Building a culture of serendipity
Aug 23, 2022
We’ve talked a great deal in this space about how remote work can sap teams of their natural spaces for informal communication. And without informal communication, a sense of loneliness and isolation can set in, causing teams to drift apart and teammates to burnout.
Burnout has a huge organizational cost. It’s something teams should avoid at nearly any cost. But the role of informal communication isn’t just preventative. There’s a positive case too.
We typically think of serendipity as luck or chance. The apple landing on Newton’s head. But serendipity is an incredible source of innovation. It’s brought us penicillin, Post-it notes, velcro, Aspirin, the smallpox vaccine, and countless other fixtures of modern life.
But research has shown that serendipity isn’t luck; it’s a practice, a culture that can be fostered. Serendipity is the ability to combine events or observations in meaningful ways, to see meaningful opportunities where others can’t. It explains why some organizations are “luckier” than others. And informal communication is the fuel for serendipity in an organization.
So how can a team be more serendipitous? Nancy K. Napier and Quan Hoang Vuong wrote about teams leveraging serendipity for strategic advantage: “by far, the most important aspect … is organizational culture.” They conducted a deep review of research and found that teams that were especially serendipitous emphasized four key values:
Encourage cross-pollination. Opportunities for serendipitous breakthroughs often come from “exploring the ‘periphery’ of some field” through unexpected information. This requires both formal infrastructure (helping surface information through formal searches) and cultural infrastructure (helping people from diverse teams and hierarchical levels come together). The more your culture encourages conversation between people who don’t work together everyday, the more opportunity there is for serendipitous innovation.
Build a culture of trust. We’re big on trust at Frond. Why? We believe that serendipitous opportunities are more likely to be found and acted on when people feel comfortable taking risks, don’t fear blame for an idea not panning out, and are encouraged to openly discuss ideas. We have a whole post about fostering trust in remote teams here.
Embrace inefficiency. This is a tough one for many leaders, who are taught to optimize for productivity as a linear variable. In fact, literature suggests that cultures that grant teammates autonomy to experiment, create flexible structures that can accommodate shifting opportunity spaces, and tolerate a “controlled sloppiness” generate more serendipitous innovation.
Celebrate serendipity. Researchers found that in order for teammates to act on serendipitous opportunities, it “has to be perceived as relevant and important for that organization.” Leaders who build cultures that recognize and celebrate the value of serendipity are more successful. The more you tell stories of serendipitous successes, the easier it is to develop (and hire for) a “serendipity disposition.”
At Frond we believe that focus on culture is key to great remote teams, and that the tools we use shape our cultures. We built Hello as a way to helps teams use onboarding as springboard into the trust-based friendships that remote teams need to thrive. And we’ve got more exciting experiments coming in this space soon. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest!
The Frond Team
Are we here to work or make friends?
Apr 6, 2022
For decades Gallup, the renowned polling and analytics company, has included this question in in their annual employee engagement survey: Do you have a best friend at work?
Many managers, even at Gallup, have scoffed at the question. What does friendship have to do with work? Apparently plenty. Gallup has used that question to demonstrate over and over that performance and workplace friendship are positively correlated. Specifically, women who “strongly agree” they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged in their work (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%). Another Gallup survey from 2006 found that both men and women who claim to have a best friend at work, 51% reported that they “work with passion” and “feel a profound connection to the company”, only 10% of those without a best friend at work responded that they feel that passion and connection. It impacts retention too: 75% of respondents who had a best friend at work planned to be with the company for at least another year, compared with 51% who didn't have a best friend.
Beyond polling, academia has studied the way workplace friendships are built as well. These studies say the key is informal communication, which they define as “real-time, unplanned and interpersonal interaction that is likely to occur when people actually ‘bump’ into each other” (Andrea, Arnaldo, & Romano, 2011). This type non-work conversation is far from frivolous, it’s the raw ingredient for friendships, trust, and ultimately high performing teams.
