabet Isacchi, Zooma's coordinator and assistant art director. Elisabet has the honourable task of organising Zooma's weekly fika - an event we have every Friday where we can take some time to connect and catch up. In addition to Elisabet’s activities at the Friday Fika, we also have some recurring topics, for example Charlotte share book tips and Carl share tips about boardgames.
In this episode we spoke about what Elisabet has learned and experienced over the last year of remote work - have a listen, and hopefully you'll get some tips that you can try out in your own company.
Alexander Evjenth: [00:00:00] So welcome to the show, Elisabet. How are you today?
Elisabet Isacchi: [00:00:06] I'm fine, thanks.
AE: [00:00:09] Good! So could you, first of all, introduce yourself for the listeners who don't know you, like what do you do at Zooma?
EI: [00:00:19] Yes, I've been at Zooma since 2006, so it's quite some time. And I've been working with a lot of different things during my years here and a lot of administration with invoicing and project administration, our systems and also arranging events both internally for the colleagues and externally for customers. And I also work a lot in HubSpot, with various customers doing various things, a lot in the CMS. And I've also been doing a bit of, well I've been assisting our art directors with some minor things and things like that. So that's probably what I do most of the time.
AE: [00:01:15] Yeah, you do a lot of different things. So now that we've been working from home over a year, what's your experience so far, working from home?
EI: [00:01:29] I think I and most of us, probably, haven got quite used to it. It's the new normal, I would say, even though it's quite boring sometimes, even though you sit in a lot of Zoom meetings, it's still not the same social context as if you're in the office. You go to the kitchen, you always meet someone to talk to you for two or three minutes or something like that. So I would say that's the part I miss the most. And I know a lot of colleagues miss as well. The social part. The other part is it's quite nice to sit at home, actually. You don't have to travel anywhere and so on. But you miss seeing other things and other people sometimes,
AE: [00:02:17] Yeah, I think that what's dropped out, the socially, being socially connected to your colleagues, that's what we are going to talk about today also, because you mentioned that one of your daily tasks is to arrange events, and now you have arranged a lot of internal, we have weekly internal activities where we socially connect with each other. And you've been arranging that. Could you just explain a bit what we have done during this year?
EI: [00:02:57] Yes, we've been trying to do different things. So we've been showing, we started at home, for everyone to show their houses or apartments. So we had two or three colleagues each week, who just showed around with either mobile phone or the computer. So that was nice to see where people actually sit all day long now. And we've had different quizzes, music quizzes, normal quizzes. Sometimes I've asked colleagues to bring an item, it could be either maybe a purple item or something made out of copper, and the weirder the thing the better, of course, it's funnier. Yeah, so everyone's got to explain what it is, if it's something people don't understand what it is or if it's got a special story or something like that. And we've had puzzles and crosswords and once we also had origami, everyone had to bring a piece of paper of a certain size and then we all followed a YouTube tutorial. So that's probably the mix of things.
AE: [00:04:11] Yeah, yeah. I think that's a good summary. So, we have in our schedules that each Friday for 45 minutes, we do one of these activities and we get an email from you every Thursday what we should bring and prepare for it. And I know that these activities have been very popular among the Zoomers. Vould you share some tips about what is important to keep in mind in mind when you arrange employee activities remotely versus arranging it physically?
EI: [00:04:52] Yes, of course it has to be able to be done over the computer. Like we did with the origami was obviously something that we could all do on our own and on our own tables, but then we could show each other on the camera. So it has to be something where you can actually reply or do something online. That's probably the most important thing. And then also, I think it's good to keep a varied selection of things. So it's not always the same. It's not always a Friday quiz because everyone may not like it, even if I love quizzes, my colleagues may not like it. So I try to do something either that everyone is equally bad at, or like something you may not have tried so much before, or just that should fit everyone. So it's a bit tricky sometimes, too.
AE: [00:05:49] Yeah. How do you do to come up with ideas for activities?
