The virtues of the virtual pub trip

You’ve heard of flexible working - but what about flexible drinking?

Well, that was an eventful week, wasn’t it? On Monday, the coronavirus lockdown began in earnest, with companies up and down the country falling back on remote working, as government advice regarding public gatherings became gradually more drastic. Much like the rest of the country, the IT Pro team has also been working from home, and although we’ve been making use of flexible working for several years, having everyone working remotely at the same time was nonetheless a bit of a culture shock.

It’s going to be a huge adjustment for pretty much every company, not just from an IT perspective (as I covered in another column earlier this week) but also from a people perspective. Maintaining team morale and the social bonds that hold a workforce together is important, and it’s easy to overlook the importance of all the little shared moments that make up life in an office environment; things like having a chat with a co-worker in another department at the coffee machine, grabbing lunch with a friend, or bumping into someone on the stairs and swapping weekend plans.

Without these, it’s easy for team members to start feeling isolated, especially as text-based collaboration platforms tend to be geared towards work topics rather than idle chit-chat (with the exception of the channels for memes, gifs and pet pictures which seem to lurk in every chat app). With social visits strongly discouraged in the current climate, it’s vital that managers are aware of this.

While cabin fever hasn’t started to set in quite yet, we’ve been doing our best to maintain those bonds; we’ve started doing more regular conference calls, for one thing, and trying to do video calls, rather than Slack exchanges, for one-to-one meetings where practical. Colleagues from other divisions are doing their part too, organising things like company-wide lunchtime gaming sessions, ‘quarantine quizzes’, and other fun group activities. 

These are all well and good, but my personal favourite trend that has arisen from the present lockdown is the virtual pub trip. Like most teams, the IT Pro staff has been known to repair to the pub of a Friday afternoon on occasion, for a few hours of light-hearted banter and several adult beverages. Lest this hallowed tradition die out, we’ve now taken to doing these trips virtually with the aid of video conferencing software - and readers, it has been a revelation.

Not only can I still hang out with my lovely colleagues while working my way through several glasses of refreshment, I can do so without queuing for a drink, fighting to have a conversation over the noise or paying the borderline-criminal prices charged by London pubs. Instead, I can drink my own reasonably-priced booze (such as can be found thanks to the rash of panic-shoppers), have a lovely conversation at normal volume and then at the end of the night, I’m already home by the time I switch my laptop off, without the hassle of falling asleep on the tube.

In all honesty, I think I may prefer this kind of pub trip to the ‘analogue’ version, and it’s a trend that I intend to keep going when (or if) the current epidemic blows over and we can all return to the local. The benefits of remote working have been widely documented, but remote drinking has its merits too - if you haven’t already, I highly recommend giving it a go. 

With that in mind, I’m off to the virtual pub - mine’s an e-pint.

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