Keeping connected while keeping apart

Our Office Manager, Mike Trueman, has been an integral part of keeping us all connected while we worked from home. Here, he shares his perspective on some of the things that made it all work.

Mike Trueman

By Mike Trueman, 4 minute read

At Luminary we have long had a policy of allowing people to work from home whenever they needed – it is after all one of the great advantages of digital. And yet, we had never had our entire team individually distributed, and never for such a long time. We had to confront a new challenge: how do we keep our team connected, engaged, happy while being safe at home?

Some people loved working from home from the outset. They quickly fell into new routines, enjoying no daily commute, and loving being able to work close to their own kitchens. For others, this was not such an easy process, especially those who were parents of young children.

And lots of us loved working remotely at first, but did not love it so much as the Melbourne lockdown endured. 

My role as Office Manager started to look very different – from managing the physicality of the office space, to working to keep our team connected. This was never something that we had to  actively cultivate before, being together in the office took care of it – and now we had to get creative. 

Here are some of the initiatives that we took.

All-in team events

As we have a large part of our team in Bali, our events never used to be all inclusive. So this was one advantage that came from this year – we could all be together for our events, no matter where we are.

Some of these events were more successful than others. We were concerned that our trivia night was going to be too Aussie for our Bali teammates. This was not a problem at all - however we quickly learned that we needed to do a tech run through! It was total chaos! But also good fun.

We made up for this with two excellent Escape Room experiences with Virtual Escape. These were so well conceived and even our brightest sparks were challenged to break free! In the first event, you needed to stop Melbourne from being bombed, but in the second the tables were turned and we became the criminals. Interestingly, we were better at being the baddies. 

By far our most successful virtual team event so far has been our Halloween parade followed by a Sri Lankan cooking class. The dress ups were a hoot, and even those who don’t have a full costume box were able to whip something up with the use of Snap Camera filters. The cooking class was led by an expert chef in Sri Lanka (Tech Lead Emmanuel Tissera’s brother Jerome). Seeing your teammates struggling with their sambal and roti in their own kitchen, with their family floating in and out, was the most intimate and connected team event we have held. 

Sri Lankan cooking class

Seeing each other, and often

My favourite part of my job is cultivating my relationships with each staff member, and this used to happen in the everyday, random conversations as people pass my desk. So we encouraged people to video-call each other, to have one-on-one, face to face interactions. And not just because they need something. We stressed the importance of the casual conversation, not about work. 

Part of this was also because it is easy for people to hide behind Slack, our Instant Messaging app. It is so easy to misinterpret someone’s tone and intention in text.

As the second Melbourne lockdown kicked in, I would randomly invite the Melbourne team members to jump in a Google Hangout and have a cuppa with me, just as I would make my morning coffee. Keeping it random meant that it was never routine – it didn’t become a meeting. It meant that there were different people attending each day, and it also meant that there were never more than four or five people attending so everyone could talk to each other easily. 

Sending the love

We also invested in sending people personalised care packages, filled with chocolate for the chocolate lovers, wine for the drinkers, kombucha for the non-drinkers, dog treats for the pups. Our team is spread all over the place – from Perth to Brisbane and in Bali and Byron and all over Melbourne – so this took something! However nothing is more important in this time than to remind people that they matter enough for us to come to them. 

It wasn’t just from us – it was within too. The entire team was invited to participate in our iso-buddy scheme. Much like Kris Kringle, each staff member was randomly assigned a team mate for them to send a gift to. 

Care pack being enjoyed by a pet dog

Without doubt, this year has forced us to think broadly about parts of our lives that we took for granted. It’s tested us, and yet I think that rising to this challenge has been hugely rewarding. We all are looking forward to having all our freedoms back, and to being together again, and yet there have been many great things that 2020 has given us that I hope we take with us.

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