In the absence of being physically together and the new reality of rapid remote work (RRW), we’ve been figuring out how to make our workflow feel good. It feels like culture and norms are more important than ever. At Overlap, we’ve adopted a hybrid return to work model, creating new, evolving norms for our teammates who work both at home and in our new design studio space. Here are a few we’re trying out:

Social norms

Many of us spend a large portion of our energy and time working. The way we socialize has changed with physical distancing, but connection remains vital for a healthy workplace culture.

  • We have built in 5 minutes at the beginning of our daily Zoom meetings to check in with one another. Sometimes, we chat about what we had for dinner, our families, or how we are coping with our current reality.
  • We have virtual coffee breaks to maintain 1:1 connections.
  • We schedule regular after work socials to talk about non-work related things, and show off our kids or pets.

Communication norms

In a time where over-communicating is more important than ever, shared guidelines can help to set a solid foundation for working together.

  • We communicate internally using Slack and we use email for more formal communication with clients. A group of Overlappers on a video conference call with their hands raised.
  • We recently switched to Zoom for all our internal and external meetings. We are loving the whiteboard, annotate, and break-out room features! We have established a norm for turning our video on so we can pick up on those non-verbal cues and see one another’s lovely faces!
  • We use body language to quickly express emotions during our team meetings— thumbs up and thumbs down for a pulse check, “jazz” hands for applause, and three fingers for “wow!”

Availability norms

It can be helpful to establish core working hours for a virtual team—with flexibility built in for those who are early risers, nighthawks, or those who are navigating the challenge of balancing family and work roles.

  • A few Overlappers have decided to start their day earlier and stop at 4 pm to get outside for a walk or do a virtual yoga class.
  • Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 4.35.06 PMWe use emojis beside our status on Slack to let the team know we are on a lunch break, out for a walk, on a call, or hosting a webinar.
  • Some Overlappers are trading on and off parenting and “home-schooling” duties while continuing their full-time work—supporting these team members and remaining flexible is so important.

Meeting norms

Let’s face it, having a day of remote meetings can take a mental toll. It’s important to have that mindful moment where we ask ourselves if we need to have a video call or if there is another way to collaborate or get the information across.

  • Some of us have condensed 30 minute meetings to 25 minutes and 60 minute meetings to 45 minutes. If you’re using Zoom through free access, you have a maximum of a 40-minute timeframe when three or more people are meeting, so that could be a natural ending point!
  • We also take advantage of walking meetings when we can. If it’s a shorter check-in with a supervisor or colleague and we don’t need to take too many notes, we’ll just call each other on the phone and get some fresh air while we catch up.
  • We look for alternative ways to collaborate as well. Could be posting to a group chat, sending a quick email, or setting up a Miro sticky note board to achieve the same objectives.

See our 5 Steps to Intentional Impact worksheet to support your decision-making on whether or not a virtual face-to-face meeting is required.

Ideation norms

Just because you’re not physically together doesn’t mean that you can’t make the most of many minds by generating lots of great ideas.

  • A screenshot of virtual sticky notes. We’ve moved our internal and external ideation sessions online using Miro. Last week, we hosted a handful of highly interactive sessions, ranging from three to over 60 very engaged participants. We’ve also been discovering the many helpful templates in Miro—5 whys, journey map, empathy map, and retrospectives, to name a few.
  • In addition to its functionality as a collaborative ideation tool, Miro has been really helpful for asynchronous ideation, where individuals can pop in and contribute ideas around various focus questions and topic areas. For example, we have created boards to add ideas for blog posts and newsletters.
  • Miro is only one option for ideation—you can also use a notepad and pen at your workstation, the chat feature in Slack, Microsoft Teams, or the annotate function in Zoom to name a few.

Norms for independent work

While collaboration is foundational in human-centred design, sometimes you need to be heads-down and complete something independently. Uninterrupted independent work is equally as important although your response to messages may be slowed. It can be really difficult to do this with meeting requests, Slack messages, phone calls, and various other distractions that might pop up in your home office.

  • At Overlap, we let our team know at our morning Zoom stand-up meeting when we need to hunker down on something and also use Slack icons to remind people that we might be a bit slower to respond to messages.
  • We talk openly about “remote work guilt,” which is the tendency to work more than you would if you were in the office because of the feeling that it is necessary to “prove” that you are productive.
  • We use breaks and less important tasks as part of our process, recognizing the importance of letting ideas incubate.

For those of us who have been catapulted into RRW, we’re all figuring this out together. There is no perfect solution, so let’s be patient with each other. At Overlap, we are trying things—some of them work and some don’t—that’s all part of the learning process. By cobbling together the bits and pieces of others’ experiences, we can find the solution that works best in our own organization.

We’d love to hear from you—how you are building culture and norms in your virtual workplace? Let us know by emailing