EI: [00:05:54] Some things I just think of, like what could be, what's possible to do online and how can we do it in the online version? And then like when I've asked colleagues to bring items, I just look around where I sit and I say "ah, I see something purple, everyone should bring something purple tomorrow." So that's probably how I do it. I've come up with some things that I think that, "hmm, that must be possible to do online," and sometimes I've found online tools and sometimes I've had to create my own digital tool.
AE: [00:06:34] How much time do you spend preparing each week?
EI: [00:06:38] It varies a bit from a few minutes, if I'm just going to come up with a topic for everyone to bring or talk about, or up to maybe three hours to make a quiz depending on if it's a music quiz or normal quiz, how much I can find online. Obviously, I don't come up with all questions myself always, there's people who have given away good questions online, but you still have to set it up. And I use Kahoot for quizzes. So yeah, it takes some time, but not a lot.
AE: [00:07:16] You mentioned Kahoot there, and that's a good tool to use. Are there any other software, anything you recommend?
EI: [00:07:25] And when I've created music quizzes, I've used Google forms and you can also, there's a quiz version of it in the settings, which is quite good. So everyone gets to type in their own answer, it doesn't have to be spelled correctly, I just have to understand what it says. So that's a good one if you don't just want to answer A, B or C, if you want open answers. And when I've created crosswords, I found some online crossword creation tools. And the same with the puzzles, there's also one called Puzzlemaker, but there's a lot of online tools. You just add your own picture and it makes a puzzle out of it and you can share it with your colleagues.
AE: [00:08:18] Yeah, I think the puzzle was one of my favorite activities we did. That was very good, you needed to focus a lot and it was a fun image as well. What's your favorite activity so far?
EI: [00:08:35] I think the home tours were quite nice because you know your colleagues as they are at work, the office person, but it's always nice to see how they live. And yeah, you get some sort of more personal connection to everyone when you know that they like that kind of art, or "they have a pink kitchen, I didn't know that, you never said that." It's fun and a way to get to know people a bit better.
AE: [00:09:10] Yeah. And we have had colleagues who moved during this time, so we have seen two houses or homes for some people. So these activities, that's one part of how you can keep employees socially connected while we're working remotely. Do you have any other tips or anything you do to maintain your social life with colleagues?
EI: [00:09:40] Well, we tried for a while to use Discord, an app that's been used a lot by young gamers, that you can create different rooms to talk to people, just to have it like the kitchen, where you can just hang out and talk to people, but I think it's hard to keep people in there. If you look in and no-one's there, after a while you don't go back. So it's a bit hard, and it's quite hard to get that social feeling. But I think it's good to do also in those fika meetings like we did the other week, where we use breakout rooms. So you just add three, four or five colleagues in each room and then they just talk about hopefully anything but work, and try to connect people that you know don't work a lot together. So they may not be meeting every week together. That's quite nice to just to get to talk to some colleagues that you may never talk to nowadays and maybe try to organise lunches together. Just a few colleagues maybe because I think that's an important bit that you miss. Even if you have maybe your family at home when you work, it's not the same thing to sit and eat with them three times a day than if you sit and talk to your colleagues during lunch.
AE: [00:11:16] I think one good thing or one success factor is that it's really mandatory to be a part in these fika meetings. Sometimes I think it's easy that the internal meetings get cancelled because you need to prioritise other things. But this is, for Zoomers it's really like a holy event and you're not allowed to prioritise anything else. And I think that's very important.
EI: [00:11:52] Yeah, I agree, because when we've had it physically in the office, like a normal fredagsfika, it's very rarely we're more than five, 10 at the same time in the kitchen, a lot of people may be in meetings, or not there, and some may just go out and take a piece of cake and then go back to the desk and things like that. But this is really prioritised. So it's almost always everyone there. So that's nice.
AE: [00:12:20] So the final question then is, if you were about to share one main learning from this year of arranging remote events, what would that be?
EI: [00:12:31] I think that it is to keep a varied schedule, as in it's not always the same thing, and it's some weeks you just answer questions quietly to yourself, and some weeks we get to talk a little bit more, maybe talk about something, a subject or an item or that is not always the same thing. I would say that's the best tip.
AE: [00:12:59] Ok, thank you very much for participating in this episode.
EI: [00:13:04] Thank you!