Our startup guide to staying social while remote

Social Guide

Download the complete guide here

Avochato transitioned to a remote-first company last year. This wasn’t a change that we had planned for, and like many other companies we’re still figuring it out as we go. We know that maintaining strong interpersonal relationships is crucial – especially while remote, and especially at our size (currently 25 employees and growing!) However, we don’t have a ton of resources to devote towards event planning and activities as larger companies.

Given that, we wanted to share some of our learnings as the TOAST (Totally Official Avochato Social Team). We’ve experimented with a variety of activities, keeping a mind towards budget while also trying to find a mix of casual, low-maintenance, and high engagement events. We have also loved partnering with small companies whenever possible, and wanted to share some of the specific vendors that we’ve found.

First, a few overarching themes and lessons:

  1. We have heavily used our own product to communicate updates to the team. We've sent GIF-laden messages promoting upcoming events or general info. Having a dedicated social channel was a nice way to build excitement while centralizing communications:



  2. People LOVE receiving things in the mail. Every time we shipped packages, our text line would blow up with photos or excited updates from our teammates. In the monotony of working from home, an unexpected package was an easy way to spark delight:



  3. An important note to lesson two: shipping takes time. Not just the physical delivery, but the gathering of addresses and entering of information. It’s great to spread out the load when possible, or just bake this into a team member’s duties appropriately. Good coordination takes time, but pays off.

  4. Recurring unstructured events (weekly lunches, social hours, etc) might work for a smaller team, but quickly become very challenging at any larger cross-departmental scale. These events require structure or agenda, otherwise attendance drops off very quickly as they become repetitive or awkward. 

Below, we’ll share some events and ideas that have worked especially well for our team. You can also download the full guide here.

 

Hosted Events:

We’ve had great success with hosted events. They do cost money, but overall we have felt they were well worth the expense and require far less planning for the internal organizer. 

Maker Wine Tasting 
[ $$$ ] [ low time investment ] [ high lead time ]

Maker Wine has a very compelling story: it’s run by two women who partner with wineries to provide high quality wines in an approachable format (cans!) They guided us through each of the three different varietals, and we were provided helpful back-story about the wine industry and the individual wine makers who had created each blend. The wine itself was great, and the cans made for an easier tasting experience so that you didn’t have to open several bottles on your own. It requires coordination for shipping, but the event was really well received by the team.

Guided Yoga with Betta
[ $ ] [ low time investment ] [ low lead time ]

Betta did a great job taking the team through a 30-minute yoga class that was accessible to all levels. It’s an easy event to set up and a great way to break up the week. 

AirBnb Donut Making
[ $$ ] [ mid time investment ] [ mid lead time ]

This was a fun and highly interactive event. It also helped to send out donut pans from Amazon ahead of time. As an alternative to drinking-focused events, this was also a good way for employees with kids to include them in the activities.

 

Supplied Events:

For a more budget-friendly option, we held a couple of events where we sent different supplies to team members and then hosted the event ourselves. These require some lead time to account for shipping, and definitely varied in price. It also requires someone on the team to host/guide the event. 

Paint & Sip
[ $$ ] [ mid time investment ] [ high-ish lead time ]

We love a good paint night, though generally think a lot of the ones out there are a little tacky. We were really excited to find Cate Paper Co.’s kits, which actually look like something we would not be embarrassed to have on the wall. Because we were assembling the packages at home, we also bought some cheap easels from Amazon. 

DIY Cocktail Making 
[ $$ ] [ mid time investment ] [ high-ish lead time ]

For our holiday party, one member of the team volunteered to guide the company through making a few different cocktails. As a fun bonus, we sent bitters out to all of the team members. To make it even easier, you can also consider sending out Drizly gift cards, or just make it entirely DIY.

 

No-Spend Events:

While planned events were a lot of fun, sometimes it can be fun to have a more casual one. As mentioned in lesson four, unstructured happy hours quickly lost their charm. We feel that even a very loose agenda makes for a better experience and more welcoming event. We use these broadly for “get-to-know-you” purposes with new hires, or just general social opportunities.

Name That Tune (Humming Edition)
[ low time investment ] [ low lead time ]

You could either include this as a round of trivia or as a fully standalone event. We had a lot of success with a “humming” guessing game, where we secretly provided one team member with a song over Slack, and instructed them to hum that song while the rest of the (muted) attendees tried to guess. This worked much better than trying to share audio and was highly entertaining. It also requires minimal coordination ahead of time, since all you really need is a list of identifiable songs that you think most of your team would know.

Hot Seat (This or That):
[ low time investment ] [ low lead time ]

This is great for new hires, or just as a fun rotating activity. We ask the person on the hot seat a series of “this or that” questions. We used a silly deck that we created to run through the questions, though it could easily be adapted for more specific and timely options within the company.

Photo Surveys
[ mid time investment ] [ mid lead time ]

As part of using our texting product to coordinate events, we also have a lot of fun asking employees various survey questions. For example, around Halloween, we asked everyone to send in a picture of themselves in costume, put those in a deck, and just asked each person to explain themselves or otherwise elaborate on the picture. Collecting the info is a lot of fun, and generally an easy way to grow excitement for the actual event and encourage attendance. Plus, people just love to see photos of each other – it’s definitely a lot more engaging and helps them to open up. 

 

Other Tools:

Donut 

Donut offers a Slack app that has been extremely effective with our team. We use it for two main functions: first is the #watercooler channel, which posts different prompts for discussion. These are great for re-creating the casual banter that used to happen in office. We also use the coffee chat function, which assigns randomly selected members of the channel to meet up, and is particularly effective at sending reminders via Slack to make sure that it actually happens. 

 

Last Notes:

A lot of these activities require time and effort to plan and coordinate, but even a small amount of time can go a long way towards making the events far more fun and engaging. It’s important to share the load – we’ve had different team members step up to either plan events entirely, lead supplied events, or just take on the annoying work of entering data into Amazon. It’s definitely helpful to try to set a schedule at the beginning of the quarter and track it, because otherwise it's easy to  let the weeks slip by without any intentional activities. 

We hope you have fun with these activities! Don't forget to download the full guide here, and contact us below if you want to learn more about using SMS to stay social while remote.