In a Managing@Duke survey, we asked how managers are helping promote a positive work culture during a time when remote and hybrid work have become the norm for many units. In true crowdsourcing fashion, we are sharing 10 of your creative and practical ideas to help you foster a positive work environment.

1. Create a “Water Cooler” channel for your department on Microsoft Teams.

Many departments have used Microsoft Teams to build online spaces for work and social engagement, which has been difficult to maintain when remote workers aren’t sharing stories over a morning coffee or lunch break on-site.

“As a managing director of multiple, mostly remote teams, I have worked to ensure that we have great ways to connect online,” wrote one manager. “We utilize Teams by curating channels that help us work collaboratively, share wins on our #shoutout channel, and share personal stuff on our #watercooler channel.”

2. Social check-ins with staff before Zoom/Teams meetings.

One manager noted recently that during the pandemic, the prevalence of remote work made “the workplace become more transactional and less relational between co-workers.” Even when meetings are virtual, build in time to focus on the important relationships within your unit that help foster a strong sense of community.

Your people want to know that you care about them as well as the work they are doing. As one manager responded, it can be as simple as incorporating “a few moments of friendly conversation/checking in at the beginning of a virtual meeting or email.”

3. Celebrate milestones, events and successes.

A lot changed during the pandemic – people not only found new and innovative ways to get work done, they also had babies, got married, picked up new hobbies, and adopted new pets.

Celebrate the innovations and accomplishments of individuals and teams. It is even more important when people are working remotely to know that they are contributing to something larger and are an important part of reaching your department’s goals. And also take time to celebrate personal milestones and significant events.

As one manager noted, “I've also started keeping track of birthdays and work anniversaries for my team, so I can send a note to each of them. A little personal appreciation can go a long way.”

4. Have hybrid workers come on-site during the same day of the week.

If you have individuals working a hybrid schedule, consider ensuring there is some overlap among people working on-site, if possible, to allow for more interactions and meetings in-person. Such opportunities allow for more community-building activities.

As one manager commented, “we’ve also been intentional about the time we spend together as a group - focusing on health, wellness, and community rather than work contributes positively to our productivity and sense of team. It's the background framework.”

5. Use break-out groups in Zoom meetings to allow more interaction among people.

Large virtual meetings can feel very impersonal with lots of squares but only a couple people talking or presenting. One manager suggested using the “Breakout Rooms” feature in Zoom to have people work together in smaller groups to discuss issues, brainstorm ideas, or respond to questions.

“We have small breakout sessions during our All Staff meetings, and we are randomly put in different ‘rooms’ so we actually get to know folks better,” wrote one manager.

6. Share “3 Good Things” as a Unit.

You may have heard about the positive effects of the “3 Good Things” practice espoused by Bryan Sexton, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality. Clinical trials have shown that the practice of focusing on positive emotions at the end of each day allows us to recharge our depleted batteries.

Some managers are taking that practice into the workplace and have even created a Teams channel to allow staff members to share “3 Good Things” as a team to focus on the positive outcomes and impact they are making each week.

7. Short daily team huddles to begin the day.

Consider quick 15-minute meetings with your team to begin the day. These allow you to ensure there is understanding of the work activities for the day, any resources or needs to complete the work, and any blockers or impediments that might exist. Don’t try to resolve problems during the huddle; that can be done afterward.

8. Book clubs or discussion groups for movies/TV shows.

How many times have you found yourself in a conversation about a movie or TV show you saw recently? These can be great opportunities to connect with your team on non-work issues and foster stronger relationships with them. It also allows people to find common points of interest that can foster greater teamwork.

Some managers have also created book clubs where team members can gather and discuss topics that may relate to the workplace. “We read, or watch/listen, to a resource, then have discussions,” wrote one manager. “Primarily these started with anti-racism themes and have begun to connect those themes more directly with our work.”

9. Take field trips to discover other areas of Duke or local attractions.

Many managers mentioned doing social outings to help foster a sense of community and teamwork. Some took field trips to local destinations that may have some historical relevance. Others explored parts of Duke’s campus or operation to help build a broader awareness of the many ways Duke serves its missions. Others made it a practice to invite team members to come together for lunch or coffee at a nearby venue.

A feature most other area employers don’t have is collegiate sports. One manager would host “Friday tailgates for seasonal sports” on campus to reinforce teamwork within the unit.

10. Hold fun online contests or games.

There are SO many games and resources available online to engage your staff members. It can be as simple as a daily trivia question or a game of remote online bingo or Jeopardy.

Or you can go all out and have fun with the activity like this Duke department: “Our manager often has a fun or interesting game that we play together online, and she’s created contests that follow a game show format or involve dressing in costume or designing a themed background for an online meeting.”