Blogs about Jazz

Blogs > Jazz Team Blog >

Our team gets together for lunch… online

It’s not uncommon for teams at IBM to be distributed across countries and timezones. I joined my current team last January, and we have team members in the United States, Canada, and even Switzerland. I work from home, met my team lead in person for the first time in November, and have not yet met any of my co-developers in person. Sounds a little crazy, right?

With all of our fantastic tooling, we’re able to manage our development efforts effectively. I discuss how I manage to stay in the loop despite being physically isolated in the post Oh! The places you’ll work (when you use RTC)!

However, teams need more than just great tooling.  Research suggests that opportunities for friendship are directly related to job involvement, job satisfaction, and even job retention.

Creating opportunities for friendship can be a challenge for distributed teams.  We don’t gather around the water cooler (or, as may be more appropriate in our caffeine addicted software engineering community, the Mountain Dew machine), we don’t get the “meeting after the meeting” where everyone sits around and chats once the meeting has officially ended, and we don’t get together for team lunches–until now.

Last summer, I invited my fellow developers to lunch… online.  I created a Google Hangout and asked everyone to bring a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack depending on whatever timezone they happened to be in.  Two developers attended, and we had a great time getting to know each other.  The following month, I decided to try again.  This time, only one developer attended.

We had a few more developers join our team, and I decided to give it one final try, but this time I asked each person to bring a picture of something fun he or she had done over the summer.  I’m not sure if it’s because we had more people on the team, everyone’s calendars happened to be clear, or if people just love talking about themselves (I have a feeling it’s this one!), but we had 7 people (and Chris’s dog, Marcus) attend.

We’ve continued having monthly lunches ever since and have had a great turnout each time.  We’ve discovered some pretty interesting things:

  1. Chris’s dog Marcus is adorable.
  2. IBM has a team in a competitive video game league.
  3. Our team loves cars–everything from fixing them to racing them.

I’ve also discovered that seeing my teammates’ faces and getting to know them on a personal level eases any tension I may be feeling.  I feel more connected with them, and sharing ideas with them seems a little less risky.  And I’m guessing that all of that research is true:  subconsciously I’m probably feeling more involved in my job, more satisfied with my job, and less likely to pursue opportunities outside of IBM.

Want to try an online lunch with your team?  I recommend suggesting a discussion topic ahead of time.  Unlike in-person lunches, you can’t generate small side conversations, so it’s helpful if you can seed the large group discussion.  Some topics we’ve used include “Share something fun you did over the summer,” “Share your favorite hobby,” and “What if JazzHub could….” where we brainstormed crazy ideas about the application we work on, JazzHub.  Next month, we’re planning to discuss our Myers-Briggs personality types.

I’d love to hear stories of how you connect with your physically disconnected team.  Or if you try an online lunch, let me know how it goes.   Add comments below!

Lauren Schaefer
Web Developer, JazzHub
Social Media Lead, and JazzHub