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How our remote team makes time to bond

The happiest hour

Coworkers huddled around Yuri Victor’s computer on a Friday afternoon.
Nozlee Samadzadeh

Imagine having a meeting at 5 p.m. every Friday. Now imagine having a meeting at 5 p.m. Friday that you look forward to.

This is when the Storytelling Studio has our weekly knowledge share. And we all love it.

The meeting is called BTW, short for "By The Way," and it lasts about 30 minutes. It’s a dedicated time that we’ve set aside to share stories and knowledge with each other, air issues, celebrate successes, and generally cool down from the week. Most importantly, though, it's a space for us to get to know each other not just as colleagues, but as people.

The meeting is composed of three parts, with the bulk of the time spent on the first section.

  1. Knowledge share: This is open to everyone. You can talk about what you learned this week, your favorite book, a trip you recently took — anything you want. Heck, I even brought my parents once. It's a chance to get to know your peers better and vice versa. We usually strive to keep presentations to about two minutes a piece.
  2. Damn the things: What didn't go so well this week? What should we improve for next week? Let's get whatever it is out in the open. We're all in this together. We can schedule specific follow-ups if there are things we need to discuss further.
  3. Shoutouts: Who on the team helped you out this week? What resource did you find particularly helpful? Which projects astounded you? This is our chance to praise and celebrate. Let your teammates know how much you appreciate them and the work they put in.

I know why I love this meeting and the purpose it serves for me. But I wondered what makes my teammates love it so much. Why do we all hang around for a 5 o’clock meeting on a Friday? Do they see the same value in it that I do?

So I sent my teammates a survey. Turns out that we all came up with a bunch of the same reasons.

Personal connections help to conquer anxiety

Asking for help from colleagues can be difficult. The thought of voicing your opinion in a public slack room - terrifying. And pitching an idea to your team? Well... it might seem rather intimidating.

Many of us have experienced feelings like these. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

My teammates and I all agree that this meeting has enabled us to form deeper connections with one another, which has in turn made us more comfortable around each other. And as it turns out, the self-imposed barrier to asking questions and sharing your ideas is a lot lower when you’re at ease around the people that you’re interacting with.

Remote, but very much in the picture

We’re all busy working in subsets of our team on various projects throughout the week. It's possible that some team members can go weeks or months without interacting with the rest of the team in real life.

As a remote-friendly team with members split between NYC, D.C., and various other locations, this communal time has enabled us to remain connected to one another and be a cohesive team. Technically we’re all present at our 10 a.m. scrum, but it’s not the same kind of togetherness achieved in these Friday meetings.

I haven’t recently worked with Kavya, our Senior Full-Stack Engineer based in Seattle, or Tyson, our Senior Designer based out of the D.C. office, but I can count on seeing them at BTW every Friday. I’m looking forward to hearing how Tyson’s hockey games go this weekend and seeing pictures from Kavya’s trip to Nepal where she’s been for a conference this past week.

Screenshot of BTW covers
A selection of our weekly BTW presentations.

DIY: Create your own BTW

Piqued your interest yet? Here are a few actionable items to help you get your own version of BTW up and running:

  • Choose a recurring time that works for everyone - This can be as simple as doing a quick poll in Slack.
  • Create a Google Slides presentation and share it with your team early in the day - Collecting everyone’s info in one place helps cut down on the time it takes to go through the information. Pro Tip: Choosing a designated presenter each week also speeds things along.
  • Enable reminders for adding slides and shoutouts - Our Slack bot, Grant, reminds us once on Thursday and a couple of times on Friday to add slides and submit shoutouts.

We’re all in this together

When I sent out the survey asking my teammates why they loved BTW, I also asked them to share some of their favorite memories. The variety of responses amazed me, but I was even more surprised when I realized how many of memories that were actually made during BTW.

Some favorite memories include the time we...

  • Ate White Castle during the meeting (courtesy of Brittany and Vince)
  • Learned which Hogwarts house we each belong to (and which house everyone else thought you belonged to)
  • Co-published a blog post that resulted in this gif of the Dynamic D.C. Duo™, Katie and Kainaz

We have learned so much about each other. And we’ve had a great time doing it.