By Rose de Bie From the beginning, Symbiont has been keen on creating a friendly and inclusive environment. New employee onboarding process starts with the notable "Symbiont 1:1s", i.e., one-on-one teammate chats. And I don’t just mean that you are getting to know your immediate team members a bit better - no, as a new hire you’ll have 30 minute one-on-ones with everyone in the company.
Those awkward lunchtime moments when you start at a new company and you don't know where or who to sit with? Throwing you back to that awkward high school feeling?
Non-existent at Symbiont.
You’ll meet everybody upfront, which will help you feel more comfortable as a newbie and welcomed by the entire company. This is just one example of how Symbiont invests in great company culture.
Then suddenly it was March 2020 and it became clear that The Pandemic would last for a while.
Our leadership took matters into their own hands and before the NY Governor announced the lockdown ("PAUSE"), we were already working from home. Luckily we were no strangers to working from home: Symbiont employees already had the option to work from home one to two days per week. Our digital environment was already set up for it - but this doesn't mean that we as human beings were mentally prepared for working five days a week from home, especially if living in a tight NYC apartment!
So how did we transition and truly stay connected if we only saw each other virtually on a flat-screen?
Below I outline the initiatives that helped keep the inclusive company culture we value so much. I hope this inspires you to make your experience of working remotely a bit more pleasant as we roll into the second year of the pandemic, given many may miss the office and working together.
Symbiont continued its usual 30-minute company-wide meetings, with only one small difference: everyone was dialing (videoing) in rather than physically meeting in our large conference room. On Mondays we have the Platform update, Tuesday the Product update, and Friday the Leadership update.
I recall a conversation I had with someone outside of Symbiont about our company meetings and his response was: "So many company meetings each week?!"
But think about it: 30 minutes is not that much per day if well spent. Being up-to-date on what is happening in the Product team or in the Platform team creates effective cross-team coordination and helps operate as a single unit. Not many people can say they have an interaction with their leadership every week; I have friends who envy this and would love this level of transparency.
Other company-wide fun (optional) virtual initiatives
Movie nights (Teleparty)
Company game nights (Codenames)
Thursday virtual team lunches (Open channel on Zoom)
Celebrate yearly anniversaries of employees (Acknowledged every Monday morning)
Coffee chats (we use Donut to randomly pairs employees for virtual coffee)
Monthly informal lunch for all the women at Symbiont. There is no formal topic or agenda, but the conversations are always interesting and entertaining. These are similar to the optional company-wide Thursday lunches we had pre-pandemic, except now virtual.
Each team has the option to introduce their own meetings and fun initiatives:
My team has a daily 15-minute stand-up v2.0. At Symbiont everyone shares their daily update on Slack, so it didn't feel natural to have the 'authentic' stand-up version in my team. In our v2.0 we discuss updates and blockers if those are important to discuss. If there is time left, we have some water-cooler talk; sometimes we share funny or sad things from our personal life and I believe this helps to stay close to your team.
In addition, we have a Retrospective followed by celebratory drinks every three weeks. We discuss what went well & want to continue doing, what should we start doing and what should we stop doing with an online retro-board. Once done, we all get drinks (soda or stiffer drink to your liking or time zone) and socialize as in pre-pandemic times.
It is so important to keep the camaraderie intact in these tough times. How did you and your company keep connected? I’d love to hear from you and get more ideas: please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And/or I hope this blog will inspire you to have more virtual get-together initiatives with your teammates!