Adding personality and creating realtionships to a remote workplace
In EasyPractice we love our product. Everyday we check in – remotely from all around the world – and contribute the best way we can in the different roles we have. Everyone with a joint mission of making EasyPractice better. As of this time of writing we are ~25 colleagues in the entire team. We are spread out across product development, designers, customer supporters, and marketing and the entire team is working remotely. While we all value the benefits of working remotely and the flexibility in structuring our workdays as we see best, we do miss out on some of the benefits that are received by having an office space.
Being the COO of EasyPractice I try to think of ways to create a great working environment in EasyPractice. Part of that naturally becomes the social dimensions of leading a company. I have found that basic communication and building relationships between colleagues is a necessity for having a foundation for personality in the company. How remote companies achieve this via an internet cable is something that interests me. But what do I mean with personality? And why do I believe this is important?
Firstly, personality is something unique and personality seems to carry a variety of definitions and perceptions. And this makes sense but I will not go into these. However, personality, to me, is about knowing one-another. By knowing and understanding the people you work closely with, communication becomes easier and more frictionless. Secondly, and obviously, these are important attributes for any well functioning team. The question of adding personality into a company then also becomes about improving communication as they are tightly related.
In this blogpost I will lay out how EasyPractice seeks to add that human element and personality to our organisation while most of us have never even met each other before. A quick Google search revealed a bunch of guiding posts on how to add personality to a remote workspace but I do think it is all about culture and how you find ways and tools that work for you and your organisation. Thus, the following examples seek to tell a story of how we use these tools in our everyday live. Maybe it inspires you to do the same? Or something completely different?
But firstly, the picture below shows exactly how distributed EasyPractice really is. I think it is truly amazing to run a professional company when we have colleagues from all over the world.
This is a world map where every green EasyPractice check mark represents one or more EasyPractice employees.
Now, to the list. And we will start with what EasyPractice does to replace the office banter you might find in any office space.
“Goodmorning” build relationships and adds personality
Instant messaging is the first on our list. In EasyPractice we use Slack for instant messaging; however, the amount of tools available for instant messaging are overwhelmingly big.
In a remote company it is not uncommon that timezones vary across colleagues and teams. Nevertheless, instant messaging does accommodate the synchronised conversation you would find in an office setting. And Slack makes it really easy to organise teams, direct messages, and company wide messages into “channels” that ensure the correct information is shared with the right people.
But how do instant messaging bring that sense of personality into EasyPractice? I would say it does so in two ways.
Firstly, we have a great habit of writing “good morning” to each other in one of our public channels. Second, we use it for checking in.
We have experienced a simple “good morning” can be very valuable in our organisation. I’m sure it has become “something we just do” by this point but it does create a forum to share stories or other non-work related conversations. A simple addition of “Anyone do something interesting this weekend?” can create a wall of GIFs and jokes shared among the entire organisation.
At some point, someone even shared emojis of medals on their morning messages so that the first one to write “Good morning” would add a goldmedal to their message as a joke. Currently, I do not remember who started it or where it came from but it did add some personality and social interaction among our remote colleagues.
Secondly, we have a “check-in” bot that nudges employees to share what they are planning to work on for today and if they are experiencing any obstacles. This is something we mostly use for project and development work. The check-in gives us an overview of what is going on and our team leads to better follow progress and assist where necessary.
So, tip number one would be to find ways to have casual instant communication.
EasyFridays: Our way of making it “less remote”
Some might argue that there are a great number of other ways to enhance communication even more than with instant messaging. And I agree. While instant messaging has its perks, relying too much on it does carry other risks. From a leadership perspective, communication is one of the most important things to be aware of. But the communication is not merely what we say. It is how we say it. And here instant messaging falls short as you are not able to use gesticulation, mimic, tone of voice, volume, and body language. All of these contribute to our way of communicating. Some might even argue that the above listed types of communication make up for more of the communication than just “what we say.”
Hence, video chats are incredibly valuable to supplement your daily communication in a team. When having difficult conversations or conversations about topics that require you to think about how things are said, video calls can give you that opportunity. Luckily, Google Meet is just one of many provider examples that allow you to set up a virtual meeting room. It is especially useful as EasyPractice already uses G Suite in many other ways. And with its direct integration to Slack you are a few clicks away from setting up a meeting room.
Another way to add the human element into a work week is to take a typical “after work drinks” to a virtual setting. In EasyPractice we do EasyFridays. Here we invite all employees to join a video call where we have no formal agenda and a place to share stories about anything really. One thing to be aware of is that the amount of attendees can ruin the experience. If you are lucky enough to have many attendees consider doing a kahoot quiz as a social activity that multiple people can participate in.
This brings me to tip number 2. Add video meetings to your arsenal.
Company get together
Back in 2019 we were lucky enough to be able to invite all employees in EasyPractice on a company trip to Barcelona. The company trip was arranged with the purpose of actually meeting everyone. We are far beyond instant messaging and video calls. Now we are actually getting to know each other by being away from home and together on a trip.
How all this was arranged could be a blogpost for itself, however, inviting all employees to meet up at a physical location was hugely beneficial to the team, work spirit, and communication across the company.
Nevertheless, arranging a company trip like this can be very time consuming. Information needs to be gathered from everyone in the organisation and everything has to be planned. Plane tickets, activities, hotel, transportation, and all other things that one needs to be aware of, takes time to figure out. However, the reward of the experiences shared is so giving to everyone. I really hope this is something that we get a chance to do again.
If you are reading this and find this idea interesting I would suggest you make sure your trip balances three important things. Firstly, social activities where experiences are shared is very important. EasyPractice went on several visits to city attractions, food experiences, and a segway ride around the city. Secondly, professional activities where work-related topics are discussed. We had talks from different departments about the work they do, why it is important and how they carry out daily operations. This inspired group-thinking and understanding of other domains inside the organisation. A developer gets a clearer view of customer support and why that is crucial at the same time a content creator gets inside into product development. Such knowledge sharing can be difficult to get in an e-mail or another day caught up in daily assignments and meetings. Brainstorming sessions or group thinking might also be activities your team can explore. Third, and lastly, free time is something to consider. Meeting new people and being away from family can be very taxing. Make sure to schedule time where everyone can rewind and recharge.
Dinner’s on EasyPractice
In the fall of 2021 EasyPractice was very honored to receive the Gazelle award in Denmark. It is a prestigious award given out to companies that have several years with growing revenue. It goes without saying that this was not possible without our amazing team but how do you celebrate the success of a collected effort when you are a remote company in the middle of a corona pandemic?
A celebration was obligated but it was not possible for us to do it together as a team.
Our way of celebrating this great achievement was to invite everyone in EasyPractice out for dinner. But not with us – with their families. Hence, all employees were given the opportunity to invite their family out for a lovely dinner and send the receipt to EasyPractice.
But this is not all. We took it one step further.
The core theme of this post has been creating and building relationships across an organisation, so how does this achieve this?
I would say it does in two ways.
First, being acknowledged for your efforts is a basic human need. The dinner initiative was a way to do that.
Second, we encouraged all employees to share the picture of their night out with their family.
A simple addition of sharing the experience was a great idea to make it into so much more.
Relationships are so important for any organization and team. Relationships can be more challenging to build and maintain when physical contact and engagement is limited.
Thus, finding ways to incorporate that human element and connection is crucial to have a healthy organisation.