So you have set the meeting agenda, your team attended a trivia game on Zoom yesterday, you have even sent out some fun prizes and asked everyone how they are doing. But you are halfway into your team meeting and everyone is yawning and can't seem to concentrate.
What’s going on?
Many of the things that worked pre-pandemic and in-person do not currently have the same effect in Zoom meetings, and it can be so frustrating to try the same solutions and get a different result. The fact is, every one of us has been impacted by the pandemic or its domino effect in some significant way. Because of this, the workplace is going to feel very different for an indefinite period, so it is actually worth your time to adjust your strategy for keeping your team engaged.
So what should be done differently?
To begin with, fun isn’t the same. Escaping into a flashy, competitive game where you smash the competition to bits may not be appropriate right now. It used to seem fair to think only about winning and bragging when you were victorious. However, creating a climate like this at work right now is actually counterproductive. Some of your co-workers are coping with significant stress and grief. Since this is currently the predicament we are in, competition can seem like too much.
So what are some great ways to be connective in our new pandemic-era reality?
One way to do this is to inject some off-screen time into your meeting. We know that this seems counter-intuitive; after all you are trying to command their attention, right? However, getting your face out of the computer here and there is a necessary way to brush off some fatigue and become refreshed. The good news is that it doesn’t have to take long. One idea is to take micro-breaks by taking cues from the lulls in your meeting. So, while Jennifer is finding her presentation and sharing her screen, jump in with: “I’m going to throw some music on for 5 minuts. See you in a few!” These breaks can be taken about once an hour and used for anything that the employees are craving without feeling guilty for leaving.
Another idea to activate your team is a short, fast-paced creative project involving items from around the house. We know you want to keep them focused on the task at hand, but a 20 minute project like this can return a sense of normalcy and relieve tension. Adding a little time crunch can up the sense of creative urgency, so set the timer for 2 minutes while they gather their make-shift art supplies. Have each person share and describe their creation, which is a great opportunity to reveal a humorous or creative side to one's colleagues. If you need some help with planning these activities and making them connective, head here.
Another great way to keep your employees focused is to use a few tension-breakers at the beginning of your meeting. We all know icebreakers: they serve well in a “get-to-know-you” time when you are meeting new people. However, when the ice is already broken, tension-breakers work quite well to get people who are familiar with each other in a cooperative and attentive mood. Try to focus less on activities that elicit information about basic life details like where a person grew up or simple personal facts like how many siblings or tattoos one has. The more you pull stories out of them that they would love to talk about anyway, the better (although I recommend a time limit for this one). Giving someone a platform to tell a favorite travel story or describe the best meal they’ve ever had helps people to relax, reinforces bonds, and generates trust.
Introducing elements of creativity and storytelling go a long way towards engaging your team, and improv exercises can be a great vehicle for this. One favorite is a game called Think Fast. Ask each participant a series of rapid fire questions to which they must answer the first thing that pops into their head. Another game is Two Truths and Lie, in which two stories are true and a third is a falsehood - the other players have to guess which is which. However, any game in which one must answer honestly or make up any details that they want will entertain. Knowing openly that people may be lying is somehow automatically hilarious, and laughter is very relaxing!
When it comes to running these icebreakers, tension relievers, or therapeutic activities, make sure that you don’t push for vulnerability, but build a little room for it. Keep the competition low, and the mistake tolerance high. Most of all, stay focused on creativity because it is therapeutic, soothing, connective and reminds us of belonging. If you are having trouble thinking about how you can plan and implement these activities, you are not alone! There are professionals who can show up and take care of all the heavy lifting for you so that you can sit back and experience the activities too!