Make It So: How to Bring Humor to Your Virtual Workplace

Here we are, another week of trying our best to lead our teams from the confines of our laptop screens and webcams. By now, this is slowly becoming the new normal. Last week, I shared some of my core tips and techniques for leading effectively from quarantine. If by chance you missed it, I highly recommend reading it first, then coming back here.

Leading effectively means tapping into human nature and relating to people on an emotional level. Leadership isn’t just about giving direction and cascading information. In this article, we are going to dive into an aspect of leading in the workplace that may be a bit challenging to port to our new work from home reality. That aspect is humor.

Crisis demands humor

Our world is in crisis right now. One possible reaction is panic. Another is blissful optimism. A third option is humor. Yes, we can laugh when we are in crisis. It’s not only good medicine, it’s completely natural. If you are curious about the psychology of this phenomenon, check out this recent article from Psychology Today. Another, more obvious source of validation is the countless stream of COVID-19 memes scrolling down your social media feeds.

Humor at work

I’m a big believer in bringing humor into the workplace. Humor is a super-power in the hands of a capable leader. Humor has the power to relax your team, make your message more memorable, make you seem less intimidating, and finally, it has the power to make work a whole lot more enjoyable.

I’ve written previously about interjecting humor into formal presentations. I’ve written about how I dress-up as a science-fiction character at the office every Halloween.

Some of my most popular blog articles are written to be funny. I specifically designed them to make my readers laugh while making them think. I wrote about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Spaceballs, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, All Your Base Are Belong To Us, Milli Vanilli, Trogdor the Burninator, and Back to the Future all while communicating powerful lessons that apply to our work-lives as leaders.

Humor at work online

This is where things get difficult. How do I keep work fun when I’m not in the office? This takes some creative thinking. I’ve not mastered this yet, but here are a few things I’ve put into practice in the past few weeks:

Funny locations

Most collaboration technologies have a location feature. It’s meant to convey where you are physically located, so that people can come find you in the office. In the past, perhaps you set your location to: Corporate HQ, 2nd Floor, West End. That used to be helpful, but now is completely useless.

Sure, you could update your location to “home,” but that’s boring. It’s also not helpful, because it’s safe to assume that nearly everyone is working from home. Here are a few of locations that I’ve set over the past few weeks:

  1. The Fallout Shelter
  2. In Exile for the Good of the Realm
  3. Force-Projecting Myself from My Island Hermitage
  4. Socially Distant
  5. USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D

Funny videos

Earlier this week, I created a video message for my team. I wanted to express my gratitude for all of the work, creativity, and adaptation the team has showed in the past few weeks. It’s not uncommon for leaders to do this, especially now that everyone is remote. If you have not sent your team a video message yet, take this a cue to do so.

As a technology geek and A/V nerd, I have plenty of fun creating videos in my spare time. I’ve been recently messing around with virtual green screen technology. Since I’m not in the office, I can make it look like I’m anywhere.

While I like technology, I’m admittedly not great in front of a camera, although I’m working on it. To make up for my lack of on-screen talent, I dressed up as my favorite Star Trek character, Jean Luc Picard, and delivered my message in front of a virtual background of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Funny meetings

Depending on your video conference technology, you can add a virtual background to liven up a meeting and express your personality a bit.

This week, I participated in a meeting hosted by an external group. That meeting had this feature, and I was ready and willing to use it. With or without virtual background technology, we need to continue to find ways to make our virtual meetings fun.

Work memes

I love memes. The clever ones make me giggle as I scroll through my personal social media feeds. I am not suggesting that you flood your co-workers with personal memes. Leave those there. What you can do, is occasionally share a work-related meme with your co-workers. This lightens up the day and makes people laugh for a minute before getting back to it.

Once you’ve mastered that, kick it up a notch and make your own memes. I did this recently. One of my co-workers teased me on a conference call, indicating that my headphones made me look like a contestant on the 1970’s game show, Tattletales. After the meeting, I took five minutes and made this meme and sent it out to the meeting participants. For some reason, people now call me “Richard.”

How about you?

If you are a good leader, chances are good that you already make a habit of laughing with your coworkers. The question is, have you effectively transitioned that practice to your new virtual workplace? I don’t have all of the ideas. I’m sure you have some too. What are some ways that you’ve made your virtual workplace fun in the past few weeks? Please share in the comments below. I’m looking for ideas and I’m certain others are too.

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Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.