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Apptentive employees who are working from home in Seattle are captured in a photo of a recent video chat. (Photo courtesy of Apptentive)

How’s everybody doing?

That seems to be the question of the moment as we check in with one another via Slack, Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts and more from the kitchen table, spare bedroom, home office or any other remote space that has become a work space during the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle.

Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech

Thousands of workers across tech and other industries who have the ability to do their jobs away from an office setting are experiencing a range of emotions during this extended period of self isolation and social distancing.

GeekWire checked in with a few company representatives to get a sense of what’s been working, what technology scattered groups are leaning on and what they miss about not being in the office every day. The answers provide a snapshot of what we’re hearing from a wide range of workers.

Key Takeaways

  • While chat platforms are essential for connecting remote workers and allowing real business to get done, they are also vital to maintaining the social and fun component of working together.
  • It’s important to check in with workers who may not thrive in an isolated environment and to elevate voices which can be drowned out in the chatter of online communication.

Keep reading for insight from Apptentive, Textio and TINYpulse.

Robi Ganguly, Apptentive CEO

The Seattle startup, which measures shifts in sentiment from customer experience to win back consumers and activate fans, has an office in downtown Seattle near Pike Place Market. The entire team of 46 people has been asked to work remotely.

The view from Apptentive when people are actually in the Seattle office. (Apptentive Photo)

GeekWire: What is working so far and how have you made it work? Any specific tech you’re leaning on or team building you can do virtually?

Apptentive CEO Robi Ganguly. (Apptentive Photo)

Ganguly: We’re heavy users of Slack, Zoom, email, and Google Docs. We use these regularly for our core work. We’ve always had “fun” channels in Slack for interest-based communications, and we expanded that this week by creating a #wfh channel. This new channel gives people a virtual water cooler of sorts, and it is being used to swap helpful tips and best practices for working remotely. We also hosted a Town Hall meeting today (day two of WFH) that was essentially an agendaless check-in to get people more comfortable with being on video and seeing one another’s work spaces.

We’re experimenting with how to use Zoom in more informal, unstructured ways that will help mimic the collaborative and social aspect of working in a physical office environment. For example, our sales development representatives now have a standing 30-minute Zoom meeting first thing in the morning just to chat and check in with one another. Today, our team members organized another informal Zoom “hang out” at the end of the day so they could chat and recap their days. We’re working hard to preserve the company culture, replicate an online environment that fosters relationships, embrace technology to encourage collaboration, and make sure all new innovations reflect our values.

Some work-from-home tips in Apptentive’s WFH Slack channel. (Apptentive screenshot)

GW: What’s the toughest part? What do you miss most about being in the office every day?

Ganguly: The toughest part right now is the uncertainty. We don’t really have many answers about how long we will have to be working remotely. We’re committed to doing the right thing for our team and for the community. In order to “flatten the curve” of infection and not put more stress on the healthcare system, we have to do our part. However, the current lack of certainty is a real challenge.

We also just miss seeing one another in person a lot. We like each other, and enjoy spending time together as colleagues and friends. We all look forward to seeing one another, having lunch, brainstorming, connecting, and sharing our successes together.

LeeRon Yahalomi, Textio director of customer success

The Seattle startup makes an augmented writing platform that helps companies write better job listings. With offices in downtown Seattle, about 150 employees are working remotely.

Textio team members in a Zoom video chat. (Textio screen grab)

GW: What is working so far and how have you made it work? Any specific tech you’re leaning on or team building you can do virtually?

Yahalomi: Using a lot of technology and creativity to ensure all employees feel included and part of a team. We do daily “light ups” instead of stand ups for my team. Outside of our already scheduled team meetings, we’ve created specific times to connect with one another like “virtual lunch time,” “online coffee breaks,” “group workout time,” question-of-the-day channels to learn more about one another and even virtual happy hours. We challenged one another to see who can come up with the most creative virtual background for our team Zoom meetings — so far we have seen monuments around the world, hometowns, local coffee shops, and even had our co-founders featured. These allow us to show our personalities, learn more about each other and have fun.

RELATED: WFH 101: Tips and tricks from the home front as tech workers go remote during coronavirus outbreak

We use Slack to communicate with one another asynchronously, Zoom calls for 1:1 or team meetings, and Zoom rooms for sharing lunch or coffee. Most of my team members would refer to themselves as extroverts who thrive on human connection and this new form of working has been a challenge for them. I make sure to reach out to them for face time. This could be a small “just checking in to see how you are doing,” to asking a question in person versus text or email. We use emojis and memes to connect, saying “I miss you” or “wish you were here.”

GW: What’s the toughest part? What do you miss most about being in the office every day?

Yahalomi: Making sure you make a conscious decision to plan for fun activities using technology to replace social gatherings. One of the things we realized quite quickly, is that more and more of our daily communication switched to writing — which means we have to be even more intentional about how we communicate. I strive to make sure that my quieter teammates are heard, whether that’s explicitly asking for their input in slack on email or in Zoom. I’m trying to make sure to not let “the loudest voice in the room” overshadow the creativity and collaborative work we can do as a group.

We miss the company of our teammates, we are a collaborative bunch and get along really well. It’s nice to chat with someone over coffee/tea in our café, or have a hallway conversation. That’s what we are trying to recreate with our  “virtual lunch time,” and so far it’s been a fun time.

Andrew Sumitani, TINYpulse senior director of marketing

The Seattle startup, which offers technology to assess employee morale, has an office the Queen Anne neighborhood. Approximately 50 employees have been encouraged to work remotely.

Teamwork makes the dream work, right? TINYpulse is all about employee morale — like when they won the IT Sports League softball championship last summer — so being apart has been tough. (Photo courtesy of IT Sports League)

GW: What is working so far and how have you made it work?

Sumitani: In my opinion it boils down to mindset and for that we are SUPER prepared. Two of our company core values we lean on are 1) embracing change and 2) electing positivity. Environments that cut down on in-person conversation make it hard to do business. But we always have a choice: wallow around in it or pick ourselves up. We hire and fire by our core values and I’m happy to say the team is incredibly resilient when other businesses may find the current environment very disruptive.

GW: What’s the toughest part? What do you miss most about being in the office every day?

Sumitani: We’re doing our part and are using social distancing as a way to help protect others. But the toughest part is missing the positive energy from doing business in person. Another one of our cherished values is “treasure culture and freedom.” We don’t force people to be together. We proactively invest in a culture of feedback and transparency. This builds incredible bridges between co-workers. They WANT to be together. Our sales reps and customer success team relish every opportunity to meet customers. It’s hard not to miss that positive energy.

In a new blog post, TINYpulse founder and CEO David Niu shares data related to how morale can dip for those workers who are required to work from home but are not used to the experience. The company is offering a free 3-month subscription to its WFH Essentials platform to any organization that has been negatively impacted by the effects of coronavirus and COVID-19.

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