Creating A Healthy Team Culture For Remote Work

A reflection of how we work during this pandemic

The pandemic surprised us all. In March 2020, Babbel closed the physical office. The engineering team that I work with, the CAT team, moved from 7 desks next to each other to 7 desks spread out over Berlin. We went from Kita to kids at home, from meeting friends to mostly being alone, from having a life outside of work to grocery shopping being the highlight of the week. Since then, there were times when the office was open to a limited number of employees, and we’ve made use of that, but most of the past 1.5 years have been remote work for us.

I meant to write this article earlier, when the pandemic started and working from our homes was still new and exciting. Back when our morning routine was still to post gifs in the Slack channel or at least write good morning. We’ve become a bit lazy with that. However, with a bit more time to reflect, I can say that there are a whole lot of things that we still do to stay connected and sane in these extraordinary times.

We look out for each other

  • We meet in person whenever restrictions allow us to do so. This can be as simple as a lunch walk with a team member who lives close by or as organized as agreeing to work from the office on the same day.
  • We encourage each other to take time off. Even though travelling far isn’t possible, breaks from work are important.
  • We inspire each other with new recipes, tips for sport or mental health apps, or the latest trip to a random lake in Brandenburg.
  • We make time between meetings to stretch our legs, and step away from the screen. Just because video calls allow us to jump between two meetings at the click of a button, it doesn’t mean that this is a good idea. In longer meetings we make sure to pause for a break as well.

We work together

  • We still do our scrum ceremonies and we use video calls for all of them. Even in 2D, it’s nice to see people’s faces. We combine Google Meet with tools like Miro, Figma, and Jira.
  • Pair programming, pair designing, pair QA: whenever someone needs a second brain to pick we hop on one of our existing Google Meet links and work together. Sometimes for hours or even days.
  • We regularly share progress updates and releases with the wider company, mostly in written formats.

We are vocal about what’s happening outside of work

  • Feeling tired, annoyed, homesick – we say it out loud.
  • We acknowledge that these are hard times.
  • We acknowledge and talk about individual situations and challenges.

Most importantly: We have fun together!

  • The CAT Coffee Club©  is our daily dose of caffeine combined with random chats strictly about non-work topics. I dare say that, even though this meeting is still optional for everyone, it’s the one meeting that nobody wants to miss.
  • We celebrate successes whenever and however possible, this has mostly happened in spontaneous video calls, but when circumstances allow it might be at a beer garden.
  • We play online games together: Seven Wonders or Saboteur on Board Game Arena, the Daily Challenge on GeoGuessr, Codenames, just to name a few.
  • We prepare short quizzes with Mentimeter to run before our bi-weekly retrospectives.
  • We organize in-person team events, when restrictions allow it. The latest was a 3-hour guided canoe trip with Kanuliebe.

We’ll probably continue to work in a hybrid setup of remote and office work for some time. This might even be the new normal. There are certainly pros and cons to both and I think we’ll keep exploring what works best for us. However, no matter how and where, I enjoy working with this team every day!

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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