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“Virtual coffee breaks” encourage remote workers to interact like they would in an office

AP Photo/Matthew Cavanaugh
Team bonding.
  • Sid Sijbrandij
By Sid Sijbrandij

CEO, GitLab

This article is more than 2 years old.

Without an office, how can chance encounters that connect people and spark great ideas possibly occur? The presumed answer is, they can’t. This is considered by some to be such a foregone conclusion that physical offices are increasingly designed to encourage even more spontaneous face time, and remote workers are being recalled to the office.

But at GitLab, we’ve found a way to make it work. We’ve been remote-only for years, after early employees elected to stop coming into our shared office space in San Francisco, and our 200 team members are based in 39 different countries. Face-to-face interactions are arguably even more important in a remote environment, as they can help prevent potential burnout and isolation. So we have created ways to replicate the benefits of in-office banter and keep camaraderie strong.

One of these methods is the “virtual coffee break.” Included in our detailed 500-page handbook, “virtual coffee breaks” are video calls our team members use to take breaks and socialize. We encourage team members to dedicate a few hours every week to these calls, which is roughly comparable to the time someone working in an office might spend chatting while walking to meetings, grabbing coffee in the break room, or having lunch together in person. 

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