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How we’re staying together (apart)

There are a few things we've been doing at Mahlab to ease the pain of isolation. The good news is, they're all really simple things that you can steal from us and customise to suit your business.

We’re in week two of [insert unknown number here] weeks of remote work. Here’s what Mahlab is doing to keep its people connected.

I started talking to a fly this week. At first it was in the totally normal way you’d talk to a fly. It flew around my ear one too many times and I yelled, ‘Buzz off!’, but I didn’t use the word ‘buzz’. 

But he didn’t ‘buzz’ off. He kept zipping in and out of my eyeline and landing on different objects on my desk. I’d shoo him away and back he’d fly.

And after a while, our relationship started to evolve. He flew onto my computer screen and I playfully asked, “What are you doing, buddy? Come on, stop playing games. I’m trying to work.” Next, he took an interest in my lunch. While I was absolutely not about to let him move in on my sandwich, I did let him hang out on one of the crumbs scattered on my plate. I smiled and said, “See, we can learn to get along.”

As I’m writing this sentence my fly friend is nowhere to be seen. And I feel kind of sad. Then I feel kind of crazy for feeling kind of sad. And then I feel kind of stupid for admitting that I’m feeling kind of crazy for feeling kind of sad that I’m not longer sharing my space with a fly.

This all boils down to the fact that I’ve been feeling disconnected lately. I’m sure you’re feeling much the same. 

It’s Mahlab’s second week with all staff working remotely. All things considered, it’s going quite well. My internet is working and I can do every single aspect of my job from home. Actually, you could argue I can do my job even better in an environment that I’m in complete control of. I’m resident DJ all day, and no one (except my fly) can interrupt my work flow. But I’m missing a lot of the social nuances that you just can’t get through a screen.

I miss wandering out for a coffee with someone. I miss the quick banter shared with a passer-by in the hallway. I miss talking across the room to anyone about nothing in particular. I miss my commute. I even miss my colleague who’d always steal things from my desk.

While we’re all still navigating our way in the dark, there are a few things we’ve been doing at Mahlab to ease the pain of isolation. The good news is, they’re all really simple things that you can steal from us and customise to suit your business – you’re welcome!


Singing to each other through a screen

Don’t worry, we’re not one of those companies that launch into song to mark the day’s end (although, maybe that would be amazing?), but we have decided that it’s important we celebrate our staff birthdays as normal. 

In non COVID-19 times, we’d have the whole shebang: staff huddled around those celebrating a birthday that month, awkwardly singing ‘Happy Birthday’ out of tune while we circle like vultures for our slice of chocolate cake. 

In an effort to keep things running as normal as possible, we’ve taken the awkward singing online (think this, but 100 times worse. It’s the thought that counts) and we’ve ferried personal cupcake stashes to the lucky birthday humans.

To sweeten the deal – see what I did there? – we purchased the cupcakes from a woman who recently lost her job and is now relying on her side-hustle cake business as her primary source of income. We’re basically saving the economy one cupcake at a time.

It’s important to us that we take time to acknowledge our people at the best of times. These days, it’s even more critical.



Yes, that’s what we’re calling it. No, I didn’t come up with the name. Take up your issues with our Group Sales Ops Manager who’s creating and hosting these virtual events each Friday – he has a serious pun problem. It’s not even punny. Ah, it’s contagious.

At the end of the week, we call tools down and join in for a drink of our choice and a range of trivia questions across a variety of topics. We play what’s called a “fast finger” game; whoever is the first person to send a full stop to the quizmaster in the chat function is eligible to answer the question. If you get the answer wrong, it moves onto the next fastest responder.

We’ve seen some pretty fierce competition from one of our editorial team members (we’re thinking of disconnecting his internet next week to give the rest of us a fighting chance) but last week saw our Advertising Operations Coordinator take the top spot. Nothing like a little healthy competition to bring people together. 

If you don’t have time to create your own questions, I’ve heard of companies getting together at lunch to do quizzes from the weekend papers. There are definitely some curly questions in those.


Sharing our special skills, wellness tips and sock drawers

Slack was once a fun platform for sneaking jokes in during work hours or ferrying messages between the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ people when we felt too lazy to utilise the stairs. These days, its importance is hard to put into words. It’s how we connect, it’s how we laugh, it’s how we get through the day without crumbling into a heap.

Some new channels to crop up recently include #wellness, where we share meditation tips, physical health advice, good vibes content and talk openly about what’s helped to ease our own anxiety. We’ve also seen practical channels emerge such as #remoteworktips which, as the name suggests, is packed with useful advice on making the working from home journey much easier. Here we pass on helpful articles we’ve happened upon and help to keep each other looking schmick for the webcam, 

My favourite new channel though is our #instagram_not_instagram channel. Every day, in five words or less, our Head of Strategy will set a theme and we’re to submit a photo, video or audio file to align with that theme. This is a totally opt-in thing, but most of us are finding that it’s a nice way to start the day. We started out simply, by sharing pictures of our remote workspace, but as the week progressed, things got a little weirder (and funnier). One day, we were asked to share a picture of our sock draw. We weren’t even allowed to clean it up first! People got creative.

Image: L to R. Sock pet and real pet.

Today we shared our usual talent. Boy, did that drag up some interesting skills. Think a human making very authentic pig noises, pretend guitar wailing, and tongues and arms (🤢) twisting 360 degrees.

Pre-existing channels have also become more important, such as our recognition channel #bloodygoodworkmate and our #newwork channel showcases all the great stuff we’re working on. It’s important that we remind each other that we have a sense of purpose, that our work matters and will continue to matter once this is all over. Reminding each other of that with a virtual pat on the back and an eyeball of someone’s latest project is what keeps us all going.

It’s scary times, but we’re doing our best to make it fun and meaningful.

If you’re also finding yourself talking to inanimate objects in your surroundings and would prefer a human friend, reach out ([email protected]). I’d love to make a new e-pen pal. You can send me pictures of your dog doing strange things and I’ll send you pictures of my fly (if he ever comes back to me).

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