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The calendar says 2021, but it still feels a lot like 2020. The pandemic continues to rage. New variants are popping up everywhere. I can’t even get on an airplane to see my dad in England.

And there’s only so much Netflix. Or Disney+. Or Prime. YouTube videos of cats?

Then there is working from home. It’s still going on for millions of us.

I’ve been fortunate to lead global teams since 2002. I also know what it’s like to work from home and lead teams that are remote or working from home.

As you look ahead to the coming weeks and months of more time working from home, I’ve put together five ways to enhance your team’s levels of collaboration, connection, and plain-old fun. Yes, it’s possible to both have fun and even increase levels of camaraderie in the middle of a pandemic.

Use a Stamp

Why not go old school and use a stamp. Send something we might even call “snail mail.” When you put a stamp on an envelope or package, it magically arrives at the address you assign to its front packaging. It’s amazing! It’s like email without the Internet. I’m old enough to remember pen pals. I even had a few in Europe and Australia. We’d write a letter to one another twice a year. Why not write a letter to a colleague? See how they’re doing. If you’re a leader, write a thank you card or share an anecdote via a postcard. Maybe it’s a moment of recognition or commendation. Use that very cost-effective stamp to share anything that might help people get excited and feeling good about themselves.

Virtual Collaboration Activities

Just because we’re working from home doesn’t mean we can’t work on our team building and collaboration skills as a unit. Whether it’s your direct team, division, department or maybe even with your customers, suppliers or partners, there are easy, cost-effective ways to add a little zip to your collaboration practices. Why not employ a company to take you on a virtual ‘Amazing Race’ experience where you have to collect clues across the Internet? (Or even your own home!) There’s online Jeopardy to consider as well. Or my favourite: virtual escape rooms. You work as a team to solve clues, progress through a maze, and escape the enemy or beat the clock. My favorite is Calgary business, The Locked Room, and their take on a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory escape room. Online guides (real people) help you by providing clues and answering your questions in your quest to try and escape from rivers of chocolate.

Home-based Water Cooler Chats

Find a sharing platform, like a wiki, Slack, Microsoft Teams and the like. You can even use a team text group chat. Use it to share what you’re up to as an informal way of staying connecting on the non-formal side of work. Maybe you slipped on the ice shovelling the sidewalk. Perhaps your kids blew up the Vitamix. These random bits of commentary—including funny moments with a customer or partners—makes you human. It recreates how we did share these types of stories at the actual water cooler in the office. Only this time you’ll need to get water from your kitchen.

Pick Up the Phone

It’s not merely a device to use to play Bejeweled or stupid record TikTok dances. Pick up your phone and randomly call people to say hello. Go for a walk and plan a ‘walk and talk’ meeting. Use that costly computer in your pocket to actually say thank you to someone live, or better yet, to deliver a compliment or moment of recognition. The phone is an excellent way to keep your connections alive.

The Pandemic Gift Exchange

Secret Santa is one thing, but what if you employed a pandemic pay it forward gift exchange. Share home addresses as a team and randomly assign people to partake in this virtual gift exchange. (You’ll need some of those stamps from recommendation #1 above.) Once the gift is sent anonymously, at the next team meeting, that person shares what they got and guesses who it’s from. It’s a delightful way to build camaraderie, but also it could be used as a makeshift form of a recognition program.

In sum, just because your team is isolated and not in the office doesn’t mean levels of collaboration, connection, and engagement have to splinter or suffer. Use one or all five of these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to maintaining, if not improving your team spirit.

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My 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters” recently published. Amy. C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” 16+ hour, self-paced online leadership development program is also available.

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