Virtual Virtue: A Tale of Technology and People (Guide for Remote Teams)

“3..2..1..GO!”I yell into my phone, then stare at its screen, waiting. A few seconds pass before a first flash of light fully illuminates the two silhouettes on the other end.

“Are we in sync?”

“I think I’m a few frames behind. Or maybe it’s the connection? Eh, looks good enough!”

I mute myself and sink back into the comfort of my armchair. The Pixar logo disappears and my friends and I are greeted by the opening scene of their latest movie “Soul” – more or less at the same time.

If you’re like me, then during the last year you’ve probably tried doing things online that otherwise would’ve never crossed your mind.

And while some formats just can’t reach the same level of intensity as their real life counterparts, others do surprisingly well. The challenge of navigating through this ocean of tools and possibilities was one that we at enpact – like many other organizations – had to dive into whether we liked it or not.

Social online events work slightly differently than their analog counterparts. Sitting around a table
inside a noisy bar can be fun in the real world, but on Zoom the same setting quickly escalates into gibberish. Instead of understanding the one relevant person in a babel of voices, two people talking at the same time result in no one understanding anything anymore.

And this may result in people wanting to leave as soon as possible without being impolite.

Let me share some of the lessons learned from our online meetings and gatherings:

For online social events, it’s good to have a host. Someone who guides the conversation, introduces games, and sets the mood. The problem is not that people don’t know how to talk to one another, it’s just that this gets very difficult due to the acoustic overload and the fact that we are used to having work meetings on Zoom – instead of socializing.

We’ve found it very useful and more interactive to use different platforms from time to time. Multiplayer drawing games like scribble.io, the online escape room games on enchambered.com or the question-based games platform gatheround.com are all great to help people unwind.

And in case you can’t find someone to host, you can leave it to the professionals. The people at cozyjuicyreal.com for example, developed an online team experience that is not only a lot of fun but also allows for genuine and deep conversations.

 

Four short games you can do on Zoom: 

 

 

Of course, social events are only one side of the coin. Let’s also take a look at how we integrated the work management platform Podio into our work to be able to scale our efforts remotely.

A more technical perspective:

For enpact’s biggest project ever, the Empowering Entrepreneurship Initiative (EEI), we were facing new challenges due to the sheer size and amount of data we had to work with. In concrete terms we had to quickly answer questions such as:

  • How do you process 2000+ applications?
  • How do you analyze over 300,000 data points?
  • And how do you do all that with a small project team of 20 people across different time zones?

Using Podio as our underlying platform, we were able to build multiple applications, as well as integrate other services like the scheduling software Calendly and the survey software SurveyMonkey to help us run the different phases within this initiative.

Just to give you some perspective, we managed to interview more than 500 businesses over the course of a few weeks. Imagine one interviewer being based in Berlin and a second interviewer based in Jakarta. Now take both interviewer’s recurring workload and meetings into account, add wildly varying working hours due to both time zones and individual preferences, and then make sure that both of them receive all relevant information about the business being interviewed in time – as well as inviting a suitable business from our shortlist and handling potential scheduling conflicts with said business. Phew – not an easy task!

Now, repeat this 500 times with interviewers in all kinds of time zones and you can imagine how big of a challenge this was. Fortunately, our technical setup and our team of patient and thoughtful
interviewers faced and met this challenge, and we were left with a sense of wonder (and a bit of surprise) of how it all came together and worked out.

And it turns out that, just like my friends and I watching Soul, you don’t have to be perfectly in sync to enjoy the show.

 

enpact_Team_2021

The enpact team at our 2021 virtual team retreat!

 

Good goes a long way, and with more and more experience under our belt, bit by bit, we will refine collaboration not only within the team at enpact but also with the technologies that we use.

 

You can check out the full article along with more in-depth features on everything from our experience of working together during the pandemic to ecosystem insights from our partners across 30+ countries the world in enpact’s Yearbook 2020.

Do you have a remote team building approach that’s been working well for you? Drop us a quick e-mail through communications@enpact.org and we’ll feature your team’s tip across the enpact social media channels!


Program Manager

Matthias is responsible for tech at enpact. He is a writer, boardgamer and storyteller, with only one publish article at the time of writing this bio blob. He likes to recommend people 10 day meditation retreats.

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