The biggest downside of being distributed is the lack of spontaneous social interactions. What happens naturally in a physical office must be intentionally and carefully redesigned for distributed teams.
At Nebulab, we have a variety of tools and rituals that are designed to break the ice and bring people together. We call these watercoolers: just like a physical watercooler, their purpose is to create a space for people to get together and connect spontaneously, rather than through artificial team building exercises.
In the next paragraphs, we'll explore some of our most popular watercoolers.
Non-work Slack channels
#cazzeggio (/katˈtsedʤo/) is our Slack channel dedicated to all random stuff. The name is Italian for "messing around" and it stayed, for lack of an equally powerful translation, from when we used to speak Italian in our Slack workspace.
Everyone is free to post whatever they want in the channel, and threads are encouraged so that multiple conversations can go on at the same time.
We also have a variety of thematic channels in Slack, for discussing certain topics or interests: #musicaddicted, #movieaddicted, #climbing… Just have a look at the channels directory in Slack and join whatever channels are interesting to you!
Every couple of days, Donut also proposes an icebreaker question in #cazzeggio, and everyone's encouraged to answer it.
Some of the icebreakers are fun and interesting, and the ensuing conversations are a great way to get to know each other on a more personal level. Some are… a bit over the top ("When was the last time you struggled to change your mind after learning something new that changed a long held belief you had?")—when that happens, it's still a good opportunity to make fun of the bot together.
Of course, if you have an icebreaker of your own, feel free to just post it in the channel and see what happens!
Once a week, Donut will pair people in the #coffee channel. It will kick off the conversation with a fun icebreaker and then encourage you to take a remote coffee (or donuts!) together.
The Donut can take any form you want, but usually it's a 10-20 minutes video call where you can talk about whatever's on your mind—it doesn't have to be work. In fact, most people use it to catch up about their hobbies, families, and personal lives, and to get to know colleagues in other teams/departments.
If you're a remote worker, Donut is an excellent way to socialize with the rest of the team. If you work from an office, it's still great to get to know everyone else—in this case, you can "ban" your co-located colleagues so that Donut only pairs you with people you don't know as well.
BirthdayBot ensures we don't miss a single birthday at Nebulab.
On the day of someone's birthday (or on Monday, if the birthday falls on a weekend), it will post a nice celebratory message in #general, so that the entire team can chime in with their love and a sea of emojis.