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Ingeniously Simple

Wellbeing and cohesion hacks from our newly remote teams

During social distancing measures, with all our teams working remotely and with differing work patterns, we should be especially attentive to the wellbeing of our teammates and how we collaborate with each other. Last week I got together with a group of our engineers, designers and technical leads to explore what practices and behaviours were making a difference in their teams, as they look to nurture wellbeing and stay connected & collaborating with their teammates.

We ran a simple virtual post-it sharing session using the online collaboration tool Mural (there’s your first tip — Mural is excellent!) and here’s a picture of what we came up with:

These are the ideas, hacks and practices that are helping our twelve development teams, right now. Some are tailored to the needs of a specific team (some teams may not feel the need for virtual beers or always-on video calls), but many are useful for any team hoping to look after each other and coordinate during these strange times.

I thought I’d call out a couple of the key lessons taken from the session:

Use stand-ups for team connectedness
Morning “stand-up” meetings (where, I imagine, no one actually stands up anymore) have become even more vital for team connectedness than they are for coordination and progress sharing. Our teams have reshaped those synchronisation points to include more informal chat, raise wellbeing concerns or segue into some retrospection (or gaming sessions).

Talk about how you are
Several of our teams (including my team of development managers) are finding a daily wellbeing traffic light status check encourages us to openly share how we are feeling and making it ok to say we are not ok. Once we know how our teammates are feeling, we can offer help & support, or simply show more empathy for how they are feeling. But we have to know how they feel first — hence the explicit check. Our DB DevOps team discovered that idea from this blog post (under the title “5. We Communicate Vulnerably”) and the practice has spread naturally through development.

Model self-care
Team members are setting an example by being open about their availability for work (for instance, sharing on Slack that they have to look after the kids during part of a given day), going out for their daily exercise or playing a game. We could hide these things if we were worried about receiving criticism, or even punishment, for taking time during core hours for these vital activities. But I’m so pleased to hear we’re not hiding that stuff and instead sharing openly. Hopefully, this openness will make it safe for others to do the same.

The Development Managers team have taken this a step further by creating a weekly Wellbeing Challenge. We’ve drawn up a list of activities that provide a boost to wellbeing, from going for a 15 minute walk to rearranging a Zoom meeting so it does not run back-to-back with another! All these activities are awarded wellbeing points, and we celebrate on Mondays who has topped the rankings for the previous week. You can see the latest leaderboard here!

Keep up the collaboration through online tooling
Our developments teams are big on pair programming and, in recent years, mob programming to build our software collaboratively and, well, better. Remote working has not put a stop to all that. In fact it’s become even more important to keep technical work in the team’s collective consciousness. Our teams are using standard video conferencing software like Zoom, plus dedicated tooling like Mobster.

For collaboration and ideation, we’re making a heavy use of online tools like Mural, Miro and countless others (I hear a new one mentioned every day)! All these are working well, and using them has the valuable side effect that they produce human-readable and easily shareable records of the discussions they have supported (like the one at the top of this post!).

Say “hello” and “goodbye” to mark your workday
Many team members are being explicit about the times they are available for work during the day, updating Outlook and Slack availability to reflect this. This makes expectations clearer and the task of booking any team meetings that little bit easier.

Another valuable practice called out was team members adding a “good morning” note on their team’s Slack channel at the start of the day and a corresponding “goodbye” at the end of the day. This helps eliminate the grey area between home and work time, but also reminds people that they are working with a community of people who notice when they are around. Also, people get to use their favourite silly gifs to brighten the mood first thing in the morning. Here’s one of mine.

Be a team that plays together, to stay together
Social gaming is popular and valuable in technical teams, providing some light relief and informal connection during the day. The Jackbox Party Pack games, easily able to support remote groups via Zoom, were widely appreciated (Ben Wood wrote a great post on those games last month), as were free online drawing games like Skribbl and Drawasaurus. But there are a wide range of games in use, tailored to the norms and gaming experience of the team. Redgate made the call early on during lockdown to make funds available to teams to purchase games for this very purpose, and I think we can see that this was a valuable investment.

These are just a few of the ideas and innovations that people are applying to make sure our teams are supportive and healthy communities, putting themselves in the position to do effective and valuable work for our customers. If, over the coming weeks, your team discovers a new hack then please do share it. We’d love to hear about it in the comments on this post.



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Chris Smith

Chris is Head of Product Delivery at Redgate. His job is to lead the software development teams that work on Redgate's ingeniously simple database tools.