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Co-workers connect by bringing pub to office

VIRTUAL BOTTOMS UP: Mr Ricky Hussmann, the West Virginia-based lead mobile engineer for Shake, is a regular on-screen presence at the New York-based company's virtual happy hours and meetings.


    Oct 22, 2013

    Co-workers connect by bringing pub to office

    A LITTLE after 4pm on a recent Thursday, Mr Eric Fleming, the head of strategy for Mash+Studio, a content-marketing firm in SoHo, gathered his co-workers for happy hour.

    In a conference room, they arranged a makeshift bar on a reclaimed wood table: A litre of Sprite, a tray of cucumber slices, some lemon slices, a bottle of Pimm's and glasses.

    After stirring up the drinks, they started chatting. Mr Fleming turned to Ms Jenni Hayward, who is in charge of business development, and asked whether a project was close to completion.

    Ms Hayward was not in SoHo, but at Mash's partner firm in London, drinking her own Pimm's. Thanks to Beam, a 1.5m-tall video-conferencing robot, her presence was felt in New York.

    The occasion may sound like an outtake from TV show The Office, but some happy hours are moving from the corner pub to the cloud.

    With firms increasingly working with employees who are spread across states and continents, these sessions have become a way to foster workplace bonding and deepen relationships.

    Shake, a New York-based start-up that has made a smartphone app to create legal documents, also holds regular happy hours with its lead mobile engineer Ricky Hussmann, who is based in West Virginia, thanks to Google Hangout and a 24-inch monitor that broadcasts his presence to the office.

    "It's a nice separation from the daily grind," said Mr Hussmann. The happy hours help him develop friendships with co-workers he does not usually meet.

    Other firms, such as Mixbook, a firm that creates custom photo books, bond over non-drinking activities, like video games.