September 8, 2020

How to keep your team engaged while working from home

Jackie Leary

People & Operations Associate

Imagine that it’s Monday January 6, 2020 and you are back in the office after celebrating the New Year. Everyone is feeling refreshed after the holiday break and chatting about their New Year’s resolutions. High-fives and handshakes are encouraged. Phrases like “social distancing” and “shelter-in-place” are not yet part of your vocabulary. Like the rest of the world, you could have never imagined what was about to come.

Let’s fast-forward to today. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of many Americans and has radically changed the lives of many more. The lucky ones among us—who have managed to stay healthy and keep their jobs while safely working from home—are trying to get used to a new day-to-day work routine:

You haven’t seen your colleagues in person in over five months and you’ve baked more banana bread than you can possibly eat. You are still searching for that delicate balance between working from home and relaxing at home. And you might not be feeling as connected and engaged with your colleagues as you once were.

The good news is: You’re not alone. This is an entirely new reality we’re all facing. At Smartcar, we’ve worked really hard to maintain our quirky, collaborative culture so that the whole team feels connected. Whether you work for a small company like we do, or a large company, there’s lots you can do to keep your teams engaged while working from home. Check out some of the ways in which we stay connected!

Weekly newsletter

Every week, we send out a newsletter with one recipe and one exercise that the team can do on their own time. Recipes can vary from appetizers to entrees and desserts, and team members are encouraged to take a photo of what they have made and send it along to the rest of the team. The carefully curated exercises range from stretching and meditation to high intensity interval training—there’s something for all interests and experience levels!

Pro tip: Send out the newsletter on a Friday so that everyone has time to buy the ingredients over the weekend. Additionally, be sure to include recipe alternatives for those with dietary restrictions.

Quarterly offsites

The Smartcar team is very enthusiastic about our quarterly offsites. They have always played a huge role in maintaining our company culture, so much so that we’ve written a blog post about our top three! The transition to a fully remote team has definitely required a lot more creativity in our approach to planning our quarterly offsites. Luckily, there are so many resources available for those planning company-wide virtual events. Our saving grace has been Airbnb Online Experiences. There are many skilled artists, motivational speakers, and even magicians ready to host an amazing team building experience for your company. And why stop there? There are also virtual escape rooms, paint parties, and so much more that your teams can do to stay connected.

Company-organized team building activities

What’s more, you don’t need to wait for a quarterly offsite to organize a team-wide or company-wide team building event. Every Thursday, we have a 15-minute exercise session where the team participates in squat challenges, stretching sessions, and yoga (to name just a few). We host these sessions over Google Meets, so that we can get some face-to-face time while staying active and getting moving. We also host bi-weekly team virtual lunches, topped with mini-activities like and a company-themed bingo!

Self-guided activities

One of the biggest challenges about working from home is being able to “switch off” at the end of the day. Our living rooms, kitchens, and dining rooms are now our offices, so the line between work life and personal life has blurred. How do we set boundaries between the two? At Smartcar, we created a company calendar with daily, self-guided activities that employees can do on their own time. Want to learn how to make the perfect margarita? Looking to learn the art of negotiation? We’ve got you covered! This gives our team the opportunity to transition from work to personal life more seamlessly. Mathilde took a Thai Cooking class where she learned to make green curry, basil chicken, and a Thai omelette. Check out the result:

Learning & development

Shortly before shelter-in-place was enforced in the San Francisco Bay Area, we introduced a learning & development program to provide our team with tools to achieve their personal and professional goals. You can read more about the program and how our team has used it so far in this blog post.

As it turns out, the timing of this new program could not have been better. Now that many of us are stuck indoors, we are taking the opportunity to acquire new skills. This has helped us become more engaged in our everyday work, but it also gives us an outlet to turn off and focus on something other than work at the end of the day.


While working from home, it is important to recognize that some team members, especially if they work in different departments, might stay in touch less than others. For instance, since shelter-in-place took effect, five new members have joined Smartcar, but they’ve never had the chance to meet our team in person. To help new team members get to know their co-workers, Smartcar introduced Donut. Donut is a Slack extension that automatically pairs everyone with one other team member twice a month and schedules a virtual meeting. During the meeting, you can learn more about your partner’s hobbies, what they are working on, and how they are spending their time during shelter-in-place. This has been super helpful in keeping our team connected. Here’s a snapshot of how it works:

If you’re like me, the abrupt transition to remote work required a lot of adjustment. At Smartcar, dedicating the time to plan and organize team activities has had a huge impact on our ability to communicate and stay in touch with each other. Now more than ever, we are seeing how important it is to keep your team engaged not only with one another, but also with your company’s mission.

How has your team stayed connected during the COVID-19 pandemic? Feel free to reach out to exchange ideas!

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