Fostering team spirit remotely

Quentin Menoret
Dec 1, 2020 · 7 min read
Illustration by Gaëlle Malenfant

Like many companies during these COVID times, Doctolib went full remote almost overnight. But, through this pandemic, we have been fortunate enough to pursue our growth.. We welcome up to 15 new developers every month to help us transform healthcare, and we need to make sure they feel part of the team from the get go. We have a very strong events culture at Doctolib, and we used to have a lot of occasions to meet on campus for onboarding and in other places for team building activities. But that was back when wearing a mask was not part of our routine, when we did not spend most of our time talking to people on Google Meet or Zoom, or when shaking hands was perfectly civil.

So how do you keep a strong team spirit when switching to remote?
Here are a couple of things we’ve done to create and maintain a bond between Doctolibers.

Start with your team

The very first thing you want to ensure is that your team keeps spending time together to have fun. There is no way it will function in the long run if they just wake up, work on their own, attend the odd meeting, go to bed, and repeat.

There is no secret here, you have to invest time. And of course, this is not something you hold after hours every week. This has to become part of your everyday work schedule.

A good duration I found for this kind of events is 30 minutes to 1 hour a week (more than that, not everyone joins). You can use this time to play games, or just to have a chat! Another good practice we use at Doctolib is digital team coffees. Starting the day together with a casual chat does wonders for a team’s happiness. Last, but not least, some teams implement a daily checkout: have a casual chat with your coworkers at the end of the day, so that everyone disconnects and stops working.

Of course, the number and frequency of events should vary depending on the team.

Share your best practices with the organization

Once you’re all set in your team, it’s time to think bigger! You’ll need to start organising events that are cross-organizational.

At Doctolib, we have a team in charge of keeping people engaged, and one of the ways they achieve that is through global or local events. With COVID, they’ve also switched to online initiatives: from treasure hunts, to sport and meditation sessions, to online conferences, and the list goes on!

In our case, we decided to scale down and facilitate our Tech & Product organization, which was easier as we all speak English. Below are some steps you will have to keep in mind when adapting to your own organization.

First step, identify what events you want to run. We have three major types.

  • Tech Coffee (twice a week): one of the best 15 minutes of the day that helps replicate the morning coffee ritual with colleagues and starting off the day on the right foot.
  • Tech time (bi-weekly): meetings every developer attends and where they can share anything they’ve worked on in the last couple of weeks. We used to hold these events on our Berlin, Nantes and Paris campuses simultaneously, and now, we’ve successfully switched to a remote event! More on this on a dedicated post.
  • Game evening (twice a week): various game sessions anyone can join to have a good time

Don’t overdo it. People won’t join every day and that’s ok. Limit the number of events to engage a significant number of active participants.

Be inclusive

You really need to be as inclusive as possible. Your first reaction might be to organise “Afterwork e-drinks”, just like you had in the office. Not everyone dreams of having a cold beer after work. Not everyone wants to play games either! That’s the reason we created both game sessions and a “ChillZone” for people to just meet and talk. That’s also why we have the Tech Coffee in the morning, and games at the end of the day. Not everyone is available at the same time, and a lot of people can’t or won’t stay after hours.

Look out for shy people, especially new joiners. They might not know a lot of people, or aren’t sure how to join. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Make sure the people who join regularly encourage others to be part of these moments. Educate other managers on the benefits of spreading the word.

Boost participation

One very easy way to boost participation is to chain events. For instance, we always have a game session after Tech Time. This is where we have the most participants. Just ending the meeting saying does the trick.

In the same fashion, some teams implement their own game session or team event just before the global sessions. This way, you’re just one click away from the global event, and most of the time, the whole team joins. These are some very easy ways to increase participation.

Google Meet won’t scale

Here you’re probably going to hit a wall. You’re organising your event, everything goes fine. Then you get twice as many people as the game can host. What do you do? Create another meeting? This could be an option, but it’s not ideal in letting you know how many people you have in each room (especially with 3+ rooms). That’s where we applied the same logic as for interactive meetups. We migrated to Discord.

The biggest advantages of Discord are:

  • It is not linked to any pre-existing meeting and therefore always running, allowing anyone to jump in whenever they want
  • You have visibility on what channels are currently active.
  • You can join / leave a (voice) channel as easily as clicking on a name, making it easy to split large groups.

The biggest downside? You don’t have a native option to use virtual background images, so bye bye background contests (yes, we compete for the most creative or hilarious fake backdrop in our video calls)! But we make up for it at our Tech Coffee and Tech Times. 😉

You can’t always be the “Spirit-Hero”

One of the challenges is keeping engagement high. For the first event, a lot of people will join, but quite fast, people will stop showing up. Of course it’s ok, it’s not a mandatory event! But still, it would be nice to have more than 10 people joining (and inciting new joiners to attend) in an organization of 200+ people.

What you need here is proxies. Don’t do everything by yourself. Set up the platform so that other people can create their own events. Find the right people, encourage them, and make sure your framework is clearly outlined so the effort needed on their side is minimal:

  • Have a remote tool set up (we use Discord)
  • Draft a planning beforehand so they know exactly when and how often to hold their event
  • Have templates for the invitation body — they should just copy and paste

The advantages of having different people organising the events are numerous:

  • First and foremost, you won’t have to be there every time.
  • Every single one of your colleagues has a different internal network within the company. They will attract different people who in turn will spread the word.
  • Different organisers often means different events = new ideas! You can’t possibly think of every doable initiative, so leverage that collective intelligence!

So now, what can you play?

I figured you may want some suggestions around the kind of games you could play! Here is a short, but nice list:

  • Among Us: try to fix the ship, survive, and spot the imposters. Unless you are the imposter? Here is an amazing Discord plugin.
  • Skribbl.io: a classic, one person draws, the others need to guess what the drawing represents. One of the funniest games we’ve played remotely!
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf: your goal is to find one werewolf and get rid of it! Can you achieve it in just one morning? Unless, you are the werewolf?

There are a few others we’re looking forward to trying, for instance: geoguesser, codenames, petit bac.

A demanding but rewarding journey

Keeping the team members engaged while working from home is a complex mission, but it’s extremely important. The most unexpected benefits of organising all these remote events? It allowed people working from different countries to meet, and become friends! We will most probably keep such events in the future to continue building strong relationships between offices. We’ll maybe just reduce the frequency.

But the key hidden benefits of this organization is that if you plan events most of the days around 6pm, people will actually stop working at this time. Given the recent switch to remote, with people that are not used to it, it’s extremely important to make sure people actually disconnect. Such events play a huge role in getting people to get off of work. Give them a reason to end the day on a positive note!

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Doctolib

Improving Healthcare for Good

Doctolib

Founded in 2013, Doctolib is the fastest growing e-health service in Europe. We provide healthcare professionals with services to improve the efficiency of their organization, transform their patients’ experience, and strengthen cooperation with other practitioners. We help pati

Quentin Menoret

Written by

Engineering Manager @Doctolib

Doctolib

Founded in 2013, Doctolib is the fastest growing e-health service in Europe. We provide healthcare professionals with services to improve the efficiency of their organization, transform their patients’ experience, and strengthen cooperation with other practitioners. We help pati

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