If you’re on a remote team, the second half of that definition probably gave you pause. Without a water cooler to chat around, hallways to ‘bump’ into each other, or lunches to catch up over, fostering informal communication is a challenge. When work is only about the work, teams can end up stuck in the mud. Without a workplace that naturally encourages it, remote teams have to commit to a deliberate practice of informal communication. The obvious tension between “deliberate” and “informal” underscores why remote teams struggle with this. In practice, what deliberate informal communication looks like depends on you and what comes naturally to your team.
One easy place to start as a manager is checking in with your teammates regularly. As we covered in this blog post, the way to do this effectively is through “emotional acknowledgement,” the act of noticing non-verbal cues from your teammates and acknowledging them. It’s as simple as mentioning to a frowning co-worker “you look upset this afternoon” or a smiling teammate “you seem excited today.” It seems like a small thing, but studies have shown it’s remarkably effective way to build connection and trust.
Something we started to do organically at Frond is share a few things beyond work in our daily stand-up. Sometimes it’s as simple as what we did over the weekend, other times what you’re reading, or listening to, or maybe something interesting about the town you grew up in. We found that these small glimpses beyond work fostered more connection on the team than anything else.
Beyond that, a great resource comes from GitLab. They’re an all-remote company that is pioneering many of remote work’s best practices. Their leadership is encouraged to create space for informal communication with their teams. That can range from small commitments like using emojis or dedicating time at the beginning of Zoom calls to ice breakers, to more involved efforts like social calls, game nights, and co-working calls. GitLab’s employee handbook is public and has a whole section filled with creative way to encourage informal communication.
Helping cultivate happier, healthier, higher performing remote teams is our reason for being. We built Hello as a way to helps teams use onboarding as springboard into the trust-based friendships that remote teams need to thrive. And we’ve got more exciting experiments coming in this space soon. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest!
The Frond Team
Create special moments for your team with Frond Hello
Mar 22, 2022
One of the most satisfying things about product design is the discovery that happens along the way. You start out with a hypothesis and see where it takes you. The serendipitous moments pop up are what makes the process so rewarding.
We built Frond Hello to help remote teams onboard new hires. To our surprise, our first alpha teams were asking to use Hello in entirely new ways. One team wanted to create pages they could send teammates on their birthday. Another wanted to celebrate a key contribution on a project. Yet another, wanted a persistent recruiting page where prospective hires could meet the team they would (potentially) join. We were excited about all these new use cases and decided to refactor Hello to be as flexible as the teams who were using it.
We build a new creation flow that offers templates for a few of the most popular workflows (onboarding, birthdays, and recruiting) but also provides the flexibility to use Hello in all kinds of ways we never imagined.
Our original recipe — built from the ground up to welcome new teammates!
The hero here is welcome videos from you and your team. It’s an opportunity to spark personal connection with your new teammate.
Links are an opportunity to add all the important resources they need, and provide the crucial context that you would add if you were sitting face to face. Most pages include things like the company vision, employee handbook, login links for their work accounts, and must-read documents that help them get started on their first project(s).
In an office it’s easy to gather the team (preferably around something good from a bakery) and celebrate their teammate. It doesn’t take long, but showing that person that they’re worth the trouble of planning and scheduling a get together is a powerful gesture. An email chain or Slack thread doesn’t have the same weight for remote teammates.
Birthdays in Hello feel much more special.
Each teammate takes the time out of their day to record a video message. It’s not just that it’s more personal than a few written words and an emoji (it is!), but also an opportunity to spark conversation that can further bonds (and trust) between teammates.
While we can’t deliver birthday baked goods digitally, Hello can do the next best thing: attach a link to a gift card so that they can treat themselves to something special. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way.
It certainly feels like recruiting has never been so competitive. How do you stand out in a sea of job listings?
Imagine if you could personally introduce you and your team to hires with only a few minutes of effort from everyone? What if you could share that introduction on social media, and even include it in the job listing? Our customers saw Hello as an opportunity to do just that. We built out a recruiting template to make it as easy as possible for you to make your own.
When you’re recruiting with Hello, each person on your team can add videos introducing themselves, their role, and give prospective hires a feel for what it would be like to work with them. It’s a powerful way to cut through the noise in job listings.
