Social Connections

Connecting as people doesn't have to be incidental. It can be intentional and prioritized.

With that in mind we've curated a list of what regions around the state are doing to stay in contact and forge stronger connections with their coworkers. Before planning any activities, be sure to check the notes at the bottom of the page for additional guidance regarding compliance with WSDOT policies and the State Ethics law:

Ice breakers

  • Daily hellos – Start your day with a quick email to teammates, to bid them good morning just like you would have greeted them upon entering the office.
  • Meet my artifact/show-and-tell – Have your coworkers take turns introducing an item that is meaningful to them and explain its importance and history. Here are examples (pdf 120 kb).
  • Self-selected discussions – During team meetings or other group gatherings, have different team members take turns leading short, 10-minute presentations or discussions about something that interests them – an ongoing project, recent travel, movie reviews or a special hobby. It gives you a chance to learn more about what they're working on or a topic they're passionate about.
  • Email newsletter – Share a scheduled email newsletter updating your teams on fun or interesting facts, similar to how the Safety office creates a newsletter. It can be more focused to happenings in your office, or interesting topics. Here's an example of a holiday-themed newsletter from the Mega Projects' Mega Fun Committee (pdf 831 kb).
  • Silent Interview – A small group activity where people partner up and silently "interview" the other by observing how the other person acts. You then discuss your assumptions as a group. Here is a list of interview questions (pdf 82 kb) designed to help you more fully understand your coworkers.
Travis Vanderpool, dressed in a chef’s jacket stands in the middle of his kitchen with his arms raised, welcoming the audience. Behind him are wooden cupboards, a clean white countertop and a stovetop prepped with a skillet.
During a webinar, Travis Vanderpool demonstrated how to make Shrimp capellini.

Get-to-know your coworkers

  • Group creations – A good way to get people involved is to create collaborative projects that involve only a little effort from your teams. Ideas include compiling a regional cookbook, division yearbook, or playlist.
  • Employee profiles – An employee profile series where individuals answer a short questionnaire (pdf 58 kb) that is distributed to the rest of the group. It's a great way to learn more about your coworkers, and works as a way to introduce any new hires that join during the pandemic.
  • "What is your Why?(pdf 225 kb) – Invite team members to share an image with the rest of the group that represents who they are, their motivations to be that person, and how they became who they are today. It is a great way to keep morale high and create a supportive environment.
  • "Strengths and Weaknesses" (pdf 269 kb) – A group activity that encourages people to be thoughtful of what their greatest contributions to their team are, and where there are areas for improvement. Each team member will present a photo that represents their greatest strength and their greatest weakness and explain why they feel that way. It is an opportunity to come together as a team and recognize how to support each other and build toward common goals.
  • Team Superlatives – Create a poll asking people to submit their votes for "most likely to" topics. It could be work related or not, such as "most likely to forget they're on mute," "most likely to have hoarded toilet paper," or even "most likely to have taken up a new hobby in quarantine."

Breakroom-style chats

  • Water cooler chats – Dedicate a few minutes each week for a people to catch up with their coworkers like they would have when they met in the breakroom or halls of the office. This can be a dedicated meeting, or in a group Teams channel if you have one set up.
  • Weekly topics to discuss – kick off weekly team meetings on a conversational tone by asking open ended questions before you get down to the point of the meeting. They can be as easy as "Did you do anything fun this weekend?" to more engaging as "What is one thing you will miss after the pandemic ends." This can also be done on a rotating basis by assigning different team members to come up with a new question each week.
  • Self-led support groups – Encourage employees to find others in similar situations – such as parents of school-at-home kids, caregivers to elderly relatives, etc. – and create monthly chats where they can share stories, advice, and concerns with likeminded individuals.
A Teams meeting with split into four rows of seven camera views. Each shows a different smiling face.

The Gateway Project Office kicks off meetings with open-ended questions like: if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be? Where would you visit if you knew there was a chance you'd have to stay for a year?

Webinar ideas

  • Recurring webinar series – Have a set schedule of activities intended to create social connections. They can follow different themes or include different activities to keep things fresh and engaging. Good examples are: discussing different tools for building resiliency or a seminar on home office ergonomics; or it can be work-focused, discussing different projects the teams are working on that month.
  • Trivia nights – Create trivia games to engage employees. Ask questions about the people, projects, and history of WSDOT or your region. There are plenty of ways to do this: you can create a Jeopardy-style game via Jeopardy Labs, and MentiMeter also has a quiz tool where you can ask multiple choice questions and keep track of points.
  • Craft lessons – Make use of skilled employees to lead lessons on crocheting, knitting, baking, or other activities
  • Book club – Create a book club to read and discuss different literature. Some divisions have created social justice-focused groups, or read about different transportation topics.
A Teams meeting showing a shared screen image. On the screen is a website reading leaderboard for a trivia game showing 10 different participants, and their ranking based on points. In the lead is Ed Barry followed closely by Thomas Noyes.
The right side of the image also show the Teams chat menu where several people are making jokes about needing more cowbell. The bottom of the image shows several of the participants, some as initials in a colorful circle, and two with their cameras on.

Urban Mobility and Access employees were asked to submit songs for a 2020 playlist. Once the playlist was compiled it was turned into a MentiMeter trivia game with people guessing the song title, artist, and which coworker submitted each song.

