Most people work in an office and likely eat with co-workers on a daily basis. Remote workers rarely do the same. Eating with a camera or a mic on is broadly considered gross. If someone does eat during a meeting, they probably do so with their camera off and mic muted. Unfortunately, this means remote workers are missing out on valuable time to bond and socialize with co-workers.
My co-founder and I decided to give it a try anyway. We planned on eating lunch together, with no agenda whatsoever, as if we were grabbing lunch together in a physical office.
In this article, I discuss our challenges in doing a remote lunch, including how we attempted to solve them, and to what degree the lunch was successful.
Challenge #1: Coordination
Vivek and I typically eat lunch on our own time, so our first issue was coordinating.
We decided to make a calendar event. When I grabbed him to start our "meeting," we realized that we had to physically get our food before we could really start. So we left, and then re-joined once we'd gotten our food. This was awkward, and honestly made the whole thing feel a lot more high friction.
We then created a channel in Pragli called #lunch-room. Pragli shows who is in what channel, so we intended to use it as a signal for when we were eating lunch at our desk. But since Pragli doesn't currently notify you when someone enters a channel, Vivek didn't immediately realize that I was in it.
As a result, we're going to add the ability to "listen" to channels in our next sprint, so that Vivek will get notified when I've entered the #lunch-room. Hopefully, this means we won't have to actually schedule lunch on the calendar.
Challenge #2: Gross!
We are constantly staring at people when they eat, whether grabbing lunch in real life or eating dinner with the family. But for some reason, it's really gross to watch someone eat over a video camera. One of my goals with this meeting was to identify what felt gross, and why.
I suspected video lunches were gross because microphones pick up eating noises and amplify them. Hoping to filter out these noises, I preemptively downloaded Krisp.ai. However, when Vivek and I jumped on our call, we quickly realized that no noises came through at all. Our computers, headphones, or some combination thereof was already very good at filtering out eating noises.
I suspected video lunches were gross because microphones pick up eating noises and amplify them... [but] no noises came through at all.
Yet, we both admitted it still felt a little bit off. We couldn't shake the feeling of grossness to watch someone eat on camera, even though we knew we wouldn't have the same feeling in the real world.
I honestly can't say why that is. There's really no tangible reason that this should feel more gross than in the real world. So, we're going to keep doing it and hope that it ends up feeling more natural with time.
Challenge #3: How long is lunch?
Since we'd already made our lunch before we started, actually eating the lunch only took ~10 minutes. That was a good amount of time to catch up, but not a full lunch break like we'd get in a real office.
We hung out and chatted for another 20 minutes or so, for a total of 30 minutes. This felt about right to us, but ending the call was a little weird, since we were sitting at our desks anyway. I suppose we'll have to get used to it.
Benefit #1: Social Interaction
Most of the calls that Vivek and I do end up being focused on a particular work topic. They are concise and pointed.
During our lunch, we talked about a bunch of random, fun things that we probably wouldn't have otherwise, like his trip to visit his parents and Lebron's China statement. For me, it was fun and energizing to talk about non-work things like we do when we work in the same physical space.
Benefit #2: Creative Work Thinking
At some point, we ended up discussing our content strategy. It started when Vivek randomly expressed a high-level concern that we didn't have much long-tail SEO content, and maybe we were focusing too much on quick, "make a splash" pieces. It was a passing thought that - by his admission - he probably wouldn't have brought up except that we were already chatting anyway. However, it led us to totally rethink our strategy.
Overall, our remote lunch was successful, and I'm looking forward to making improvements to Pragli to make them even better in the future. Next time, we will try eating lunch with video off, instead using live avatars, to see if it's worth less face time to reduce the grossness.
If you're interested in getting closer with your remote teammates, try out Pragli - it's free.