A recruiting page is rounded out with a link to the job description, as well as an email block that makes starting a conversation around the role as frictionless as possible.
Start from scratch
Maybe the most exciting thing about Hello is that it’s flexible enough to build something for any use case you can dream up. Want to celebrate a project wrapping up? Go for it! Not only can you freestyle within any of the existing templates, your can build something we never imagined using our core building blocks:
- Title - a header block with a headline, emoji, and description
- Text - write a simple note
- Video - record your own video or invite others to do so
- Image - add an image from your device
- Link - a block for a link and description
- Email - make it easy for someone to get in touch
We’re excited to see how your team puts Hello to work, @ us on Twitter (@frondcom) to share how you’re using Hello. We’ve got more exciting product experiments coming in 2022 so give us a follow to stay up to date on what’s next!
The Frond Team
What's at stake when we're talking about onboarding
Mar 9, 2022
Any manager will tell you onboarding is important. But managers are always drowning in “important” tasks. That’s probably why 22% of companies have no onboarding process at all. In a world of “brutal prioritization” how important is onboarding really?
Studies have found that onboarding has an astonishing positive impact:
- Teams with an onboarding process have 50% greater new hire productivity (source)
- 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding (source)
- Hires who join teams with longer onboarding programs gain full proficiency 34% faster than those in the shortest programs (source)
And the cost of failing at onboarding is even larger:
In other words, deprioritize onboarding at your own peril.
Plenty of work has gone into establishing best practices for in-person onboarding, but what about remote onboarding? As we were building our remote-first team, we really felt that void. There’s no playbook, no best practices, no tools to help. Firing up Slack on your first day and trying to figure out what’s going on, and even who is who, is scary! A few Zoom calls aren’t enough to hit the ground running.
So we began working on a solution for the highest leverage moment: the first day.
There’s functional needs on that first day. You of course need your accounts, software, basic processes, and paperwork. Doing that through Slack and email is messy for sure. But the big opportunity on the first day is in establishing relationships with your new teammates.
To that end, an MIT Sloan study found that great onboarding isn’t just about “introducing employees to the work environment and company culture.” Great onboarding involves "encouraging newcomers to express their unique perspectives and strengths on the job and inviting them to frame their work as a platform for doing what they do best.”
And so we built our first experiment, Frond Hello, to help our new teammates feel welcome on day one. It’s a custom page for your hire that combines links to everything they need, with personal welcome videos from everyone on the team.
Those videos are what we’re particularly excited about. “Encouraging new teammates to express their uniqueness” is hard, especially remote. Frond Hello videos allow your team to model “their uniqueness” rather than simply parrot company culture. They can start conversations that grow into the tight-knit relationships that great remote work runs on.
We’re not stopping at onboarding, there are plenty of exciting projects coming down the line. We can’t wait to share them with you!
Give Frond Hello a try today and follow @frondcom to keep up with the latest!
The Frond Team
The Great Trust Crisis
Feb 8, 2022
From day one Frond has been a remote team because we believe it’s a better way to work together. Nothing beats taking a mid-afternoon walk when you feel your creative energy ebb, or working into the night when inspiration strikes, knowing you can take it easy with a cup of coffee and a book the next morning.
But we would be lying if we said there weren’t tough days too. Awkward Zoom moments, Slack miscommunications that never would’ve happened face to face, and that creeping sense of burnout that can set in working from home every day of a pandemic. We see these pain points in the remote work experience as an opportunity for innovation, so we’re deeply curious about them.
Among our favorite resources are the studies about remote work that have come out since the start of the pandemic. They give us a snapshot of what’s working, and what isn’t. And something we’ve noticed in nearly all of these studies is this curious paradox:
Workers clearly prefer remote work
And yet... they report record levels of burnout since switching
It’s just pandemic stress driving burnout, teams are working more
What's going on here?
We believe there’s an invisible resource driving this paradox: trust.
Not only is the way that we’re working eating away at trust, but because of its asynchronous nature, remote work requires more of it. Without an office we are starved of the coffee breaks and hallways chats that build trust. And with less trust, we are more likely to misunderstand each other, and so we compensate by overcommunicating and “performing work.” