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Zoom Happy Hour Not Cutting It? Try Virtual Lunch to Re-Inspire Collaboration

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Brooke Lynch

zoom lunch

Remote workdays are becoming the new norm; since the start of the pandemic, companies have attempted to reinspire the spontaneous conversations that once sparked innovation and creativity. In recreating the traditional in-office workday, some established weekly zoom happy hours to discuss lighter, less work-focused topics. Others are working to include this kind of conversation during the actual workday, collaborating on Zoom lunches with company-provided meals. 

In a recent BBC article, UK investment firm WealthSimple notes their success with the concept. The company pays for lunchboxes to be sent directly to its employees’ homes, encouraging them to eat with their team virtually to inspire conversation. One employee stated that the virtual lunch offers a sense of support and camaraderie during this weird and isolated moment. The article also identifies the importance of food as a traditional piece of the workday, giving employees an opportunity to leave their workspace and socialize with coworkers. Adding that even a simple coffee break in the office provided necessary and healthy colleague communication. 

The Zoom lunch isn’t a brand new concept; Deloitte conducted a case study back in 2015 with Deloitte Australia and Dell Technologies remote employees to examine whether this type of virtual socializing impacted employee interactions. The ‘virtual brown bag lunch’ study tested the (at the time) groundbreaking concept of virtual socialization, with teams scattered all over the world. The case study found that a lack of structure, presence of food, and a video element all contributed to successful virtual interactions. Breaking each component down, participants believed that a lack of structure, with no agenda or formal direction, allowed ideas and conversation to flow more freely. They also emphasized the importance of food in the meetings, noting that the meal aspect helped them identify it as a social gathering. Lastly, the video element let participants share their visual reactions and connected them in a more meaningful way. 

This virtual lunch concept may represent a valuable opportunity to reconnect the isolated or disjointed team environment the pandemic incited. To attempt the Zoom lunch, journalist and virtual lunching connoisseur AJ Jacobs laid out a few best practices. Here are some highlights:


Avoid Small Talk

He notes that there’s something inherently interesting about a virtual lunch that should empower employees to avoid small talk at all costs. He notes that he prepares a list of topics that seem engaging to cover and goes from there. Although this may go against the Deloitte insight that favors unstructured interactions, there may be some benefit to preparing interesting topics to discuss. Awkward lulls in conversation may be just as detrimental as overstructured agendas. Additionally, as long as prepared topics aren’t centered around serious work discussions they should be ok.


Get Creative with Time Zones

Jacobs also gives a creative workaround for employees across different time zones. For employees on opposite coasts, or even on the other side of the world, coworkers can adapt meals as they please. One colleague can be eating lunch, while the other grabs their morning coffee and breakfast. Time zones can be one of the most isolating factors of remote work, keeping employees apart both physically and hourly. Coming up with unique ways to connect, even when you’re at completely different points in your day can be an effective way to restore socialization. 


Actually Eat

Both sources note that actually eating a meal with your virtual companion establishes the tone of the meeting. Sharing a meal allows all parties to feel involved and part of the traditional ritual. The lunch break is also a key piece of the in-person workday that employees are currently missing, so recreating it virtually can help reestablish some of the boundaries between work and socialization that it used to provide in the office. Lastly, it gives the impression that the meeting is actually a social environment, a space where colleagues can discuss fun and irrelevant topics that encourage camaraderie and promote bonding. 


Bottom Line

Ultimately, If your team is struggling with the indefinite remote work environment, the virtual lunch may offer a fun, and unique way to bring colleagues back together. Although Zoom happy hours and virtual team meetings may offer some socialization, it’s still worth dedicating some time throughout the day to connect with your coworkers in a more meaningful, productive way to get us through this next lockdown. 

Indeed, these virtual social outings shouldn’t act as a cure-all for some of the larger challenges your isolated team is facing. Companies still need to continue fostering opportunities for collaboration within their work schedules. Workplace participation should also be achieved through continuous training, coaching, and brainstorming sessions to effectively heighten productivity. The most successful teams will benefit from an emphasis on both social and professional collaboration, a combination that closely emulates their time in the office.