How Early Works Brings Its Remote Team Together For Not-boring On-screen Activities

Early Works, an in-house product and technology studio founded early 2022, has been 100% remote since inception. With a team of fifteen employees and contractors working from Poland to LA and points in between, we’ve been experimenting like everyone else when it comes to employee engagement and sustaining a sense of community despite the lack of IRL time.

One thing we know is that while non-work team activities are critical for strengthening connections and building morale, they don’t have to be boring or contrived. In fact, we believe we’ve found the formula for successful team-building events.

As at other companies, the ability for people to work remotely has allowed Early Works to build incredibly talented teams who enjoy the flexibility of working from home or wherever they may be traveling. But the day-to-day micro-opportunities for personal connection that exist in an office just aren’t there. There’s no kitchen to catch up on the latest episode of Ted Lasso while grabbing a coffee. No one’s walking out to the parking lot together at the end of the day and chatting about their kids’ soccer game or their plans to try out that new farm-to-table cafe.

At Early Works, we try to build micro-connections into the beginning of select meetings with prompts like “Describe your most memorable vacation,” or “Show us one of the tchotchkes in your workspace and tell us about it.” (See more ideas from SIWOM here.)

These are great ice breakers, but there’s still something missing. Fun. And by fun, we mean laugh-out-loud, discover the unexpected about your co-worker, bond together in a no-risk challenge, and forget about work for a while. You know, the kind of fun you have when you’re not at work.

We challenged ourselves early on to launch and test activities that bring organic fun into our remote workplace. And we’ve had great success. Some of our favorites:

  • Weekly photo round-up. Ahead of our Monday standup, everyone posts a few photos in a shared Google Slides doc, showing off something they did over the weekend or the latest book they read or movie they watched. Everyone’s so excited to go through the photos at the end of the meeting that our standups always fly fast.
  • Remote scavenger hunt. Some were skeptical when it was proposed, but everyone agreed that our wacky remote team scavenger hunt was an utter blast. From “Take a picture of a pet wearing a hat while working on a laptop” to “Create a haiku about something that we built, launched, or experienced together this year,” the resulting slide deck is one we still revisit for a good laugh. (You can steal our hunt here or check out SIWOM’s collection here.)
  • Demo Day. Other than photo sharing on Mondays, our Thursday Demo Day is probably the team’s most looked-forward-to weekly event. It’s essentially an open mic night for sharing a new tool you’ve mastered, a nugget of knowledge that people outside your expertise don’t have, or something fun that you know will make the rest of the team smarter or happier.
  • Recipe sharing. Food brings people together, but that’s hard to do when your teammates are sprinkled from Madrid to Philadelphia to LA. So, we post our favorite recipes and we share kitchen hacks. We’re no Wolfgang Puck, but from our vegans to our meatatarians, we have some pretty mad skills.
  • DoorDash Day. While we can’t eat at the same table, we ended 2022 by giving everyone a meal stipend to order lunch or breakfast (depending on the time zone) while we celebrated our 2022 accomplishments. We learned a little bit about everyone based on their restaurant and food selections, and no one was disappointed by a holiday buffet planned by a faceless party committee.
  • We built GENSMAK! digital trivia, a remote-playable version of our trivia card game, and we play it as a group any time we launch new expansion packs. To be fair, gameplay for us doubles as testing, but it’s hard to think of many other product testing scenarios where people are laughing so hard they’re crying.

Through all of this, we’ve learned some things. Team activities that transcend remote work and bring the greatest joy have the following in common:

  • They lead to learning new things about each other
  • They let everyone forget about work for a while

When we consider new activities at Early Works, we consider these three elements and we ask: Would we have fun doing this with our family at home or our friends down at the pub? If the answer is yes, we’re all in, because a team that has meaningful connections finds more job fulfillment and makes greater contributions to the company’s goals.