Comment & Opinion

Deepening company culture during Covid: 5 tips from Dodreams

Creating new watercooler normal

Deepening company culture during Covid: 5 tips from Dodreams

Finnish developer Dodreams is best known for its multiplayer combat racer Drive Ahead!

A year of working completely remotely is starting to take its toll - even for us introverts. 

Taking care of the team’s emotional connection should be everyone’s priority now.

Prior to the Covid crisis in many EU countries, remote work was completely new to more than half of the people who now work from home.

McKinsey’s 2020 global study states that 69% of people feel more or as productive than before. 86% feel more satisfied now working remotely.

Nevertheless, disengagement and social detachment are on the rise.

Many organizations do work effectively remotely. In the beginning, Finnish mobile game studio Dodreams Ltd. noted how excited its team was to work from home.

People felt that - finally - they could focus; they didn’t waste time commuting; and working in sweats is so much more agreeable.

Kristian Segerstrale from SuperEvil probably said it best already in the spring of 2020 when sharing tips for remote working.

  • So, are you excited about having daily virtual coffee with your whole company?
  • Can you not wait for the next opportunity to watch your CEO eat sushi on a team lunch call?
  • Have you managed to organize remote work with your team and projects, and day-to-day operations are running pretty smoothly?

But, how are you doing emotionally?

  • How is the team spirit?
  • Do people chat about random things not related to work, casually over coffee or over the online watercooler?
  • Are the inside jokes flowing and does spontaneous brainstorming take you to weird places?

People feel left out of the loop in discussions and decisions.

Many organizations don’t know how to maintain an emotional connection with co-workers and fight fatigue.

They need to connect with others, but a natural symptom of virtual meeting fatigue presents itself: not wanting to show your face.

The vicious cycle begins.

Many organizations don’t know how to maintain an emotional connection with co-workers and fight fatigue: especially extroverts are suffering, since they can’t read body language and micro-expressions as easily virtually.

  • Ask your teammates regularly how they are doing, and don’t just accept the first “I’m fine” answer.
  • Don’t just talk about goals and how to reach them. Listen and ask some more.
  • Celebrate success, share failures, emphasize trust and have fun together.
  • Remember to try to understand the different personalities of people.

Tried and tested fixes

Many organizations have succeeded with the first part of remote work, but are lacking with the second part.

Dodreams has figured out how to tackle this since even Finnish introverts are missing co-workers and work friends after a year away from the office!

According to Eurofund’s research conducted in July 2020, 78% of employees would like to continue to work remotely occasionally after the crisis, but only 13% would like to do it daily.

When the pandemic started, the plan was to completely transform office life online. The plan of course didn’t work.

CEO Erik Pöntiskoski explains: “We realized that people really didn’t want to eat in front of the camera, so we had to think of something other than just remote lunches and hanging over the virtual coffee machine.”

The following list has been thoroughly tested out by Dodream’s Dreamweavers team.

  • Tip 1: Set time aside to talk about other stuff than work

The Dodreams teams use the Donut app for weekly virtual coffee with a random team member. It’s voluntary to join the Slack channel where the app automatically pairs you with a colleague.

Take a virtual selfie screenshot of the call and share it. The most fun ones, with the oddest virtual backgrounds, have been photoshopped into a collage.

“We don't expect people to necessarily talk about work stuff. The only guidance we give is to discuss something that made you stop and think recently or a fun thing you discovered or learned.

“This way team members may discover shared passions in making games and life!”, Pöntiskoski states.

Who knows what common hobbies or interests you might have with a coworker?

Virtual random coffee breaks have been essential in onboarding new team members, it’s an effortless and entertaining way to get to know each other.

It is important to note that remote onboarding has come to stay, even after the pandemic.

Pöntiskoski continues: “At first it felt silly to have a bot assign you to have virtual coffee with a random teammate. But it’s actually pretty great because there's a big threshold to reach out to someone and say "shall we have coffee and chat, just the two of us".

“What if I'm bothering them? What if they don't want to talk to me?”

  • Tip 2: Do stuff you love together

Since Dodreams is a game studio, everyone loves to play games. After weekly calls, someone usually asks if anyone is up for some Among Us.

Playing together builds lore, legends, and inside jokes.

Playing together builds lore, legends, and inside jokes. The stuff that brings the team together. Another useful app is Bunch, where you can have voice and video chat with a group of friends while playing games.

The team also has Weekly Challenges, made with the CoDo app. The idea is to encourage people to do something together, albeit remotely. It can be stretching, catching some sun, or listing your least favorite songs and creating an epic playlist.

Sometimes a little silly competing with work friends is just the thing. People don’t like to be told to do what is good for them, so make sure the challenges are impossible to fail at.

  • Tip 3: Always try to have fun, especially in meetings

The custom background feature in Google Meets has been a blast. It has been particularly popular to edit colleagues to your background. And thus a new inside joke was born! The stranger the background, the better.

Sometimes everyone multitasks during meetings and sometimes people only listen passively with their cameras turned off.

The solution is Google Jamboard. The team doodles together, sometimes trivial stuff and sometimes actual project planning. The great thing is that everyone participates!

  • Tip 4: Play your own game together

The team used to have a weekly town hall type of event to discuss shared topics. At some point, it started to feel a burden to think of things to discuss.

The solution was easy, they decided to get together to talk and play their own game instead. It can be a dev build or the live version, so useful and amusing at the same time.

Playing without an agenda is important for game developers too. You might discover something surprising!

  • Tip 5: Keep decisions open and transparent

Decision-making remotely can feel like it was done behind closed doors. Dodreams keeps strategic meeting invites open, so anyone who is interested can attend.

Dodreams keeps strategic meeting invites open, so anyone who is interested can attend.

Keeping it easy and comfortable to comment and ask questions is crucial. A relaxed and fun atmosphere in meetings really helps. At the end of each meeting, everyone puts their camera and mic on to wave and say bye and thanks.

Put some work into your slides, try to make them a bit funnier than maybe you used to. Make sure everyone knows why the decision was made and that everyone feels that they were heard in the process.

The most important thing, however, is to hold on to your team’s culture, be it sharing stories of your dog or looking into the future à la Zoolander’s Blue Steel gazing as the Dodreams team does.

Pöntiskoski states that “culture only comes from people and every organization has its own. It just needs a bit of nurturing in these challenging times.” regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.