Despite being a digital company, our work together was very focused on being physically together. We have a beautiful open office, with lots of spaces to sit and talk — two roof terraces, a counter at the kitchen with bar stools, three couches, a long communal dining table, desks in pods of 4, and even a sitting area that has fake green grass and no tables or chairs — just bean bags.
Before the quarantine, we had only one team member who was virtual. And like much of the world, from one day to the next, we became a fully remote-working company. All meetings remote. No more shared space and time around white boards, or layered conversations with flowing post-it notes on blank walls.
As we pride ourselves in being agile — not doing agile — we quickly developed some approaches, testing current tools to use in new ways and new tools to help us remain productive. What didn’t change — and a core part of our organizational culture — is a focus on people.
Our organizational mission is closely tied to our company purpose of giving people more time to do things they find meaningful. This means, we are always looking for ways to be effective in our collaboration.
Keeping an eye on mood, motivation, energy, and emotional health was a key driver for where we focused our efforts in the organisational team at the beginning of quarantine. What has emerged — and is continually evolving — are some tools and practices that have helped us support each other, despite being remote.
Maybe they’ll inspire you to re-think your own possibilities.
I’m a fan of Modern Agile so I’ve grouped our “remote-but-connected” practices into one of the four corresponding principles.
Make People Awesome
Rituals for Starting & Closing the Week
Shortly after we went into quarantine with the rest of Europe, our “remote-but-connected” weekly surveys showed us that people were really lacking information and felt very isolated. In the past, we did Monday morning check-ins for whoever wanted to join, but had stopped them after moving our offices a few times. This new situation seemed like a great reason to start them again.
So, now every week we are guaranteed a moment where we have regular contact, providing a boost for the week ahead as well as closure at the end of the week — which is important to disconnect from work and start the weekend.
Basic Structure: 20 minute meeting invite in the calendar with a zoom link for 9:30 am on Mondays/4:30 on Fridays.
Check-ins: Opened with music (using Spotify), circulating topics on a theme (proverbs, videos, interviews) and a quick “Gini-shuffle” (using zoom rooms and a question connected to the topic), things to look forward to, ending with one-word barometer.
Check-outs: Wins-of-the-week (open mic for anyone who wants to share), one word barometer (tell us how you’re feeling right now, choose the next person, shut off your camera and mute yourself). Everyone come back on-line with camera and mic to say good-bye.
Ritual for starting meetings
t’s strange to arrive in a quiet, blank space, and we noticed it meant people were not present or lacked focus when they arrived. In order to help people “arrive”, we create a good mood and connect them to the communal space with music. As people arrive there is an up-beat song that we slowly fade out until one or two minutes into the start time of the meeting. We’ve noticed that people smile, start moving to the tempo, and generally loosen up. Some even arrive early to just hang out and listen to the music.
This has inspired other music ideas — as we now have a “jukebox” in slack, which is connected to a playlist in Spotify. Ginis can request songs and we often use this to grab favorites for meeting starts.
With all the stress and bad news in the world during the quarantine period, we noticed there were some people really stepping up and engaging. We wanted to understand where their energy and enthusiasm was coming from and to spread “the love” and positivity around.
Our interviews are simple, with 3 questions, with a document where their answers are recorded. This is shared with each interviewee, so they can revise and polish their stories. And of course, each person is given the option to keep it in written form only, or to share it openly at a check-in meeting in the future.
The benefits we’ve noticed:
- shines a light on what’s positive
- reminds people why they are working in this way
- energizes team members to start the week
- highlights our diversity
- creates reflection moment for those interviewed and those listening
Make Safety a Prerequisite
We realized pretty quickly that being fully remote meant it was easy for people to become invisible, or to feel isolated. So we wanted to make sure to give everyone a voice, a regular moment to be seen and heard.
Weekly Remote Survey
We immediately instituted a weekly survey using google surveys, that had a mix of rating and comment questions. The first question is kept the same, “how are you feeling about working remote?” followed by “what can the organization do to increase this score, if anything?” The second and third questions evolve, depending on issues or topics that emerge during the week. The survey closes Monday morning and the results are shared at the check-in.
It is similar to an eNPS (employee net promoter score) and we tend to have an average of 60% of the company participating. The success lies in the adjustment of the second and third questions and speaking to the results immediately. We also refer back to them as we make adjustments in processes or approaches.
Online Meeting Etiquette
It might seem simple, but we’ve discovered we really do need to ask people to turn their mic off (or make sure that is set automatically in zoom) and have their camera on. Almost immediately Ginis began having fun with their backgrounds — taking pictures of beer gardens (we are in Munich, after all), nature, funny colleagues, and the actual office itself — to create humor and laughter in a much needed moment.
Being able to see each other increased participation, engagement, and made for better communication. Using the chat to post questions and record insights is also a useful practice.
Guess my workspace
We used code names to make sure nothing was given away. Cat Stevens gets credit for this one. ;-)
We had a very inspired and industrious team member who set up a contest of guessing our colleagues’ workspaces. We all took photos of our workspaces (mostly cleaned up, to make it a bit more challenging) and sent it to a dropbox. It was linked to a google survey to track guesses. In the end, we felt closer to each other by seeing the personal workspaces, but also came to understand what environment we were each having to working in. Many times these new spaces were not ideal, and created real empathy for each other. In fact, we learned a lot about other Ginis because we were having to pay attention to the smallest of details.
Deliver Value Continuously
Like many digital companies, most of our collaboration technology was based on whiteboards and post-it notes. With remote work we switched to those (at first) that were already in our suite of tools. For us, this meant using the Google jamboard. Although very basic, and not big, it was the fastest way to get things done because it was the easiest to learn.
We’ve since added Mural and Funretro as well. We love to try out new tools, just like everyone else — however we’ve realized that at some point you just need to get shit done. So we focus more on our processes and less on the tool we use to get it done. Pretty good is good enough for now.
Getting Everyone Involved
Something we were already using a lot were Liberating Structures. This collection of approaches and methods has been simplified and made repeatable by anyone. There is always a repeating pattern of timeboxes and group sizes, and they get everyone involved so that all ideas are heard and seen. We’ve been able to take a fully interactive in-person tool set and make it work for us virtually.
Get people to meetings online — on time: Cake Bank
A sweet apology that encourages us all to show up on time! (Thanks Tilo)
Being right next to your computer does not guarantee that everyone will be on time. We discovered, like many others, that it is even easier to be late for meetings while remote, because you aren’t considering “travel time” between rooms, and we are slowly desensitized to many of our calendar alarms.
We already have a loving reminder at Gini that everyone’s time is valuable, and if you’ve been invited to a meeting and are late, you owe us all cake. While remote, we continue this with the “Cake Bank” — a google doc where people can enter their names and when they were late. Once we are back in our office, we are looking forward to some delicious cakes!
Experiment & Learn Rapidly
It might not be obvious, but everything we’ve tried has been an experiment. Each solution had to be adjusted or tweaked or revised. We are transparent that each idea is an experiment, and we are clear about why we are trying it and what we hope to gain. We are also open when it doesn’t work and when we adjust something because the feedback was indicating it was necessary.
As the world evolves — so do we
We humans are incredibly adaptable and creative. As the world continues to evolve and change, let’s make sure we keep people at the center of how the future emerges, and we’ll be better than ever. We’ll be awesome.
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If this sounds like an environment where you would thrive, have a look at our open positions and get in touch. We are looking for people to join us on our mission.