The impact of COVID-19 and strict regulations on non-emergency workplace gatherings in the state of Victoria in Australia meant Common Code went from a buzzing office to a fully distributed team - and virtually overnight.
While this afforded Common Coder’s who had families overseas to relocate or the flexibility for young families to look after children during extensive periods of lockdown, the lack of “watercooler” or in the ‘Garage’ (a once-purposeful space at the then Common Code office where people could hang about) conversations were quickly missed. These conversations were foundational to getting to know new team members or catching up with others amidst the hustle and bustle of work.
Even with the ability to hang out virtually, remote work can be isolating. For teams that knew each other well around an office and now without the ability to do so or the ability to do so in groups, but especially for new hires.
It is clear that a strong remote team culture depends at least on a clear set of "rules to live by" that everyone is aware of, and a healthy system of meetings, events, and habits that keep people in contact regularly.
Like other workplaces which rely on co-location to build corporate culture, Common Code was at a loss as to what could fill the void. There are increasingly a lot more options for remote team-building.
After watching the briefing video and understanding the mission, our teams were placed into groups of three or four. We all felt the process of signing up was easy and straightforward.
The experience involved our teams completing a set of challenges to safely navigate a spaceship back to Earth. This tested the ability for colleagues to work and communicate under pressure since each team held a critical view of a part of ‘unlocking’ the challenge.
The average time it took our teams to complete the challenges ranged from 38 to 45 minutes. Each team then spent about 20 minutes to debrief afterwards. Not knowing how this fares compared to the average teams and with the clock ticking, at a critical point, a developer at Common Code mentioned, “there is a fine line between what constitutes cheating and non-cheating”. Safe to say, there was only honest fun.
Finally, the debriefing itself was a fun experience to complete. Each team had a chance to run through pre-planned worksheets which are designed for self and team-reflection on how they worked together.
There were many collective and individual learnings which resulted from the team-building experience. It was a common theme among most teams that they wished they paused at the beginning of each challenge to discuss a 'plan of action' before launching into it.
Each person was able to articulate how they might have contributed to the earlier success of their team by voicing a certain morsel of information, or perhaps derailed their teams by over-sharing and not allowing others the chance to quip in.
The debriefing is a central part of how team-building and healthy working culture is fostered in fully distributed companies.
In addition, here are Common Code’s tips for hosting a company-wide virtual escape room with Skyrocket Your Team:
The foundation of distributed teams is communication. With time zone differences which span global and odd hours, and the use of other remote communication tools like Slack, there still remains the possibility for colleagues to miss the announcement to sign up.
It may seem like extra work, but more organised company social events means everyone is on the same page. Make sure instructions to join are communicated and provide more than usual notice, using company-wide announcements to facilitate this.
While this experience would have been great for our developer teams to do for team-building, Common Code decided that we needed to strengthen company-wide team spirit first. Common Code also felt that teams working on projects could be working in silos and wanted to break this by ‘randomising’ the groups so that it was a company-wide socialisation event. This may not be the purpose you are wanting, so keep that in mind in terms of who you put together in teams.
If your company is as competitive as Common Coders, they will be racing the clock! As the virtual escape room allows for 3, 4 or 5 team players, we suggest trying to ensure as much consistency as the time it takes to finish or the challenge can vary depending on how many people participate.
Unlike events in the office where everyone might gather to discuss the experience, remote teams have no way of doing this unless it is planned. Common Code would recommend setting time aside for a company-wide debriefing where everyone gets to chat about how they went compared to other teams.
Otherwise, this could be a follow-up the week after as well to give the chance to relive the learnings and fun - you might even take the debriefing learnings for the company as a whole to report on.
Common Coders enjoyed the self-facilitated nature of the debriefing afterwards (although Skyrocket Your Team because no one was monitoring the ability for everyone to be truthful and honest about the experience as well as writing down what they learnt, this gave us all a chance to better learn about each other’s communication styles.
Now that Common Code has experienced Skyrocket Your Team’s virtual escape room, we might consider making the next experience more competitive by adding prizes for the fastest, or most considerate team, best dressed theme etc.
Who knows what the next virtual team building experience will bring for Common Code - but now future virtual team buildings have a high standard to beat.