My Weekly Moment of Zen? Hanging Around the Watercooler!

Written by: Sacha Labourey

CloudBees has always been a distributed company: when we founded the company, in early 2010, the handful of us were spread on three continents, no two of us in the same region.

Every stage of growth comes with its own challenges and while my goal is not to write a Ph.D. dissertation on "distributed teamwork in a post-COVID era," I wanted to share something that I started about a year ago and that has become something very important to me, and, hopefully, to the bees: the weeklyWatercooler .

As a distributed company (we have Bees in ~18 countries), a majority of them working from home, it is critical to make sure nobody gets disconnected. In particular, what we make sure we don't do are so-called "watercooler decisions" i.e. when, in an office environment, two persons randomly meet at the cafeteria, around the watercooler, and start discussing a random topic, and excited by the caffeine rush, take a decision on the spot. There is nothing wrong with on-the-spot decision-making, except when this shunts other persons who should have either been in the loop or informed about it. That simply can't work in a distributed company: either it gets discussed online, shared in a document/task/thread of any type or it doesn't exist. Access to the information and decisions can't depend on your work location. That's the big difference between remote teams and distributed teams . The typical definition of remote teams is that they hear about important decisions late and randomly. In a distributed company, there is no remote: the entire mothership is distributed.

Yet... it doesn't mean that hanging around the watercooler isn't cool! And so, about a year ago, I created what's called "The Watercooler"!

Every week, on Thursdays, all Bees are invited to meet on Slack for 2 x 30 minutes ( 8h30am CET – mostly for EMEA and APAC – and 9am PT - mostly for America). The day before, I usually send a video, anywhere from 3 minutes to 25 minutes (usually ~10 minutes) covering something I think is worth sharing. The range is wide: quarterly results, presentation of the board members, product strategy, customer and Bee interviews, specific efforts by a team, a recent award, business observations. And, so, on Thursdays, the discussion typically revolves around the theme of the video but anything is up for discussion: from jokes and photo collages to serious business discussions and criticisms on how something works. Anything can be discussed.

It took a few weeks for things to get into shape, for Bees to check whether they could really ask any question or share their thoughts – our Australian Bees helped make that very much a reality. ;) And now, this has become a "moment" a lot of Bees attend whenever they can (and if they miss it, they can read the Slack discussion when they have time). And for me, this has actually become very important. Every week I enjoy taking the time to think about what could be useful to the teams, based on what I see and also based on what I hear on previous Watercooler sessions. This has become a very important moment for me. So, in this world where distributed will become the norm, when are you rolling out your Watercooler?



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