In mid-March last year, the Switch office had one last drink together before we all went to work from home for a couple of weeks till this COVID thing blew over.
More than a year later the pandemic has shaped our agency in ways we could have never imagined, and the who, how, why, and where variables of our work life have all shifted. We now have a team that works almost completely virtually and that has allowed us to offer great flexibility to our team members and to our recruitment efforts. We’ve hired designers in Bucharest (hey Sorina!), had marketeers go to Finland for a week and stay there for a year and we have an island hopping Web PM who pops back home to Corsica regularly.
We’ve always encouraged team members to work from wherever they felt comfortable, but this is true now more than ever. Our creative team meets up at funky little cafes to drink way too much coffee and frantically type away, and our business development team has a favourite Naxxar coffee spot for our Friday meetings.
The new flexibility is brilliant, but these changes meant we also had to change the ways we HRed our team (yes I can invent verbs, Elise, it’s totally allowed)
From onboarding to reviews, to teambuilding our HR systems had to change to accommodate the fact that half our team was now only accessible through a video camera.
But those parts were easy, the day-to-day care and feeding of our team has moved wholly online, as we set up weekly department and town hall meetings and quarterly HR catchups. We’ve now successfully onboarded three new people by email and video call.
The hard part was replacing the more spontaneous interactions within the team. Here’s the thing, we Switchers like each other, we want to spend time together and chat about random things, we miss each other and it affects our work when we don’t get to goof off together. But spontaneity is much harder when you don’t have a coffee machine to gather around and bitch about video game upgrades (or whatever it is Luke, Ed and Elise are always talking about).
So what did we do?
Weekly Team Meet-ups
Well, our weekly office online meet-up is usually a time when we pass on information, make announcements and generally catch everyone up on the running of Switch. But occasionally we just have a week when the meeting is left open to everyone to chat about whatever random thing comes up, or just smile happily at their friends.
We’ve started twice-monthly Switch brainstorms which are focused on getting people to think creatively about a variety of topics and interact with people they don’t normally speak to in their daily work lives. And we set a rule, work stuff over Google chat, personal stuff over Whatsapp. This way our Whatsapp group can be used for fun stuff, like fermenting a revolution against the government department who stole our parking places in Mriehel, without distracting from work messages.
Spontaneous Catch-ups and Virtual Events
We have regular catch-ups in smaller groups that are just a chance to vent or chat about non-work stuff, some of these happen IRL, some of them happen virtually, on some occasions we’ve just worked on random craft projects together as we chatted over Google meet. We’ve had to find ways to move our annual Christmas and Summer get togethers online, last year we even had a virtual Secret Santa.
It takes more effort when we’re not all in the same room together, we’re currently discussing implementing a virtual morning hangout session that people can pop in to and have a casual chat as they gear up for the day. We’re constantly thinking of ways to increase team interaction, both during work or after hours, or as a hybrid of both. We’ve asked our more tech forward team members to keep an eye out for anything new that could help us to keep improving.
Not every company needs the level of social interaction that we do, but every organisation that is moving to a more hybrid system needs to think about giving people ways to interact outside of meetings and emails. Meetings and emails get things done, but they don’t make a team and then don’t make a happy workplace. That workplace may increasingly be moving online but it still needs to nurture the people within it.
So, in conclusion, people still need to interact socially at work, and it’s our responsibility to give them ways to do that if we want to foster a happy and healthy work environment.