Keeping The Team Close While Distancing

by June Lee on July 1st, 2020

Keeping The Team Close While Distancing cover

Fostering connection when everyone is remote can be tricky. Wind back to four months ago-- it was easy to high five a coworker, give surprise birthday cakes outside of meeting rooms, and hop down to the juice shop downstairs for a walk and talk. Shelter-in-place restrictions pose new challenges that inspired our people team to think of creative ways to keep the team connected.

Our initiatives centered around the following dimensions:

  • Social Connection - How do we facilitate interaction between people across different teams and departments?
  • Wellness - How do we encourage people to take care of themselves and remain mentally well during uncertain times?
  • Alignment - How can we keep teams aligned, engaged, and focused on company-wide goals and objectives?

For the purpose of this blog post, we chose to highlight and share our social connection initiatives. We are happy to share these ideas with other companies looking to provide employee social support.

Wellness Programs

The pandemic threw a curveball of new work environments, screen-focused social interactions, along with uncertainty around the current economy. To help our employees prioritize their health and well-being, we launched a wellness program. We created a space for our employees to participate together, foster camaraderie, and not feel alone in their personal wellness endeavors.

April Wellness Program: Building Healthy Habits

Details of the Program
The program reminded employees to track key health criterias to build healthy habits. In a two-week span, participants recorded if they met the following criterias:

  • 7+ hours of sleep
  • Drink 64 oz + of water
  • 20+ minutes of exercise
  • 10+ minutes of mindfulness

Social Interaction
We encouraged social interaction through a leaderboard, seeing how we stack rank against each other. We also had a slack channel dedicated to this challenge to share knowledge with each other and asking, “Does tea count towards our water intake?” We could also commiserate on the channel about how drinking a lot of water was difficult.

We ended the challenge with a virtual celebration highlighting winners for:

  1. Highest consecutive points
  2. Category leaders
  3. Week 2 leaders (to motivate late joiners) while celebrating everyone who participated

Overall, the participation rate was 20 percent of the whole company.

Gabby Zetino, our sales development representative, shares her experience with the challenge:

Gabby Zetino Quote

Details of the Program
This month, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we assembled a mental health bingo board which highlighted a list of activities employees can do at their own pace. If an employee completed ten of the activities, they were entered into a raffle.

Taisia Karaseva, our Pilots & POC lead, shares how the bingo board pushed her to reflect on wellness habits along with the Scale-sponsored event:

Taisia Karaseva Quote

Social Interaction
We had a column dedicated to social interactions: “Stay Connected.” Also, Scale sponsored events on the bingo board’s first row:

  • Stress Relief Workshop + Guided Meditation - we brought in a self-care coach and meditation instructor for a 15-minute workshop on how to relieve stress and 15-minute meditation to regain balance.
  • Yoga with Scale - we brought in a yoga instructor for a quick 30-minute session in the morning
  • Scale’s Creative Time- we set aside time to hang out and work on something creative together (paint, write, dance, bake etc)

Scale Themed Trivia Nights

Scale Trivia Nights were born out of shelter-in-place and is one of our highly attended events hosted by our workplace operations team, Monica Breton and Eileen Ho.

Details of the Program
The program administrator prepared questions in advance, selected employees into groups randomly and sent them off to their breakout virtual rooms. Similar to regular trivia, each team had a lead and a team name. The trivia administrator gave category questions to the leaders via slack and the teams in their breakout rooms.

Then within the breakout rooms, teams discussed and laughed about the answers they’ll give and relayed the answers back to the program administrator.

Social Connection
Hannah Moreno, our marketing operations specialist, shares a few words on her experience with Trivia Night:

Hannah Moreno Quote

Speed Scaling

To play on the words of “speed dating”, at Scale, Margo Wheeler, our people operations manager, hosted a networking event, “Speed Scaling” for us to connect with employees across different teams with fun icebreaker questions.

Details of the Program
To do this remotely, Margo broke us into different breakout groups and posted the questions to us in real time. We popcorned around in a circle answering questions. Our answers organically led us to unprompted conversations. When we had all spoken and experienced just the right amount of awkward silence, we moved onto the next question to continue learning about each other.

For quarantine edition, we also included these questions:

  • What are you most looking forward to doing once Shelter-In-Place is lifted?
  • What’s the best meal you’ve cooked (or someone’s cooked for you) during Shelter-In-Place? … or baked if you’re a baker
  • What is your Go-To Quarantine Snack?

Social Connection
Guido Maliandi, our engineering manager, had attended both the live and the remote Speed Scaling sessions. He shares his experience with both:

Guido Maliandi Quote

Small Groups Scale Socializing

Socializing remotely could be difficult for a lot of people, especially in larger groups. To foster a genuine connection, smaller groups of one-on-one or groups with no more than four were scheduled by Eileen Ho, our program manager for Scale Socializing.

Coffee Chat

Details of the Program
We sent a survey out to the company so that anyone who chooses to can opt in to socialize. There are logistical nuances we consider such as:

  • Who they want to meet (new hires, cross functional team members)
  • How often they want to socialize
  • If they prefer one-on-one settings or groups of three.
    In addition to donut integration we’re already using, this initiative facilitates further connections for employees.

Social Connection
Our field engineering manager, Shaun VanWeelden has participated in several of these virtual coffee chats. Shaun shares his experience with Scale Socializing below:

Shaun VanWeelden Quote

Slack Channels and Prompts: Scalien Share

Slack is one of the main sources we use to keep in touch, so it only made sense to take advantage of it when we started “Scalien Share.” Similar to “Show and Tell” it is a fast way to take a step away from work and open up about ourselves. In addition to “Scalien Share”, we keep track of our interest-group slack channels for new hires to join. Most of these groups are grassroots-led such as #thebookclub, #cats, and #scaleai-women. Scaliens Share: Recent Foods

Details of the Program
For Scalien Share, the Workplace Operations team wanted to kick off a series of questions sent to our #social channel on Slack. Some prompts include “What has been your favorite indoor weekend activity?” and “Share a photo of your go-to mug!” Scaliens Share: Favorite TV Show

Social Connection
While our design manager Jeff Hilnbrand is taking an intentional break from design work and managing his team, he also has been a facilitator of culture at Scale. We keep our interest group channels engaging with prompts like “What did you cook last week?” in #cooking or “What are you bumping?” in #music. Jeff shares his reflection on social connection through Slack:

Jeff Hilnbrand Quote


While transitioning events to a remote setting, we couldn’t always smoothen out every detail before launch of the program. We take some of the areas of improvements as opportunities to learn and improve our future initiatives.

Balancing Competition with Participation
Our first wellness challenge emphasized competition over participation. Looking back, in addition to the competitive aspect, we would ideally reward those who were just participating. Focusing on competition only rewards the top individuals. Wellness programs shouldn’t always be about winning or performance.

Encouraging grassroots participation
As the people team rallies to foster connection, we could’ve also encouraged employees or given ownership to them to drive some of these initiatives. For example, asking an employee to lead a Scalien share prompt would potentially ensure that these prompts are not always coming from the people team but also inspired cross-functionally from other teams.

Finding balance between being structured and unstructured
Lastly, finding the balance between structured connections and organic connections is challenging. For Speed Scaling, we messaged out the questions in timed intervals to keep the group moving to the next question. In retrospect, we realized that some groups want to stay on one question longer than another question. Giving all questions in advance would allow the breakout groups to talk more organically, feeling free to stay on a particular discussion point that they were interested in lingering on.

Remote events and programs posed new types of challenges, but we’re grateful for Scale giving us the space to experiment ways to keep our employees close during these uncertain times.