So this is the new normal, uh?

But hang on … I kinda liked the old normal :/

Much has been written about how important a company’s culture is to its success. And as we all spent such a large amount of our time at the office, especially in agency life, we know a healthy culture is essential to the well-being of all who sail with us. But more on this in future posts.

At bbd we are rightly proud of the company culture we have curated. From top to bottom we have each other’s back. We all sit together, work together, socialise together; there are no barriers, silos or divisions. And as a result many incidental conversations occur that encourage empathy, understanding and support.

And in what seems like a heartbeat, it’s all gone.

The new normal.

Nah, sorry, that doesn’t work for us.

We’re getting some of the old normal back.

Coffee breaks in our kitchen have always provided an organic way for conversations to manifest. Ideas are brain-stormed, support is given, people who don’t get to chat in the day-to-day can meet up and we understand each other better. You can’t predict or engineer this. It just … well … happens. Centred around the steady presence of our Nespresso machine, while you grab a pod, empty the tray, refill the water, check the tray, restart, clear the nozzle and serve yourself a coffee.

Therefore, while we are remote we wanted to replicate these organic, random, hyper-personal meetings. Not the awkward, impersonal, ubiquitous, all-hands Zoom ‘pub chats’, yes we do them too, but for a different, more company-focused purpose.

So we decided to create something ourselves. Something aligned with our culture; something playful, with a strong creative focus. Something more bbd. 

Hiten, our Junior Developer, and Ollie, one of our Creatives, spent a few hours brain-storming ideas. And they came up with an outline set of requirements 1) the solution needed to initiate a call between two (or three) bbd employees, 2) matching of employees needed to be random replicating the nature of impromptu kitchen meet-ups and 3) employees needed to be able to opt in/out to fit around individual work schedules.

As much as we might have liked, it was obvious we couldn’t build something completely bespoke via WebRTC or similar. We needed to get this up and running as quickly as possible. So they looked at the tools we were already using to see if they could provide the component parts. 

It’s amazing how many, many communications tools we all now use on a daily basis. Often driven by clients who are mandated that they can use tool X but not Y internally. Therefore, we had an extensive list to choose from; Slack, Skype, MS Teams, WhatsApp, Hangouts, Zoom, Email. After reviewing, it became obvious to pick the two most people were familiar with: Slack and Zoom.

The team first investigated doing everything via a Slack App; however, a pure messaging service didn’t really allow for the creative zeal to make it feel bbd-like. So we settled on Slack to handle the comms and Zoom to facilitate the video call. We then needed to create an intermediary service to manage opt-ins and facilitate the random matching of employees. Hiten knocked this together via a ReactJS frontend and Firebase database to hold the opt-ins and matches while Ollie provided the creative.

The intermediary service posts to Slack first thing every morning asking people to opt in. They are then taken to a web page to select an AM or PM slot. Mid-morning they get prompted via Slack to match with someone. The React app provides a spinner (see below) that upon triggering, randomly selects 2 or 3 three people to meet at the allotted time. Just prior to the allotted time they get a Slack which contains a link adding them both to a password protected Zoom call. Boom! Coffee break initiated 🙂

In true Hack-a-project style: from kick-off to beta testing took just over 3 days and the finished service was running company wide within a week.

So how’s it going?

So far we have facilitated numerous internal catch ups which are happening daily and we now looking to open-source for other organisations and already have a few interested parties.

Paul Barton
Technical Director