Donuts, coffee, and chess: How we make sure that people get to know each other
Have you ever stopped to think about getting to know your colleagues, whether you work in-office or remote - to what extent do you know your teammates from their favorite hobbies, places they may have lived in, sports they play, or simply what they did on the weekend?
It’s simple - We spend the majority of our waking hours with colleagues more to an extent than we do with our spouses, families, and friends, yet, we may not know them beyond the scope of meetings and calls and the ritual ‘how was your weekend’ and ‘how are you’. Connectivity in getting to know each other results in good communication amongst one another in the long run, where a study found that 39% of those surveyed (working in a physical workplace) felt a greater sense of belonging to the workplace when their colleagues checked in with them. Through reaching out, connecting, and acknowledging coworkers on a personal level, found a significant enhancement to the employee experience in feeling valued and connected, thus contributing to overall better communication, morale, validation, and happiness. This proves the need to connect as vital both personally and professionally amongst colleagues, especially when employees do not share the same workspace physically and are remote-based.
How do we do things at Storyblok?
At Storyblok, we are currently a company of 37 individuals based around the world, from our origins in Austria to Egypt, Brazil, Serbia, and beyond. While we are a remote-first company, championing remote work and the flexibility that it gives, the truth is that without a doubt, the pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity to the lives of remote work, and the way we interact with our colleagues and peers. In a pre-Covid world, if you were working in a remote environment, you could simply hop on a plane, train, or car, or meet in your local co-working space or office in all simplicity for company reunions, retreats, or meetups. Likewise, if you were in an office environment, kitchen or water-cooler conversations could be a norm, and company activities could take place.
Despite it being completely optional, the question is, why do we, a remote-based company, take 30 minutes of our time every two weeks, despite our busy calendars, for a coffee to get to know each other through our laptop screens?
Like any company, Storyblok is not made up of just individuals working on specific projects, tasks, and coming up with the newest knicks and knacks, or the next go-to-market strategy and product updates. Instead, it is made up of unique people who bring not only their professional skills to the table but also a wide plethora of extraordinary interests, abilities, and skills that make each colleague and teammate that much extra special to get to know them beyond the small talk. While our remote nature of work brings us together through different time zones, people’s living rooms on video calls, and the occasional coffee mug in hand during said calls, we sought to bring everyone together, minimizing the distance between each other, one by one with a little help with Donut.
Donuts, coffee & chess
Pre-’Donut’, we had to reach out to one another via Slack messages, checking for a time and day, and with that, sometimes left out the possibility to chat with other colleagues we may not have had the chance to. Donut is an introductory Slack integration that unifies your company’s Slack platform in randomly assigning each fortnight introductions with different team members to take a break, have a coffee, and get to know each other. Through integrated Slack messages, Donut randomly assigns you to someone, verifies your calendars for free times and dates, checks in midway through whether you have met, and initiates with a conversation starter to break the ice.
Such virtual coffee chats have evolved from getting to know each other’s hobbies, sharing pictures of hiking trips, jogging routes, photos of our families, or coffee art, and video-call competitions with who can get the most creative. One particular enjoyment has come out of some of our colleagues’ love for chess from a virtual coffee chat to after-work chess competitions, to find the next Storyblok ‘grandmaster’.
In this case, it all started with a colleague in Brazil - Emanuel, who reached out in the Donut ‘virtual coffee’ Slack channel of who was interested in playing chess. From there, another colleague in the United Kingdom - Akbar, two in Austria - Sascha, and Jordan, and one in Slovakia - Samuel rose to the challenge with second guesses whether they were playing for the sake of the latest Netflix show, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’. Alas, they were not, and soon, an invite to play began, thus starting Storyblok’s very own first-ever chess tournament.
The importance of getting to know your teammates goes beyond the psychology that it improves morale, employee retention, productivity, and nurtures team-building but more so to the fact that we are all human with interests and hobbies, that in the end, make up for who we are as a person.
While the distance between each other keeps us apart, seeing our Northern Hemisphere versus. Southern Hemisphere teammates shift from summer to winter and vice-versa, for now, we have our coffee chats, sharing our weekend stories and hiking photos, chess games, and brainstorm for the next time-wide activities we can all do together. In the meantime, we have at least Donut, our numerous Slack channels, and community online games to thank for bringing us just a little bit closer to creating a community, not just a company.