Random coffees – the one that lived

22nd September 2021

18 months ago we went into lockdown and, like many companies, in March 2020 we were thrown into the 100% remote world without much preparation so we had to think on our feet to keep our team connected. We tried many initiatives to keep our team together from daily games to elaborate avatar based virtual offices. A year and a half later the only initiative that lasted was our random coffees. However what we do now is not what we did at the beginning, this is how we created an initiative that works for us …

We are an agile company, we know how to develop MVPs, we know how to iterate fast and we know how to fail fast and move on, so that is what we did to keep our team connected. We tried many, many ideas, if they didn’t work we adapted them or just stopped doing them. We were ruthless. Month one of lockdown we were paranoid our team would be lonely and their mental wellbeing was at stake so we met up every day, we thought up elaborate games and we all gathered in virtual kitchens and breakout rooms as little cartoon heads. Slowly interest waned. People started turning up late or not at all, people asked to miss the sessions, the virtual kitchen was empty as no-one logged in … the only initiative that people continued using were our random coffees

However even an idea as simple as getting two people to meet up needed tweaking to work perfectly, so we’ve gradually been adapting it over the last year.

Changes that worked …

Initially we used a random coffee Slack plugin and paired people up, after a while we started logging which coffees were happening and we found if two more-introverted people were put together they were less likely to happen, so we made our first change – in each pairing one was assigned as the organiser – it worked a treat, successful meetings went up by almost 30%.

The second change we made was the number of people in each group. At the end of last year one of our staff noticed that groups of three people worked better and would always happen so now our coffees are in groups of 3 or 4.

Changes that didn’t work …

Over the last year, we’ve had many suggestions on how to improve it (yes it is amazing how such a simple initiative can become so complicated) and we tried a few of them.

The first one was we set a time for everyone to have a coffee – it wasn’t popular – people liked the freedom and all our teams have different schedules. So that one was panned after a week. During the Summer this year, as so many people were on holiday we paused them for a few weeks to see what the reaction would be – it was largely negative. For the newer members of our team they are an essential way of meeting new people, so we reinstated them in September.

Psychological safety is critical for a team and a company to run successfully and we believe that the first step to building a culture of safety is to build personal relationships. It is really difficult in a remote environment. Random coffees are not the complete magic solution but they definitely help.

Psychological safety in our teams is one of our core values. If you want to chat and learn more about our experience learning and building a culture based around psychological safety please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or via email at [email protected]