Let’s start with numbers - Igloo’s 2019 State of Digital Workspace report states that 70% of employees working remotely feel left out. And, as you probably know very well, keeping your team well-integrated and happy is crucial if you want to maintain the company is running smoothly. It’s also no mere feat to keep the culture of feedback, open discussion, and friendly relationships, even if your team is working from the same office. It’s even harder and requires more planning and work when you need to take care of remote teams, which is often a case in the IT industry. And if it’s such a norm there, it shouldn’t be a problem, right?
There are plenty of tools and techniques to keep everyone informed and included. But keeping remote employees engaged and feeling comfortable with their colleagues can still be challenging. And we need to take a closer look at the current situation, which is quite unique. Plenty of companies switched from in-house work to fully disturbed teams in a manner of a few weeks. It’s also crucial to note that working while social distancing is more challenging than simply working from different places (normally, you can still arrange a meetup from time to time and include plenty of well-tested initiatives).
So why integrate anyway?
As soon as we knew about the possibility of working fully from home, we started to plan how we can maintain the atmosphere we had in our office. Integration is in incorporated into a plethora of our activities and atmosphere, being one of our core values, is important to us and we conduct business with it in mind. Why we put such an emphasis on things that do not give us money? Well, apart from simply liking each other and wanting to spend time together (nobody is forced to integrate!), we believe that integrations actually MAKES money! How so? Well, as our clients said themselves in the video below, a well-integrated team is working best and it shows in the final product of their joint efforts.
Integration works in favour not only when it comes to recruitment of new employees (62 people joined Merixstudio in 2019) but also helps us keep our turnover rate low (only 7 people left our company last year). After all, who wants to switch jobs when they not only like what they do but also feel happy and connected with the place they work at? Constant changes within teams do nothing good when it comes to the projects they work on. Not only they influence morale, but the introduction of a new teammate requires additional time and generates unnecessary costs. But we’re not basing our actions only on our opinion - a Shawn Achor’s research proved that a well-integrated team can raise sales by 37% as well as be 31% more productive and 19% more accurate at their jobs!
We’ve often heat at our events that we seem to like each other and that plenty of people find out that our social media presence is actually true. I always like to say that the cliche of “dynamic team of young professionals” is true when it comes to our group. ;)
How we usually take care of integration
What does integration usually mean to us? Well, for starters, we have big parties for the whole company during which we blow off some steam together in a casual and informal way.
We also have smaller, frequent outings for people with different interests and hobbies - we work-out together, watch movies, have jam sessions, organize hackathons, and much more. We highly encourage grassroot initiatives and are always open to help people organize something. For us, integration and atmosphere are something that can’t be forced or faked - it has to come from people and their willingness to spend time with each other.
Last Friday our Product Design team took on the challenge of creating a new website for showcasing a great unknown of cosmos.🌌 How they did that? By creating an internal workshop for a new NASA website!🚀 To make matters more fun, they worked on the basis of three personas: Stephen Hawking, science journalist, and… E.T.!👽 Armed with markers, newspaper clipings, and everything else you can dream of at a workshop, we got to work on creating storyboards and our visions of NASA’s homepage.👨💻 What’s the final effect of their work? Soon you’ll find out on our Behance! . . . #meetmerix #merixstudio #software #softwarehouse #teamwork #office #officelife #lovemyjob #webdevelopers #softwaredevelopment #programmer #dev #developer #colleagues #development #workshop #uiworkshop #uidesigner #webdesigner #webdesign #websitedesign #programming #programmer #dev #developer #webdeveloperslife #programmerslife #itidustry #learning
In addition to what we do, we also want to incorporate the integration into our office, be it through the equipment (in addition to the obvious Playstations and foosball tables, we, for instance, also have racing simulators) or decor (have you seen our photo walls with pictures from our events, parties and everyday life?). And, a little secret, we also have plans for future add-ons - stagnation is our worst enemy!
Integration while working remotely
As a rule, we can work from home when we want it. But, while switching to wholly remote work due to current circumstances, we faced a challenge of how we can keep the atmosphere when working from home. Obviously, we couldn’t hang out in the office, organize parties, or go play volleyball. However, we deemed the efforts worthy - apart from the reasons described above, keeping the team spirit alive while social distancing helps people still feel like a group that’s in this together.
Long time no see! 📅 It’s been a while since we introduced our podcast #piątkipodeployu on Instagram so it’s high time we told you what we’ve been up to for the last 10 weeks. So far, we’ve recorded 6 episodes in which we talked about various topics, ranging from tech trends and legacy code to seniority in IT. Today, we’re bringing you the one about chill driven development and ways to prevent burnout. Although most of us are reducing commuting to the necessary minimum these days, our Polish listeners can always make themselves a cup of tea and give it a listen in the comfort of their own homes 🎧 And we guarantee - you won’t regret it! Check out our today’s stories for the agenda and the link. #meetmerix #merixstudio #software #softwarehouse #podcast #piatkipodeployu #community #team #teamwork #office #officelife #lovemyjob #development #developers #webdevelopers #softwaredevelopment #programming #programmer #dev #developer #webdeveloperslife #coding #webapp #webapplication #itidustry #colleagues #folks
In addition to that, integrating, even if remotely, helps to tighten bonds between people and supports the diversity of the company (sometimes even more than while face to face, but more about it further into the article!). It also allows people to have a little breather from work, especially since sometimes people tend to overwork when doing their job remotely.
