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Remote work is almost normal... but what about remote teaminess?
Balsamiq employees have been spread around the world and mostly working from home since we started in 2008. We've learned a lot about how to work remotely effectively, and continue to improve our processes as the company grows and we add more and more remote employees.
We've gotten pretty good at all the work stuff: we have the right amounts of trust, autonomy, self-motivation and just-enough structure to be able to work efficiently from our homes around the world. These days, there is a lot of literature out there to help companies reach this point. We recently published a blog post about Remote Working FAQs.
One topic that's not often talked about though is how to cultivate teaminess — the feeling of belonging to a team — for global, remote teams. How can we keep everyone feel like we're all working together towards the same goals? How can we be more than just work colleagues that only see each other in person once or twice a year?
Over the years we've found that when it comes to cultivating teaminess, the more effort you put into it, the better.
Not everyone is interested in the same things and not everyone responds with the same enthusiasm to different initiatives, so offering a plurality of choice is an effective way to increase engagement.
Below is a quick sample of things we do to try and get people closer together.
Note that participation in all of these initiatives is encouraged, but completely optional.
In our internal wiki, we have a section called Personal Pages. When someone joins Balsamiq, we encourage them to create a page to share a little bit about their personal life with the rest of the team. Family photos, pets, hobbies... anything that they want to share about their life outside of work.
Every month, we have a company-wide online meeting. To go with the meeting, we have a page in the wiki that has the meeting agenda on it. We also have a section of this page called Personal News, where each employee can share what has happened to them in the last month outside of work.
It's amazing how many comments happen on this simple little wiki page!
Near the end of each company-wide meeting, we take turns doing what we call a Personal Pecha Kucha presentation. One employee each month volunteers to share something about their personal life with the rest of the team, using the Pecha Kucha presentation style. It can be photos from your house, or your town, or about your family...
It's very informal and always fun.
Right after the presentation, we always end the meeting with a few minutes of Pets and Babies and all-things-cute Time. We unmute everyone's microphone, fetch our loved ones, and let the cuteness overload unfold. 😄
We are in the process of standardizing our workstation design: everyone at Balsamiq, no matter where they live, can get the same sit/stand desk, the same fancy office chair, the same lamp, desk plant, laptop, monitor, etc. And these are the same exact items that will be in our new office. Basically it should feel the same, wether you work from home or from the office.
I took this idea straight from Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp.
We use KnowYourCompany, which sends what they call a Social Question every Friday. Something like "What's your earliest memory?" or "Do you have a good recipe to share?". Everyone replies and everyone else sees those replies on Monday.
It's simple but really effective.
Once a month, we discuss a movie or a tv series previously suggested by someone during the Media Club. It can be a light-hearted and fun film to share some laughs and socialize, or a thought-provoking documentary. We discussed About Time and Stranger Things, The Goonies and The Sixth Sense. We talked about the series Medici, Masters of Florence in preparation of the 2017 Balsamiq Retreat in Florence.
Everyone can join the meeting, even if they haven't seen the film. They're always a lot of fun, and always a bonding experience.
Every Friday, we do something called Friday FunTimes - we pick 5 employees at random and scheduled them for a 30-minute Google Hangout with no agenda whatsoever. This gives everyone a chance to talk to people they might not normally talk to, and to chat about weekend plans and other often trivial, non-work-related topics... just like in-real-life friends would do.
I took this idea straight from Michael Pryor, CEO of Trello.
We hope the 7 tricks above will be useful to you. We'll be sharing more in the future.
But first, we'd love to hear from you! How does your company cultivate teaminess with your global, remote workforce?
Add your tricks in the comments and everyone will benefit!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
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At my company, we do Beer Thursdays! At 5pm EST, anyone who can join hops on a Hangout and we have a virtual happy hour. It is our chance to get to know each other more informally and compare our beverage preferences 🙂
Nice Kaitlyn! We used to do that for special occasions as well, but with our 9-hour timezone difference, it meant that the California folks had to start drinking very early in the morning! Ha! 🙂