Lilian Tomingas-Frolov, Martin Ulst & Martti Naaber, June 11, 2020
The “new normal” (also known as living with the C-word) has created new challenges for us in our day-to-day lives, including how our work has substantially shifted to being online. This also means that communication within work teams has changed, and this calls for fresh and creative ways to keep the team spirit alive and kickin’.
Our team delivers systems that the government is using to manage, distribute and control subsidies for non-social sector(s). The system is used to finance a wide range of projects: continuing education for teachers, electric-vehicle subsidies, road projects, and so on. This happens on a scale of more than €6 billion (yes, billion with a ‘b’) in more than 32,000 projects in the Estonian economy over the last 15 years! Our fantastic team consists of approximately 15 members (analysts, developers, quality assurance specialists and a project manager). And to maintain our complex workload, we need to be a close-knit group.
The main reason, then, for keeping team spirit alive is the need for effective communication so work is completed with minimum adverse side effects caused by remote working. For our team, this has resulted in countless MS Teams video calls to coworkers, which may, at times, feel burdensome but is overall necessary to prevent misunderstandings within the team. It is also a great opportunity to casually chat with teammates after dealing with the ‘serious business’ during a call.
The emphasis here is on the phrase ‘MS Teams video call’ (using a video-bridge), rather than stroking keys on the keyboard because seeing a person helps to better connect with them so that you don’t become total strangers with people you used to see daily. Besides, typing is hard work and, for example, analysts and developers need all their typing strength for specifications and code!
Our team has two regular types of meetings — daily morning standups and weeklies. A standup is a great way to make sure everyone on the team knows what the other team members are doing and if they need assistance to complete their current tasks. Before the start of these meetings, there is usually time for friendly banter, e.g., sharing amusing news or jokes — this way, we get the chance to talk about something other than work. Random jokes filled with dark humor and news about man-beavers chewing lamp posts in Elva are also regularly shared in our private Teams channels so that everyone can laugh to ‘survive’ the day.
Besides the aforementioned historic ways of communicating with teammates, we also have weekly virtual lunches. Before work moved online, we used to have a team lunch every Wednesday. When we found ourselves physically separated at the start of lockdown, the first thing we resurrected was the weekly team lunch. It is an excellent opportunity to see our teammates and peek at how everyone lives. Not only is it fun to hang out, but we can also check in and see how everyone is coping with the current situation.
Before the lockdown, our team had monthly team events. That usually meant we held a board game event, a LAN party or went outside. Gatherings are a bit complicated now, but we have made a conscious effort to still hold a team event each month. So far, we have had a few computer game events, but we have also considered playing board games online and organizing an online movie night.
In addition, Nortal has held several companywide events in which different teams take part. For instance, part of our team participated in a Nortal Virtual Championship competition where teams challenged each other by completing various events like running a 10K, doing pushups or dancing to Gangnam Style. We didn’t exactly win (i.e., we lost), but we still had a lot of fun! 😊
It doesn’t matter what methods a team uses to keep team spirit alive. The important thing is making a conscious effort to keep the communication flowing within the team and finding fresh ways to do something together other than work. Whether that means holding an online game night or enjoying each other’s company at a weekly team lunch — do whatever works best for your team!