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Adventures in Remote Team Socials

We’re really lucky here at Nile. We’re a lively bunch in a sociable workplace. How do we keep that vibe going when we’re all stuck at home?

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There’s a familiar kind of rhythm to life at Nile. Each week kicks off with a buzz and hubbub as we run kick-offs, stand-ups, sit-downs, and venture out to client offices or hit the road on longer term spells of fieldwork.

A typical work day in the Nile studio.
A typical work day in the Nile studio.

That buzz usually gives way to a midweek of quiet, focused working in our picture perfect HQ (seriously. Search Circus Lane on Instagram and we dare you not to fall in love).

As the end of the week rolls around, the studio grows in size and sound once more as teams return. There’s Friday breakfasts, Whiteboard sessions, Practice meetings, Beers and — finally — trips out to the lovely local drinking holes.

Like most engaging places to work, we have cultural touchstones, rituals and landmarks that personify Nile.

These touchstones bring us all together and make it feel like a special place to work. Whether it’s Wednesday Walks to get out and enjoy the fresh air together, the usual suspects sneaking out to their favourite Korean lunch spot on a Tuesday, or breakfast rolls and beers (not at the same time) on a Friday — these team institutions help us navigate our days and connect.

And then, social distancing happened

Social distancing has broken our usual patterns of activity. But even though we can’t mingle together in our Circus Lane loft space, we still want to stay connected.

In the past two weeks, we’ve been experimenting with some new rituals and institutions. Everyone has different home lives — some of us are parents, some of us live solo, some of us have really annoying flatmates — so we’re trying to build for everyone.

Here’s a run-down of what we’ve tried, and what we’ve learned so far.

  1. A virtual kettle. A digital lunch table.

There’s something special about those serendipitous conversations that happen while the kettle boils in the studio, or on the way to Mr Kims’ Korean BBQ takeout. Whether it’s catching up about what boxset is worth bingeing or having a different perspective on the problem you’ve been mulling over, they have a special kind of value. We miss them.

Now that we’re all cooped up in different houses these kinds of conversations are even more important. But scheduling in conversations has a habit of killing any spontaneity. ‘Non-essential’ meetings are easy to reject, and essential catch-ups usually have an agenda.

Coffee morning calls
Coffee morning calls: a nice way to ease into the day rather than switch instantly from home life to work life

We are keeping the lines open.

We have two daily drop-in Zoom sessions, open to anyone and everyone at Nile. They’re virtual coffee stations in the morning, and a virtual lunch table at midday. Sometimes nobody’s there. Sometimes everyone dials in. And you never know who you’re going to be hanging out with. Just like in the studio.

People share personal challenges, work challenges, Netflix recommendations. Anything. It’s space in the day when you can just be with your colleagues, without any structure or agenda.

Nile cookie and a coffee
If you take tea-breaks as seriously as you, you might want to check out Donut.com. Photo Jonty Fairless

Want to build serendipity in your organisation?

We have two daily drop-in Zoom sessions, open to anyone and everyone at Nile. They’re virtual coffee stations in the morning, and a virtual lunch table at midday. Sometimes nobody’s there. Sometimes everyone dials in. And you never know who you’re going to be hanging out with. Just like in the studio.

People share personal challenges, work challenges, Netflix recommendations. Anything. It’s space in the day when you can just be with your colleagues, without any structure or agenda.

  1. Midweek Movies

You’ll have heard about Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) by now. We’re a big fan.

We use it to break up the week by sitting down to enjoy a shared team film on Wednesday evenings (after most kids’ bedtimes, so parents in the team can join and the fitness fanatics can squeeze in an after work run).

Each week we pick a theme and vote for a movie to decide what’s showing. Next up is our Totally 80’s themed evening. Votes are still coming in but the smart money is on Back to the Future, but there’s a vibrant splinter group pushing for Swayze classic Road House.

Netflix Party's Chat
Think of the Netflix Party Chat like those directors commentaries that nobody ever watches, only fun!

Netflix Party has a built in chat function, allowing everyone to add commentary, play drinking games, and make judgemental remarks about all the outdoor adventures playing out on screen.

  1. Friday afternoon

4pm on Friday has always been Beer O’Clock at Nile. Time to wind down, regroup, reflect and raid Nile’s improbably vast snack stores (thanks Victoria!).

The Nile team sit down for an evening meal on the 2019 Team Trip.
The Nile team sit down for an evening meal on the 2019 Team Trip. Photo Jonty Fairless

While the snack stores are a little less accessible now, we’ve captured the spirit of the session by bringing it online. A direct translation of the ritual into a Zoom call. It’s shorter and sweeter now (to make it easier to attend) and there are more dogs and toddlers knocking around, but it remains a touchstone of studio life.

In the world of working from home it’s a great way to sign out of work mode and close the (metaphorical) door on the studio.

  1. Steam(ing) Friday nights

We can’t play games in the pub any more, so for those keen to hang out a little longer on Fridays I’ve been cultivating Nile’s hidden gamer side. I’ve been making use of Steam and Twitch to stream games that everyone can play together.

I’ve deliberately chosen games that don’t need to have a games console — or even skill — to play. A laptop and a smartphone is enough for these Nile-favourites.

If you want to replicate something in your workplace, here are our top picks so far:

Free games:

Playingcards.io — Classic games, digitised

Playingcards.io

Fancy kicking things off with an old classic that’s been reappropriated for the digital age? Playingcards.io allows you to play any card game that uses a standard 52 card deck alongside checkers and even Cards Against Humanity (yes it may have been done to death, but at least it’s digital now!). Friday night drinks now go on.

Drawful 2
Put your Visual Communication to the test with Drawful 2

Drawful 2

(Free until the the 11th of April!)

Each player is given a prompt that they have to convey to the others via a digital doodle. Last weeks’ round included ‘Draw an annoying voice’ — we went for a little scribble of Janice from Friends.

Other players see the doodle and try to guess what the prompt might have been. Once everyone has entered their suggestions, players try to pick the correct prompt from the line-up of guesses. Points are awarded for every player who chooses the correct prompt, and other players collect points if their suggestion is chosen.

Paid games:

Jackbox’s Fibbage Enough About You Game
A typical screen from Jackbox’s Fibbage Enough About You game. The Nile team put Jonty on blast.

You can't go wrong with Jackbox Games.

If you like Drawful 2, it’s definitely worth considering more by Jackbox games, the masterminds behind the game. Their ‘Party Packs’ have some hit and miss outings, but we recommend testing your wit and powers of deception with Nile favourites Quiplash and Fibbage.

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Calum Macleod

Calum Macleod

Service Designer

I am a Service Designer and musician. Some would say i'm a glass-half-empty type. I prefer the term ‘realistically optimistic’. Have a question about something I’ve written? Don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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