Plenty of reasons to keep grinding and come up with innovative integration ideas! Even if, let’s not beat around the bush, integrating remote teams is a bit harder than those working together in the office - you need to put more effort into creating and maintaining bonds between people. So, let’s get to it - how did we step up to this challenge?
Rules of a great remote integration
1. Know your team
And, as I said before, the integration works ONLY when it’s not forced. You need to know your team and know it well - what works for them, what are their likes and dislikes, strong points and difficulties. If you are one of the people responsible for integration, you probably know the culture of your company, so stick to what’s familiar, especially if you need to work in these unfamiliar times! Don’t force ideas that work well for your competition just for the sake of it - be empathetic and give people what they really want!
2. Include leaders into integration
Integrating the whole company is, of course, important. However, keep in mind that people spend the majority of their time working within their teams - be in while cooperating on the project or within their departments. So, to keep their bonds strong, include leadership into integration! They know their teams best and can help save the team spirit. And, after all, I’ve already mentioned how important it is to keep the business afloat! A great leader knows whether ideas you propose will work and is the first to be informed of the struggles related to the remote work that you can address in your integration activities.
3. Don’t be afraid to speak with people
This point is multithreaded. First of all, let me be blunt - it’s crucial that you don’t use integration as a mean of pretending that everything is peachy when it’s not! Before you take care of team spirit, you need to ensure that the whole company is informed of the state of the business and how management is dealing with it. After all, nobody will want to partake in fun activities when they are uninformed and worried!
Also, extending the topic of not forcing integration, speak and listen to people. Respond to their real needs and check in with them about the effects of your efforts. In our case, we worked together with Marketing, HR, and Product Design teams to come up with ideas. In addition to the internal survey about the current situation, we also asked people whether they liked the integrations we implemented, what are their opinions on the execution, and if we should change something. Also, allow them to implement their own ideas - similar to our approach to initiatives in the office, we are always open to grassroot activities. It’s the best review of your efforts when people want to spend time without you even proposing it! In my opinion, listening to people and allowing them to sometimes take over is the only way to go - you get a variety of views on the topic on different stages of integration and can respond accordingly to make your work effective.
4. Be considerate
Let’s say it loud and clear again - working while social distancing is not like working from home! Working remotely while everyone is in the office is nowhere near working from home because you’re not allowed to go outside. People have different living arrangements and react to this new situation differently, you need to acknowledge that! So don’t force participation in all additional activities if your coworkers are combining working from home with parenting and can’t find time for it. Find a way of integrating them in a way that will suit them - within even the most diverse group you’ll find common factors that will unite everyone.
Also, you may have the best intentions and your creativity gave you a plethora of great ideas. So, to not waste any of them and respond to a variety of need, you need to implement them all. Well, that’s a big no-no in my opinion. Just imagine being bombarded by invitations and messages - you’d soon get frustrated and stop responding whatsoever. So don’t flood people with messages without remembering that they are, after all, working - find the sweet spot of being seen but not disturbing the peace.
5. Be consistent and don’t overcomplicate things
As it is in life, quality comes over quantity, so stick to ideas that you know that work and keep them consistent. If you introduced something as a series, keep your promise - prioritize it in your weekly plan or ask for help if you’re worried about making it on time. Taking into consideration the previous points, it’s best, in my opinion, if you propose something two/three times a week for a couple of weeks (depending on how engaging your integrations are) instead of constantly introducing new things. You save your and your teammates time if you don’t have to explain rules - if you see that something evokes positive reactions and has great feedback, stick to it!
You also save time and give yourself a bigger chance of great response if you keep your ideas fairly intuitive and simple - the less you have to explain it, the better! Sometimes it means taking one minute of participators’ time - but it’s better to create a fun, memorable minute, that taking an hour of someone’s time and making them worry about their tasks. Or, even worse, being the reason behind working after hours!
Examples of integrations we implemented while working from home
Now it’s time for a fun part of the article - I’m done with giving advice and start boasting! ;) Or rather start telling you what ideas we implemented and how they worked for us. So, here we go!
1. Slack games
Since daily communication is based on Slack, we wanted to stick with it for the basis of our team building activities. It didn’t require the introduction of new tools and saved the time of everyone involved. In accordance with the advice I wrote above, we wanted to keep things simple and include our coworkers into the creation of our integration. And knowing them quite well, we were certain that they would like to have a bit of laugh! We, therefore, invited them to play plenty of games known from childhood (once again, simplicity and familiarity were key!).
