Right off, we knew we can’t just put everything on hold and wait for the pandemic to blow over before going back to normal and our regular community action. We wanted to create a strong base for a world-class hybrid community and that wasn’t going to doesn’t happen in a blink of an eye. It requires constant work, deep rethinking, and trial and error.
Personally, I’m glad we didn’t just sit and wait, because this year has taught us a lot about the value of community and how to strengthen it in difficult times.
We immediately made working to strengthen our community an internal priority for this new reality. For three quarters, community matters have been an important aspect of our Human Care team OKRs, with different groups of people working together in changing teams on a variety of topics.
Here’s what we’ve learned during this year of trial and error.
Talking about caring for the people means nothing if it’s not backed up by action. That’s where care really matters. This year we have, for example, contacted every single one of our employees to see how they are doing under these extraordinary circumstances. We sent several care packages, some for the whole company, some for employees at specific sites. Contents have included, for example, face masks, chocolate and coffee.
Sometimes it’s the small things that make all the difference.
Create space for interaction
Communities need space, a frame. It can occur on a number of different levels - for discussion: a chat channel; for detailed discussion about a particular subject: a channel dedicated to that subject; for a meeting: a shared online video call.
If an important frame for interaction has previously been talking with your colleagues by the coffee machine, and the possibility to do so is taken away, you need a new frame. It could be 10 dedicated minutes at the end of every meeting. Or an open remote coffee break. The space for interaction needs to be created.
Once you’ve created the space, don’t be afraid to tinker with the formula, because few things work forever. Take the coffee break - at the start of the pandemic we had a daily coffee break on one of our sites. It worked for the first two months, but then nobody showed up anymore. After reducing it to twice a week, numbers increased a bit, but soon dropped again. The latest version is an open coffee break once a week and a themed coffee break once a week. Numbers have increased significantly.
Learning: the narrower the frame, more tangible it feels to many. The different themes attract different groups.
Say it out loud
Every single one of us has experienced confusion during the changes this year has brought. There’s no end to the questions our current circumstances bring up, many related to what is or isn’t acceptable under these circumstances: “Am I allowed to do this while remote? How should I do that? And how about that other thing?”
Saying even the smallest things out loud is essential.
Tell people if it’s ok to have dedicated time for chit chat during meetings. Say it out loud if it’s okay to go for a walk and have a meeting via your phone and headphones. Tell employees if it’s okay to spend money on remote team events.
Share, inspire, get inspired
Sharing examples of community events may have a huge inspirational value. Seeing what other small groups are doing to activate their people easily gets people thinking: “Oh, that team did it like that… should we too?” or “That team has that kind of process in place. Should we have one, too?”
Share what you do and share how you do it. Be clear. Be concrete.
For example, we created completely new pages for our intranet called “Remote Life”. It includes guidelines, communications materials, support material for remote life with kids, tips on remote afterworks and activities, and case examples. The page is co-created together with our employees - and this takes us to the last but maybe most important part.
Even though our human care team worked on this topic a lot, sense of belonging and community are not built from the outside or top down. It grows bottom up.
Our focus has been on creating space and enabling the community to live on this new hybrid and remote surface. Embracing the responsibility of individuals and smaller teams has been one of our key points. Nudge them, give them space and let them use the space to shine.
Read more about our OKR journey here.
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