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Buffer’s Virtual Water Cooler: How We Connect, Celebrate and Have Fun As a Remote Team

Nov 17, 2014 5 min readWorkplace of the future
Photo of Courtney Seiter
Courtney Seiter

Former Director of People @ Buffer

We’ve talked lots on the blog about how we communicate and the tools we use to get work done as a remote team, but I thought it might be fun to give you a bit of a different view into the life of a Buffer team member. In this post, I’d like to tell you about the ways we communicate that aren’t so much about work.

From GIFs in Hipchat to theme days on Sqwiggle to supportive notes on iDoneThis and even our UP apps, Buffer has a great variety of “virtual watercoolers” that keep us connected in work and play. Here’s an inside look!

Hanging out in Hipchat

Hipchat is where most of our communication goes on each day, which means in addition to getting lots of work done it’s also where we check in to say hi in the morning:

Morning greetings

And do a lot of general hanging out, whether it’s posting a new favorite band to the “Music Sharing” room (recently mentioned: Flight Facilities, Run the Jewels and Steely Dan) or sharing some of the awesome stuff we hear from our great customers.

Hipchat chatter

It’s also a great place to celebrate occasions, like business milestones, anniversaries and birthdays.

Hipchat birthday

Whatever we’re talking about, photos and GIFs are always appropriate.

Empty inbox GIFs

And emojis are a close second….

Hipchat emojis

Goofing off on Sqwiggle

Sqwiggle is our go-to tool for conversations that require some face-to-face time, and it’s also how we sync up for our daily pair calls and weekly mastermind chats (more on those in just a bit).

But since it generally stays on all day with all of our photos, it’s not surprising that it’s become quite a breeding ground for fun, including many silly “theme days,” like thumbs-up day:

thumbs up on Sqwiggle

And sunglasses day:

sunglasses day on sqwiggle

Sharing books and jokes in our Facebook Group

Buffer team members (and their partners, if they like) are invited to join our Facebook group, where we occasionally share articles and jokes like this one:

Facebook group for Buffer

It’s also the spot where all our free Kindle books get listed, thanks a little Wufoo-Zapier action. This way, other team members can get inspired by a new title, or compare notes on a book you have in common.

Facebook group books

Jawbone UP

One of Buffer’s great perks is a Jawbone UP that helps us track our nightly sleep and daily steps. We love to cheer one another on for a great performance on either, so the Jawbone app becomes another spot where we can gather, chat and support each other.

Up sleep

Encouraging teammates in our improvements hackpad

Each new week at Buffer, we take time to reflect on our self-improvement goals for the week and write them down in a group hackpad. These are the improvements we’ll work on throughout the week (and often, even longer) and discuss on our pair calls.

Since hackpad has a neat comments feature, this shared document often becomes a spot for us to share common challenges, recommend apps and tools or just cheer each other on as we work on achieving our goals. Here’s a look at a recent entry from Nicole that got lots of love.

Improvements notes

Fun and work notes in iDoneThis

iDoneThis is where we each keep a daily log of what we’ve accomplished that day. It mostly focuses on work tasks, but it’s great to include extracurriculars and improvements as well. Lots of interesting conversations can arise from those types of “dones,” like this one from Åsa:

Åsa idonethis

A bit of fun and silliness here is not too uncommon, either:

iDonethis 2

Standups, Hangouts and syncs

Various small groups are often syncing up throughout the day at Buffer as we all work on different projects and priorities. When we sync up in a Google Hangout, there’s often a bit of time devoted to trying out all the fun tools Google provides us. :)

Goofing off in a Hangout

Daily catch-ups and bonding with pair calls

Buffer’s pair calls are one of my favorite things! With a growing team spread across the globe, it’s so much fun to find out Monday who your pair partner is for the week and spend some time each day catching up with them as you talk about work projects and self-improvements.

We’ve explained how the pair call works before, and I thought it might be helpful to see an example of one in action, too. My pair partner last week was Nicole, our lovely Community Champion, and this is what one of our chats looked like:

Deep dives with masterminds

Once a week, each team member at Buffer pairs up with another for what we call our “weekly masterminds.” Our idea of a mastermind has evolved from the team lead-team member pairing we started with to the teammate-to-teammate version we now practice since we began experimenting with the decision maker way of working.

These are deep dives into high-level challenges and accomplishments, shared with the same partner each week for the highest level of trust and vulnerability possible. We’re paired based on similarities in our work, but the conversations are often just as much about our personal lives and improvements as they are about what we’re doing at work.

Joel and Leo recently opened up and shared some of the challenges they discussed in a recent mastermind:

Joel challenges
Leo challenges

The best masterminds require getting quite vulnerable and introspective as we focus on deep and ongoing self-improvement. We tend to leave these syncs feeling pretty great. :)

Over to you

So there’s a quick look at some of the ways we work and play together as a fully remote team. It’s very different than any other workplace I’ve ever had, and I have to say I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

What are some of the gathering spots for community and fun where you work? I’d love to hear about them or even see them in the comments!

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