Making Work Friends On Virtual Teams
Making Work Friends On Virtual Teams
by
Steve Pao
May 26, 2022
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I feel very lucky. I get to work with friends.

Of course, the research backs up the importance of having work friends, not only for our well-being but also for retention. However, as we continue to embrace virtual teams and working remotely, how do we cultivate making work friends when apart?

Challenges of Place and Time

Personally, I have some fond memories of different food-related experiences with work friends back when we were all face-to-face. Some highlights:

  • The 911 challenge at University Chicken (née Cluck U). Coworkers would have to sign a waiver to attempt to get their pictures on the wall!
  • First-day lunches at Casa Lupe where we had a tradition of having new hires don a sombrero and sing a song to the restaurant. (Half the fun was seeing what songs people could remember the words to, including Happy Birthday, School House Rock, America the Beautiful, the Brady Bunch Theme, etc.) 
  • After-work outings to Aqui to get an industrial swirl margarita. The limit imposed by the restaurant is 2, but even that’s too much for my genetics!

These were all easy things to do back when we were all together in the same office. Zoom events (like Happy Hours) were a good attempt but suffered from a couple of limitations:

Place

An obvious challenge to cultivating work friends is a commonality of experience. For food-related experiences, every place is different. While there may be hot chicken wings or Cal-Mex places elsewhere, it’s tough to build a common experience. Creative approaches have included mailing drink or recipe kits to everyone to create and enjoy on their own. One of my friends’ companies gives everyone DoorDash credits to do virtual lunches together, but everyone has a different experience.

Time

Zoom events often don’t work well across time zones. The people in our Zoom Happy Hour pictured above are in three different time zones across 4 cities — Ann Arbor, Tucson, Carmel, and Portland. (I’m the one looking down trying to hit command (⌘)-shift-3 on my Mac while toasting everyone!)  This call here happened at 4pm Eastern, 2pm Mountain, and 1pm Pacific — not necessarily ideal Happy Hour time for everyone involved, as some of us had to immediately get back to work!

The Idea:  Winning the Taco Bell Challenge

Years ago, my coworker Lindsay Snider issued a Taco Bell challenge. At the time, the challenge was the ability to eat $20 worth of Taco Bell in one sitting. If you could do it, he would buy. I watched a former coworker (who will remain unnamed) try to do this once — unsuccessfully. It was not a pretty sight.

With recent inflation, Lindsay upped the challenge to $25. This challenge still seemed really hard. That is, until Doja Cat led the return of the Mexican Pizza.

With some careful analysis, I realized that this challenge was now doable. 4 Mexican pizzas with extra onions, lettuce, and guacamole came out to $25.36. 

Using the Mexican Pizza to win the Taco Bell Challenge

The calorie count was only 2,260 (565 calories for each Mexican pizza with guacamole). With my Basic Metabolism Rate (BMR) at about 1,600 calories, I’d only need to burn 660 calories to “break even” for the day, and this wouldn’t be gross after all!  I could burn well over 660 calories by RUNNING to Taco Bell and walking it home.

5.39 mile run to Taco Bell
Over 700 calories and ready for the Taco Bell Challenge!

Place

What I love about the Taco Bell challenge is that Taco Bell is everywhere (One of my favorite references in one of my favorite movies — Demolition Man — was that every restaurant was Taco Bell!)  Everyone can do the Taco Bell challenge from every location and have the same experience.

Taco Bell transcends concerns of "Place"

Time

Motivated by my wife's newfound video editing skills making her YouTube cooking channel, I decided I’d make a video of myself doing it to keep the challenge alive and entertain my coworkers. In the same spirit of our asynchronous work we do on Slack, Google Drive, Shortcut, and GitHub, I thought I could “give” to my coworkers by making a video of me winning the Taco Bell Challenge for them to watch at their leisure. 

Here’s the video!

Using Ampll in our Environment

This was just one social experiment, as we continue to look for different ways to bond as a team. Of course, I used Ampll as a channel to foster the micro-interactions between work friends.

You’ll notice that Ampll logged my run to Taco Bell using our (beta) iOS integration with Apple Health. Completing my run with NRC (Nike Run Club) automatically submitted the workout to Ampll and logged a gain on my timeline once I got to Taco Bell.

My run got submitted to Ampll through Apple Health

Once I finished eating and WINNING my Taco Bell Challenge, you’ll notice that I logged a boost right from my phone.

Logging a boost via Ampll iOS app (beta)

Later that day after returning to my computer to work, I felt really good when my colleague Ian sent me a Reward Bolt using Ampll to recognize my accomplishment.

Ampll Reward Bolt delivered to my Mac

Anyway, this is just a day in the life here inside of our company and trying new things to bring our team together. Let us know what ideas you have!

Author
Steve Pao

Steve Pao is Chief Product Officer at Ampll and a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, an opt-in research community of business professionals. Prior to Ampll, Steve was an early employee and product executive at two companies that did IPOs (Latitude Communications in 1999 and Barracuda Networks in 2013). Steve is a proud "empty nester" and lives in Portland, OR with his wife whom he met in 7th grade German class.

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