In 2020, at that confusing time in life when the pandemic was a new word in our vocabularies,  I wrote a blog for Automation Logic that laid out our initial plan of how we would tackle the uncertainty of the initial stages of lock-down. We focused on 5 topics

1- Trusting and empowering people

2- Ensuring Business Continuity

3- Effective use of collaborative tools

4- Maintaining the culture

5- Having fun

During what I can only describe as the most difficult year of my working life, I think our approach to focus on these 5 areas has been more than effective in running completely remote teams maintaining remote digital systems. One of these topics has definitely proven to be more fundamental than the others and I believe is key to our teams continued success.

Having fun.

While our news feeds and personal lives were in a state of constant flux, we needed to ensure our serotonin was provided regularly during our work schedule. Now I’m not saying that all the work we do should be fun, there’s often manual work involved with new processes we’ve yet to automate or administrative tasks that can take up our time,  but we’ve found that by having fairly regular fun we’re more able to deliver value and more able to engage with our work and also help maintain our mental health.

Here is a short list of some of the things we’ve implemented. They may seem small but we’ve definitely noticed the difference in the level of engagement and the sustained ability to work.

Fun Standups – Standups are our daily work update. Our chance to start the day, let the team know what we’re doing, let them know if we’re blocked and make any team announcements. Thanks to our glorious delivery manager, Erin Davies, we now try to have at least one fun standup a week. These fun standups have been as simple as saying our favourite movies, to more involved ones like a household treasure hunt for weird gifts. Fancy dress has played a part as we’ve had a school disco themed standup, on Wednesday we wear pink and an all green day. These short bursts of fun give our team much needed time to show a little bit of who we are before taking on the challenges of the day.

Green Day | On Wednesdays we wear pink | Something to do with Cats

Weekly live coding tutorials – Being remote can feel quite isolating. One way we’ve found to bring us tech-folk together is to have weekly scheduled coding tutorials. I have taken on the challenge of re-implementing one of our legacy tools into our new command-line utility. Using a Google Meets “share screen” feature to present the content, we’re also able to record the sessions and keep it as an asset for re-watching/relearning and it can be consumed by those who are busy with live service work or other priorities.

Book club – Recently  We’ve started reading “The pragmatic programmer”  as a book club initiative. We’ve found this helps us with the work we do on client site and puts it into wider context. It also helps us compare what we do against current best practices and exposes the team to new ideas and helps us bond by bringing us together over something that isn’t work for a few minutes. 

Weekly workshops – Similar to the coding tutorials but with responsibility distributed more evenly across the team, the weekly workshops are decided on via a Trello board vote, with the highest voted topics each week being done on Fridays (to give the end of the week a more end of the week kind of feeling). These workshops help to really highlight the many different facets of tech that interest people and also expose areas of the industry to people who may not have seen them before.

Pairing and swarming – Tech can sometimes be tricky when you get stuck on a problem. What we have found effective while working remotely is to pair up on complicated tasks, in a traditional pair programming setup. Sometimes that hasn’t been enough so we have come up with the concept of swarming. Getting a group of 4 people together in a google meet means more eyes on a shared screen, more ideas.

 

Different levels of experience also acts as a benefit as it means that more senior team members can use their knowledge to help resolve issues, as well as the junior team members having the freedom to ask questions and come up with their own novel solutions.

AL’s Got Talent – A member of our team, working with the AL entertainment committee, put together an excellent night of entertainment featuring singers, musicians, unique acts (you wouldn’t believe me if I told you) and of course yours truly. I chose to do a live photoshop of our General Manager, Vicky’s, daughter to transform her into The Hulk. Having these events in the calendar has given us something to look forward to and work towards that is cause for celebration.  Keeping the attendance at these events open and optional also means if people aren’t feeling up to the “live show” they can always catch up on demand in their own leisure if they want to (we’re able to record these sessions). 

During a time when technology skills are in higher demand than ever, what’s most important for any technology business is to provide a work environment for your talented employees that they want to roll out of bed and boot up their laptops for, even if it’s initially just to see exactly how much pink their colleagues are wearing, or what the story is behind their favourite mug.

What we’ve learnt from our year of injecting fun into our work schedules is that the other factors we identified come more easily.

-Being able to have fun for a few minutes in standup demonstrates to our team that we trust them and we empower them to use that energy to help deliver value to our clients. 

-By being able to deliver value to our clients we’re ensuring business continuity through our agile practices

-Using the collaborative tools to dress up and talk about our interests makes us comfortable when we need to swarm, do training and fix difficult problems

-By expressing ourselves and giving each other space to have fun we maintain our culture, and our culture is what truly sets us apart from other companies.

 

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