As many companies began working from home at the start of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more difficult to keep employees feeling connected and protect them from virtual fatigue. Whether they are long-term employees or new hires, they have likely experienced a lack of communication between team members during the pandemic and some of the effects from relying on digital screens too heavily.
This can cause a great dilemma for virtual teams because in order to stay connected they need their digital devices to keep up with company chats, emails, video calls, engagement activities, and more. However, in order to protect themselves from virtual fatigue, they also need to find ways to limit their use of digital devices throughout the workweek.
Finding a balance between these two very important issues can be challenging for a remote workforce, but it is certainly not impossible. There are plenty of ways to engage your employees virtually, while also allowing them to find a balance between work and mental health by taking breaks from their screens.
Make Use of Virtual Team Building Activities
Virtual team-building activities can benefit both companies who are temporarily remote and permanently remote. Team building exercises will keep previous in-office employees connected during their remote work hiatus caused by COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic your office may have engaged in certain traditions, like weekly meetups or lunches outside of work—it’s important to find a new way to continue to expand upon this type of colleague bonding. This can aid in the return back to the office after the pandemic settles, as employees will still feel connected to their coworkers after having communicated with them through regular daily meetings and creative initiatives and activities, which they can continue to practice in-office.
Similarly, permanent remote employees will benefit from virtual team-building activities as they don’t have an in-office environment to help them connect with coworkers. Creating a more engaging office environment, whether you are temporarily or permanently remote, will benefit your company long-term because engaged and connected employees work better together to create better results.
Some simple team building activities your company might benefit from could include:
- Coffee Meet-Ups
Simply setting team members up with a coworker that they might not typically see on a regular basis for a 30-minute coffee meet-up is a simple way to encourage cross-collaboration between employees. This will allow coworkers to better get to know each other and possibly bounce ideas off each other. As this is an easy meeting to set up virtually, it provides a meaningful facetime and networking opportunity.
- 2 Truths and a Lie
This easy game could be used to start off a long meeting or as a short Friday afternoon send-off into the weekend. The game requires each participant to tell the group two truths and one lie about themselves. The group will then attempt to guess which is the lie. This makes it easy for larger teams to get to know some fun facts about each other.
- Ice Breakers
Ice breakers are simple prompts asked by a group leader or a partner in order to learn more about coworkers. For example, when starting a meeting you can have each member share their name, role at the company, and their favorite food. Although this is quick and simple, it creates a sense of community and engagement that a meeting may have previously lacked. Additionally, it creates an avenue to help employees find others in the company with similar interests or experiences.
- Never Have I Ever
Playing a work-friendly game of Never Have I Ever is also an easy way to learn more about your coworkers. A manager could create a list beforehand so employees have a list of items to choose from or they can have employees themselves send options in. Either way, having a pre-set list of items can help employees avoid lulls when trying to come up with something to contribute to the game.
This is also typically a knock-out game, meaning you start with five fingers up and lose a point for each of the topics that you have in fact done. For example, if the prompt was “never have I ever ran a marathon”, then everyone that has ran a marathon would put a finger down.
- Show and Tell
Lastly, show and tell is a great way for employees to share something that they find interesting or that is important to them. Have each employee choose an item before the greater meeting and then share it with the team. This is an engaging way to get everyone involved and learn more about others passions or hobbies outside the office!
However, more in-depth activities might include:
- A Virtual Scavenger Hunt Game Show
A scavenger hunt game show can combine the excitement and engagement opportunities of both a trivia night and a scavenger hunt with the chance to win prizes or just bragging rights. Arrange teams of employees who can work together to problem-solve and get to know each other more. This can all be conducted through video conferencing technology, allowing employees from all over the country to connect and engage with one another through a fun easy-going experience that challenges everyday activities. A scavenger hunt can be a great asset for team building because it can increase morale and flexibility within your organization by lightening the energy of your employees and helping them work together more seamlessly.
- A Virtual Happy Hour
A virtual happy hour is another great way to keep employees connected. Set up a virtual meeting time after work on Friday and encourage each employee to bring their favorite drink and chat about whatever they want. If your company had an in-person happy hour when you were in the office, this is a great way to try and keep things as normal as possible. However, if this is something you’re trying for the first time, happy hours on Friday afternoons typically run themselves as employees can chat about common interests and their weekend plans.
- A Virtual Meditation Break
A meditation retreat may not be within reach for most employees, but organizations can still arrange a meditation break for remote employees. By simply downloading a Meditation Playlist on Spotify, employees can all gather on a company call with their cameras and mic’s off to enjoy a tranquil 30-minute meditation retreat with their coworkers. There could even be a theme each week like stress relief, calm, focus, and more. This might even inspire employees to begin practicing meditation outside of the office as well, which can greatly benefit their mental health and focus. This type of activity also is a great way to show employees that they are valued and cared about beyond the work that they complete for the organization.