In-person connections

Two masked women sit outdoors at a picnic table on a sunny afternoon. The table is in a park, sitting is a wide swatch of grass, with evergreen trees in the distance. The sky is blue and dotted with a few clouds.
Southwest Region’s Celeste Dimichina and Tamara Greenwell met for a social distanced lunch.
  • Socially-distanced lunches – Meet up in a park so you can see each other at a distance and enjoy a picnic lunch. Be sure to take the appropriate safety measures by wearing masks when not eating, washing your hands, and staying more than 6-feet apart.
  • Parking lot meetings – Have everyone drive to the office parking lot, and create a circle to conduct your meeting with everyone remaining in their vehicles. That way you have a chance to see each other in person without risking infection.
  • Socially-distanced meet ups – Find out which coworkers live in the same area and encourage safe meet ups. They can be for outdoor activities such as walks or bike rides, or a friendly chat separated on a porch or in a front yard. Be sure to keep your distance and wear masks.

Recognition

  • Gratitude project – Have everyone on the team submit a sentence or two about what they appreciate about each coworker. Can be anonymous or not, and compile it and send it back to the individual employees.
  • Kudos emails – Acknowledge effort and good work in group emails. This can be done within teams or division wide.
  • Send your kudos – Create forms individuals can fill out recognizing outstanding work by their peers. Here are three examples - 1 (pdf 2.2 mb), 2 (pdf 2 mb), 3 (pdf 1.5 mb).
  • Employee Appreciation events – The usual employee appreciation events have gone virtual. Make sure you still take time to present awards and have managers say a few words about their employees. You can also insert certificates into PowerPoint presentations.
  • Create a birthday calendar – Compile a list of birthdays on your team so you can be sure to give everyone a "Happy Birthday" on their special day.
A screenshot of an Outlook email. The content of the email acknowledges the readers are going through a difficult time and the author hopes to spread joy. She asks them to submit kudos, share pictures of what they’ve been up to, and milestones they’ve recently reached. 
The second half of the email is labeled KUDOS and is a bulletpoint list sharing previous submissions. The examples highlight the work done by customer service, acknowledges people for staying “cool, calm and kind” and highlights individual’s efforts to stay positive and cheerful.

An example of a weekly Kudos email the Washington State Ferries group created to recognize the great work of their teammates.

Team spirit

  • Themed telework days – Return to your high school roots with themed days. Take advantage of the casual dress most of us are wearing to propose fun theme days. Pick one day a week or month to have everyone wear their school gear, or have a crazy hat or crazy hair day. Support the local sports teams by wearing their memorabilia on game days. The options are endless, and it is an easy way to have some fun that lets people choose their level of involvement.
  • Get festive at the holidays – Don those ugly sweaters, find the fun Teams backgrounds with shamrocks, fireworks and more. Just because you can't decorate your real office doesn't mean you can't decorate your virtual one.
  • Fun competitions – Pit teams against each other in trivia games, fundraisers, or the Smart Health challenges to foster team building.
Team meeting showing seven people with their cameras on. Six of them are wearing cowboy hats, and two are dressed in plaid or otherwise trying to wear a cowboy costume.

Cowboy' spirit day for the TSMO program plan team.

A screenshot of Zoom meeting where the main image is a doctored picture from the classic gameshow “Family Feud” above the word family in the logo, GATEWAY has been written in green ala Microsoft paint. 
Along the right side of the image there are six viewer windows, three with their cameras on, and three displaying the generic gray silhouette icon.

Tools*

  • MentiMeter – It can be used for quizzes, polls, and open-ended questions with options for anonymous answers.
  • SurveyMonkey – Allows you to customize questions in a survey on whatever topic and collect the results.
  • Ideaboardz.com – A highly customizable setup where the organizer establishes a virtual whiteboard with questions or topics and participants can post anonymous sticky notes to add to a discussion.
  • JeopardyLabs.com – Create your own Jeopardy game.
  • Teams break out rooms – IT created a great walk through (pdf 00 kb) to show how you can turn your webinars and meetings into breakout sessions for more in-depth and personalized discussions.
  • Family Feud – Here is a template to make it easy to create your own Family Feud-style game. Be sure to poll your coworkers to get the popular results in your area.
A screenshot of a website. At the top of the image there is a crowded bookmark bar, but immediately below that is the IdeaBoardz logo, with Idea in orange and Boards in black. 
The website shows three sections of differently colored sticky notes discussing the topic of resiliency. Each color section discusses ideas for different aspects of being resilient, yellow is ideas for how to destress, purple for how to stay active, and green for how to stay connected with friends and coworkers.

*If you run into issues with these tools, contact the website, not IT. Contact IT only if you run across an issue with Teams.

 

Please remember that anything conducted in Teams is subject to Public Disclosure Requests. Everyone is advised to actively manage their data in Teams, so fewer things are stored in the program.

While these activities are allowed, they require management approval before anyone organizes or participates. The activities must not involve any illegal, harassing or inappropriate topics and cannot be used to promote outside businesses/organizations/groups, advertise or sell products, campaign activities (including supporting political campaigns), or solicitation of goods or services.

The use of state time and resources for such activities should be limited to keep in compliance with WSDOT Executive Order 1004.03 (pdf 453 kb), WAC 292-110-010 and RCW 42.52.160. Please also be aware of the cumulative use of state time and resources in relation to the ethics guidance shared above. Attending one activity a month would be fine, but one a week would not be considered limited use. You can reduce the use of state resources by hosting activities outside of work hours and encouraging attendees to use their personal devices. 

Please keep in mind the data and materials resulting from these activities are subject to the State's General Retention Schedule (pdf 3.2 mb). With the exception of transitory materials, such as informational notifications/communications that do not document agency decisions or actions, you will need to retain the data for a set amount of time consistent with retention schedule. Specifically:

  • Employees birthday calendars (GS 09023) – Retain for one year after end of calendar year, then destroy.
  • Webinar series, trivia nights, employee appreciation events, and tools (GS 03051) – Retain for two years after end of calendar year, then destroy.

If you have questions about retaining data resulting from the activities, please consult your records specialist beforehand.