The shock of suddenly having everyone work and live within the confines of their own four walls has surprised us from the George team as much as anyone else around the globe. Stressful times like these reveal the heartbeat of a company culture, which at George Labs is built on a strong, empathic foundation. Now we take this new challenge to find innovative approaches to existing principles.
Over the past two years we worked hard on transforming the George Way of Working into an agile ecosystem. At its heart, agile is a set of values and principles that help us establish small, cohesive teams who are able to work together achieving the best possible results in terms of collaboration and productivity. These values form our strong George culture.
A value that we often use these days is empathy. It needs to be understood in a much broader context within remote work, as there is a lack of personal, face-to-face contact where empathy can be practiced naturally in the course of a situation, by understanding the workload or status of the other person. Considering that many of our people are now juggling family responsibilities or are simply dealing with the psychological aspect of remote work over a longer period of time – taking time and caring to care must be embedded in what we do and how we do it.
How we have experienced the last weeks
Naturally, our main focus is to ensure team spirit stays strong. So, how have we adapted our Way of Working to the current home office set-up? What have we learned in the last couple of weeks?
Some teams are already used to partially remote work due to their initial set-up. Especially full-remote team mates enjoy the change because they feel more equally connected to the rest of the team. As everyone is now in the same boat, some previous barriers are not there anymore. No-one is left out because he cannot be physically present in a room. This supports well-known claims from some agile experts, that teams should either go for full remote or full co-located set-ups. In-between these two ideals you only find mediocre results. Other teams were used to seeing each other every day and having meetings when everybody is physically in the same room. It needs some effort to switch to fully remote interactions all of a sudden.
Let’s have a closer look at some practices we use for different team dynamics
There are the ones that miss the social aspect of being in the company. Now it is important to create opportunities for small talk and stress relief. Spend some time to chit chat before or after a meeting and introduce daily coffee sessions to make up for the missed conversation possibilities that naturally happen in company kitchens. Have different time slots for these chit chats to give everyone in the team the chance to join for some socializing without sacrificing their preferred daily routine. Don’t forget to celebrate success! BC (Before Corona), we would have gone out to have a drink, play squash or celebrate in any other way without even thinking twice. Now we deliberately have to make time for celebrating. Even if it is just a Slack call, with the camera turned on and everyone having a drink together to honor a successful sprint in stressful times.
Then there are the ones that enjoy the effectiveness of the situation, having streamlined meetings in the shortest time possible and focusing on getting stuff done. Back in the office, they might have enjoyed playing table football together once in a while. Now they need to be reminded that some non-work-related conversation is important to strengthen relationships and relief some stress. Have them play games like Drawasaurus. Try new tools like Funretro for retrospectives to make them fun and engaging. Introduce new rules for Daily’s, like the “joke of the day” to start the day with some good laugh (even if it is just laughing at a really bad joke from your team mate).
And don’t forget that this cultural input can come from anyone. For us it has been our vision keeper Mauri, Managing Director and creative mind at George Labs, who kicked off a lighthearted video challenge for everyone in the team to share something personal and funny. Just to get to know each other a little bit better and have a laugh. Because as we know, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
The current situation and the future
So, what are the take-aways we can keep for the future? Let’s never forget to take a brief break in our busy daily routine to inspect possible learnings. For sure, we are having more structured meetings. We are more mindful with the use of time of others. We are seeking even more common understanding and helping others. But ultimately, it boils down to one big understanding: Being aware how empathy is fundamentally forming our Way of Working and how important it is to actively nurture this good behavior.
The authors: Claudia Tschida and Anikó Szabóová