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The Importance of Frivolity in a Virtual Work Environment

Posted by Renée Elizabeth Mineart on 28/04/2020

I hope you don’t mind if I divert slightly from the topics of User Acceptance Testing, Sprint Cycles and other software testing subjects, to discuss the very important topic of keeping up morale while in lockdown (a.k.a. being a bit silly).

working from home frivolity

In this time of global crisis, we must remember to laugh from time to time and remember that we are, at our core, social creatures.

When we are physically in the office, we probably don’t fully appreciate just how essential our time spent around the proverbial water cooler, chatting casually with colleagues, is to our sanity and work. How often, when we sit down in a conference room, do we engage in casual chit-chat before and after the formal meeting. We ask each other how the kids are, what we have planned for the upcoming weekend and if we enjoyed the Easter Holiday. Although often brief, these casual chats are important to establishing good working relationships and camaraderie on projects.

However, when we meet virtually, we join the conference call and get straight down to business, sharing screens and talking shop. This difference is because when we have a physical meeting, there is often a 5-10 minute gap of time where we are waiting for everyone to arrive and get their laptops open or notebooks out and we fill this time with chit-chat. In a virtual meeting, everyone joins the meeting in the span of 1-2 minutes and everything is already open and ready to go.

Then, when the meeting is over, we all sign out and go back to our solitary work. There’s no walking back to the office with a colleague discussing our plans for the weekend. There’s no, "Hey, wanna join me for a coffee? My treat" in the virtual world.

In a previous blog by Scott Summers, “How to Keep your Test Plan on Track With a Remote Team”, Scott suggests having daily stand up meetings with your team, virtually. This will not only help keep people on track and informed but provide the opportunity to make sure everyone is OK while working from home.

My team has taken this concept a step or two (or a possibly even a small leap) further. We meet twice a day, first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon. We call these meetings ‘huddles’, to get away from the perception of a formal ‘meeting’ and to highlight that it’s just a quick get-together.

All our huddles start with 15-30 minutes of talking shop. Checking people’s workloads, priorities for the day, pandemic news, etc. etc. But then, we shift to a period of chit-chat, and yes, “chit-chat” does appear on our huddle’s agenda. Chit-chat is where we check-up on each other mentally and physically. It’s where we have a bit of a laugh and ask about weekend plans, favourite new recipe or what show you binge watched last night. People are welcome to stay for the chit-chat or duck out and return to their work. There is no pressure to stay if you don’t want to.

As part of our chit-chat, something that often spills over into the meeting, we’ve established ‘daily themes’. Here are six of the themes we’ve used to introduce frivolity and a social element into an otherwise all-business meeting.

Theme Tune: We use Microsoft Teams for our virtual meetings and I posed the following question to my team: Imagine MS Teams had a feature where you could add a theme tune to your account that would play each time you joined a meeting. What would your theme tune be? Everyone was asked to bring a clip or link so we could all hear it. Being a huge Star Wars fan, mine was of course the Imperial March but as performed by Peter from the Family Guy.

Muppet Monday: Instead of pointing your webcam at yourself, everyone brings a stuffed animal or hand-puppet to the meeting and positions their webcam to face that instead of themselves. This gives the illusion that a group of stuffed animals are having a meeting. It’s even more effective if you wiggle your stuffed animal slightly as you talk!

T-Shirt Tuesday: Wear your favourite t-shirt that has a logo or picture and tell the backstory of why it’s your favourite shirt. It’s surprising how many shirts are protagonists with their own stories.

Wacky Hat Wednesday: Wear the craziest or coolest hat you have to the meeting. Bring several hats and swap them out during the meeting if you can’t decide. One of our assistant directors wore his 7-year old daughter’s winter hat to the meeting, to the gut-busting laughter of everyone, because it didn’t quite fit his head and kept ridding up, forcing him to pull it down every few minutes. He played it for all it was worth and his efforts were well rewarded.

Favourite Movie Wallpaper: If you use MS Teams, they rolled out an upgrade recently where you can change the backdrop behind you so that you look like you’re in a different place than you are. There is an ‘uploads’ folder in MS Teams’ system directory where you can save images. We had everyone find wallpaper images of their favourite movie, then put them as their backdrop and we had to guess each other’s favourite film. We then did it again with everyone’s favourite TV show.

Virtual Teleportation: One of my colleagues and I took this a step further. We each took a picture of the area in front our webcam, but without us in it. We then swapped these pictures with each other and used them as our backdrop when we joined the afternoon huddle. The result was that it looked like I was in her house, and she was in mine. It made everyone laugh out loud and really lightened the mood of the afternoon.

There is something else very important and was a wholly unexpected result of our chit-chats. We have a hand-full of people in our organisation that aren’t part of a large team or maybe form a team of just two people. We started inviting these people to our afternoon huddles. The morning huddle is more business but the afternoon huddles are very chilled out. So, we made it our mission to invite the stragglers in our organisation to our meetings so that they could get some of this very vital social interaction that we all crave. It also means everyone is being included and not forgotten.

Frivolity is an important aspect to life and even business. Embrace it and look for opportunities to make someone smile in these challenging times.

nFocus SDET Academy

Topics: Software Testing, Remote Working, Working from Home

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