In a quick survey, we asked people to share their most interesting stories or give us one truth and a lie, which we then transformed into riddles. The rules were foolproof - on one day we send the question, on the other, we give out the answer. And those two posts generated plenty of engagement that didn’t take too much of anyone’s time! When we asked for feedback, we found out that those short breaks were a nice reminder of the atmosphere in the office. Some people even said that it felt that they were once again part of a group because working on their own can get a bit lonely. Others admitted that they didn’t have time to participate in the guessing and jokes, but found it pleasant to come back to our posts and see what people wrote. Sounds like an easy success to me!
2. Creating a list of recommendations
We didn’t want to shy away from the fact that the current situation can be a bit difficult for some. And even if you find having a break from the previously hectic life quite nice, staying home 24/7 can get tiring, even if you have Netflix account. So we created a series of recommendations to help others make life a little more pleasurable which we then shared with everyone on social media.
Starting with the suggestion of our favourite movies, TV-shows, books, podcasts, YouTube channels, and more, we sparked plenty of conversations about pop culture. We created an internal playlist for working from home, collected tried and tested ideas from parents for parents, and wrote down a list of restaurants and food deliveries for the time when cooking gets a bit too much. We’re a diverse bunch, it was always clear to us, but it was nice to learn something new about each other while simultaneously introducing something new in the repeatable days of self-isolation.
3. After-hour activities
While plenty of our initiatives took time during working hours, we also included some integration activities outside of work. Being unable to go out together or even play the (beloved by many) foosball, we decided to do the next available thing - play online games while hanging out together on Google Hangouts! To be completely honest with you, it was initiative that we wanted to incorporate as EB team but were beat up to it by our colleagues, who were first to ask everyone on Slack whether they want to play a game and hang out. Well, we could sulk but we won’t - that’s a great sign that people don’t need encouragement to spend time with each other! And if you want to play something with your team, I highly recommend Skribbl.io - it was tried and tested by our team! :)
An example of good use of office monitors after hours ;)
But flexing your mind while trying to draw is not the only type of exercise we did while working from home! Working from home, without the need to get up and go for a meeting, lunch break, or simply to move around the office, can be quite challenging also for your back. Sitting by the desk for hours on end does nothing good for your posture, that’s for sure! Due to that, we wanted to support each other in our athletic endeavours. We’re still unable to organize our weekly volleyball matches, but we can for sure encourage each other on Slack! We’ve created a channel where boasting about moving from a couch onto a mat is not a faux pas and where we arrange weekly yoga sessions. After all, it’s harder to pass on exercises when you’ve arranged them with someone!
4. Spread some good vibes
I can’t stress this enough - times are weird, y'all! We need to be patient and accommodating with each other. After all, we don’t know if someone may be struggling with their new life situation. Sometimes it means being positive and simply hanging out together. So if you usually take a coffee or lunch break with a group, take them virtually! There’s no rule that doesn’t allow you to organize a meeting that has only checking in with each other on the agenda! For instance, our Marketing team meets up every Friday for half an hour to eat and laugh together - it’s a nice reminder of the vibe we usually have in the office. I know that plenty of other teams also do this - it’s a great way to ensure we still feel united.
Another way you can spread good vibes is by… spreading good vibes! By that, I mean literally sending people some good news - be it about the improvement in the current situation, some interesting facts, or funny videos (who doesn’t love funny videos!). And I know that it sounds silly and stereotypical, what does it change. Well, it actually does heaps of good if you plan it well! We decided to start our #GoodNewsFriday series after we saw the need of some good news among people and it was warmly welcomed by our teammates - whenever I mentioned to someone that I’m working on it, I heard that it’s a great idea and gives people another reason to await Fridays. Sticking to our own rules, #GoodNewsFridays are posted once a week (consistency) and in one post (respecting others’ time). So if you think that your teammates would like it, I can’t recommend it enough!
5. Try to maintain life as normal
My last recommendation is to look for things you can maintain regardless of the situation. For us, it was sharing knowledge with each other. My wonderful teammate Adrianna has been organising our internal lightning talks for quite some time now - we met up in Bułgarska room and presented the challenges we faced during work, projects we finished, and anything else we deemed worth sharing. At the same time, those talks were broadcasted life for the whole company and were viewed by many, so why couldn’t we keep organising them? We’ve had three lightning talks already and not only it was great to learn something new, it was also really nice to feel normal and like nothing changed.
Michał, our Business Developer, giving his presentation during a lightning talk
Time to get to work
That would be all - I think I gave you plenty of reasons why you should keep maintaining a team spirit a priority. Regardless whether your company is similar to ours or not, take a closer look at what changed when you switched to remote work, talk with people what they lack, and respond accordingly! Maintaining what you’ve already created and taken care of will for sure be easier than trying to fix something, that broke while we’re all working from homes. So be understanding, take care of yourself and your teammates, and hopefully see you soon during industry events!