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Stay connected with your colleagues – tips from VUB-professor Sara De Gieter

Now that we all have to work from home again, it’s also becoming more difficult to stay in touch with our colleagues. But you can stay connected to your co-workers by purposefully organising activities, says occupational psychologist Sara De Gieter.

The research of Sara De Gieter, a professor in occupational psychology, focuses on the interaction between and the combination of work and private life. Here are her five tips to ensure that you don’t become an office hermit during these semi-lockdown times.

Organise a quiz every month
It doesn’t have to be long, and it can be work-related but it doesn’t have to be. Have two or three colleagues work together to create the quiz. This has double benefits – the co-workers who put the quiz together will have more contact during those weeks, while the group as a whole can enjoy themselves during the quiz. Adding a competitive element to something often incentivises and animates people more.

Stimulate each other to get moving
Convince a co-worker who lives near you to go for a walk during your lunch break or after work. You can go on walk meetings with colleagues who live further away. This means that you both go on a walk in your respective neighbourhoods while conducting your meeting over the phone. Or sign up for the VUB’s online Pilates course with a co-worker, or join another online sports class together. Agree to have a 10-minute phone chat before and after the class so that you can replicate the natural, easy interaction that would take place when attending a sports class in person.

Adopt a buddy system
Pair two colleagues with each other and have them call or videocall each other once every work day for two weeks. These conversations need not take more than 5 or 10 minutes. Leave open what the conversations should focus on. If you let this system rotate, you’ll eventually have talked to all your colleagues, which will improve the atmosphere among co-workers.

Go old-school and send your colleagues a card
It could be fun to send a card to your co-worker for their birthday or for another special occasion. A lot of people enjoy finding something other than publicity folders in their mailbox. Or leave a homemade cake on the doorstep of a colleague with whom you get along well and who lives in your neighbourhood. 

Work together, but apart
Work together, but apart for a few hours through a Zoom or WhatsApp call. Turn the camera off, but leave your microphone on. In this way, you can hear each other type on the keyboard and hear each other make the occasional phone call. And when someone has a question or wants to say something, they can just speak up like they would if you were all physically in the office.

How do you pick the right activity from all the previous options as a team?

“Don’t start organising things left and right. Instead ask yourself the following questions: What would we be up for? What suits us? What traditions did we already have? If you for instance didn’t have the habit of going for a drink after work on Fridays, I would think that people would be unlikely to participate in virtual afterwork drinks as well. I think it would already be great if you could experiment with just one of these activities each week.”

“Don’t start organising things left and right to stay in connection” – prof. dr. Sara De Gieter

Sara De Gieter, Psychology professor