Setting people and teams up for (virtual) success

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Lindsay Ross

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been working from home for seven weeks. When the Dutch government first announced on March 12, 2020, that everyone should stay home if possible, we immediately jumped into action. Within 30 minutes, our CEO Robert Vis had sent a message to all Birds worldwide, asking them to take their laptops, chargers, and other essential items home with them that day — because from that evening onwards, all of our offices would be closed.

In (literally) one night, we transitioned to fully remote working for over 350 people across eight offices globally!

As a company, we’re closely monitoring the Coronavirus pandemic and are doing everything we can to prevent its spread, and most importantly, protect the health and wellbeing of our people. We’re proud of our fast response; and as we now prepare for the next phase of remote working, we wanted to share some of the lessons we’ve learned and what we’ve done to set our people and teams up for virtual success. After all, we’re #inthistogether.

 

Work From Home (WFH) Guidelines

As it seemed more likely that an “intelligent lockdown” scenario would come into effect for countries around the world, we focused on how to quickly and efficiently help our teams transition to working from home. We created best-practice guides for Birds and managers, plus parents and caregivers who faced additional challenges balancing the new work-life reality. These guidelines helped us ensure we maintained our MessageBird style of working while supporting the flexibility required to make WFH successful. 

Get the tech right

As a tech company, we didn’t have to do a lot to ensure we had all the right collaboration tools in place to allow for virtual, real-time working together. Our day-to-day includes Hangouts, Slack, WhatsApp, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, and we are fortunate enough that we’re used to going completely remote as a company (the last time being for our company offsite in Marrakech at the beginning of the year). However, we have gained extra appreciation for these tools as they continue to help us bridge the virtual divide, ensuring we remain connected and talking constantly.  

Keep the comms flowing

At MessageBird, we always try to be as transparent as possible. Being clear and direct helps us keep up the speed and ensure we’re all running in the same direction. In a situation this unique, we felt it was important to take our internal communications to the next level — sharing information faster and in the moment, including the uncertainties.

Global All-Hands:

We started running our global All-Hands meetings on a weekly basis. These company-wide meetings had been introduced when we were just 30 people, and since then, they’ve become a monthly figure in our calendars. As a global company, these normally kick-off at 1:00 p.m. CET, and typically last between 60-90 minutes; with moving them to a weekly cadence, we made them shorter (30 minutes) and, ultimately, more impactful. We keep to the same content structure — introducing our new Birds, sharing business updates, celebrating milestones, giving Kudos shout-outs, and driving alignment around our company strategy. We always have an open Q&A at the end where we read out and answer all questions (unfiltered). We then capture these in an FAQ which we share on our internal communications hub so everyone can review and reflect on the answers. We feel this also helps our managers be able to provide more details and context to their teams on the topics they care about the most.  

A new weekly newsletter:

We’ve launched a new weekly global newsletter to share key updates on COVID-19, business information, people and team updates as well as financial insights. But the most read section of this newsletter is our ongoing “WFH Vlog” where we showcase three Birds that take us inside their WFH nests. From our CFO building a dedicated workspace under his dining table with his three daughters to our General Counsel racing his son on a tricycle around the backyard, they’re always a bit playful and contain quirky suggestions on how to make remote working a success. The best part: they tag three others who are next in line to do the same the following week.

Syncs with global managers:

It’s important to us to keep building our leadership community as we adapt to leading distributed teams. To make this happen, we pull our global people leaders together every Wednesday to discuss important organizational and people topics, and answer any questions. 

Enhancing our IC channels:

The key to internal communications is that it should be easy — easy to understand, find and share. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve focused on optimizing our internal communications channels to make sure that all Birds can find the information they need, when they need it, and how they need it. Our IC hub (nicknamed The Kiwi) is our central channel for all information — Birds can find everything here: the latest government and health authority measures, business continuity plans, travel restrictions, FAQs, WFH guides, our weekly newsletters, and all global and regional announcements. All communication channels drive our teams back to this hub.

Try to keep it fresh and fun 

We would not be MessageBird if we didn’t introduce some fun into our new day-to-day. So we’ve added one more IC channel — The BirdFeed — where we share healthy recipes, our favorite Spotify playlists, series and movies to binge watch, and the best books to read. We also host virtual meditation sessions and hard-core workouts hosted by our own in-house trainers. We even have a MessageBird University digital library where we share online courses for people to continue to work on their development and personal growth.  

Set the right expectations

COVID-19 has shaken us all, and this time of uncertainty has been compounded by having to adopt a totally new routine — a new “normal” — where our personal and working lives have completely blended. It’s hard to balance it all.

So as a company, we’ve tried to set the right expectations. The most important thing we can encourage our Birds to do is take a break! Schedule some time to exercise, read, try out a new recipe or pause for a cup of coffee. Take some time off and step away completely from their laptop for a day or more. The mental health and wellbeing of our Birds is so important — to us, their friends, and especially their family. To further support them, we offer coaching for individuals and teams on coping with the COVID-19 situation.

Virtual onboarding

Despite these unusual work circumstances, we remain focused on growing the business. We’re continuing to source and hire the best talent in the industry, with all interviews completed virtually. Although we love bringing all new joiners to our Amsterdam headquarters to kick-start their onboarding, we’ve had to find a different way to help them ramp up.  Around the world, all newly hired Birds are shipped the MessageBird starter pack, including a laptop, branded “swag” and noise-cancelling headphones. We also launched a new digital onboarding app and training tool which allows Birds to explore everything from our culture and our offices to products and commercial strategy, right from their mobile phone. And we’ve also designed virtual onboarding kits for both new hires and their managers, to ensure a smooth welcome to the MessageBird family.

Looking forward

We won’t deny it — we’re excited to return to our offices. We miss our teams, colleagues, lunches and Friday beers. But the truth is, we don’t know if we’ll be able to go back in three weeks or three months. Although we’re preparing for all eventualities, our main focus is on continuing to make today’s reality work. We’re keeping our culture alive at every touchpoint, keeping pace and making traction — really just making it work to “get shit done.” 

So, until we’re able to safely go back to the office location, let’s make sure we keep staying connected, sharing best practices, and supporting each other through this period. At MessageBird, we believe in the power of different perspectives (and ideas)! So, if you have any tips, tricks or your own lessons learned, we’d love to hear about them so we can learn from you. 

For now, stay healthy, stay safe, and let’s keep sharing.