- A Holiday Party
For those who might not transition back into the office until 2022 and permanent remote organizations, don’t worry you can still celebrate with one another. A time-honored tradition at most companies is getting together to celebrate and be grateful for the past year at an office holiday party. Many organizations might have missed their annual celebration in 2020, but it doesn’t have to be put on the back burner any longer. Consider hosting a virtual holiday party with your organization this year. The holidays are a great time to bring employees together as they share gifts and good conversations. In fact, if your organization did miss out on its holiday fun last year, consider celebrating Christmas in July, or other holidays at another time, to make up for the 2020 holiday season that has come and gone and to raise spirits within your organization as we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Encourage Employees to Take Screen Time Breaks
As previously mentioned, virtual meetings and activities can bring a sense of engagement and connection to a workforce. However, relying on screens for meetings, daily tasks, and engagement activities can take a toll on an employee’s mental health, eyes, and ability to focus. That being said, there are a few tools you can use to make the digital reliance easier on employees:
- Offer Employees Blue Light Glasses
When engaging with screens, whether it be during an engagement activity or a daily task, employees are exposing their eyes to digital blue light. This kind of blue light is made up of the shortest wavelengths and highest energy on the visible light spectrum, which ultimately leads to eye strain that can cause deeper issues over time. Eye strain typically occurs when employees are engaging with screens, and therefore blue light, because the stimulation causes them to blink less, which can dry out their eyes.
Even more concerning, blue light also disrupts the circadian rhythm, which dictates employees’ sleep-wake cycles. During the day blue light stimulates the senses, keeping employees alert and it has the same effect at night, which could affect employees’ sleep patterns if they work late. While this may not seem like a big deal at first, this ongoing habit can make employees more tired and disengaged the following morning. If this continues on a regular basis, employees can lose a significant amount of rest that they need to function properly and focus.
To decrease the effects that blue light can have on employees during every moment of their remote workday, suggest they start wearing blue light glasses to protect their eyes, mental health, and sleep patterns. The tinted lenses in these glasses filter out the negative blue light that easily penetrates the eyes, in order to protect employees on screen-heavy workdays and outside of office hours. They are also especially beneficial at night when blue light risks disrupting employee sleep patterns. Wearing blue light glasses ultimately protects employees from all of the side effects that virtual fatigue can cause.
- Help Employees Manage Their Night Shift Settings
After adopting blue light glasses as a protection tool organizations should inform their employees of other effective ways to eliminate blue light even further. This can include adjusting the Night Shift setting on their computers and smartphones. Night Shift automatically shifts the colors of a display to the warmer end of the color spectrum after dark. It is typically set from sunset to sunrise, which may help employees get a better night’s sleep. When employees shift their display to a warmer setting it decreases the amount of blue light being admitted. Therefore, organizations might even suggest that employees adjust their screens display to the warmer setting permanently by setting it to a custom time. In combination with their blue light glasses, they can protect themselves from blue light exposure and decrease their risk of virtual fatigue when engaging with their devices and coworkers online.
There are also a few actions you can implement. Both the tools and actions will remain helpful even if carried over into an in-office environment.
- Allow Employees to Keep Their Cameras Off During Certain Meetings
Allowing employees to turn off their cameras during certain less engaging meetings will allow them to take a break from their screens for the length of the meeting, which is usually 30-minutes to 1-hour. During this time employees can listen and keep their mic on to respond, but give their eyes a good long break. The meetings where this might be appropriate can be determined by management or on a team-by-team basis.
- Limit Meeting Times or Create a “No Meetings Day”
Organizations could either limit meeting times to create better efficiency or lock down a specific “No Meeting Day” where employees can take a break from virtual meetings and video calls altogether.
Limiting meeting times may be the more accessible option for many organizations as meetings are often necessary. In this scenario, organizations might consider limiting 30-minute meetings to 25-minutes and 1-hour meetings to 55-minutes, and so on. First, this will decrease the amount of time available to chat creating better efficiency and second, it will give each employee 5 minutes back at the end of a meeting to rest their eyes or take a break before their next meeting or task.
Creating a “No Meeting Day” might not be realistic but perhaps a “No Meeting Block” is? Consider settling on one day that no meetings can be scheduled to give employees a break from virtual meetings and to help them avoid virtual fatigue. If this is not possible, consider settling on a certain block of time each day when no meetings can be scheduled. This could be around lunchtime, so employees can take much-needed midday breaks or in the morning to allow employees to get the ball rolling. Whichever route you choose just make sure it will benefit your specific organization and employees.
- Make Use of Phone Calls When Possible
While video conferencing offers a real-world engaging view of coworkers, sometimes smaller tasks can be covered through short phone calls rather than video calls. This is an easy way to change things up and let employees take a break from their screen, while they discuss with a coworker over the phone. Providing the meeting isn’t a group call and doesn’t require you to share your screen, offering to conduct some meetings over the phone will be a digital relief for employees.
Although remote work is becoming more accepted as an appropriate working setup, keeping employees engaged and protected from virtual fatigue can oftentimes seem counterproductive. However, providing you take proactive steps to creatively engage employees and allow them to take time away from their screens, they will feel productive, engaged, and stimulated while working from home and even when they are transitioning back into the office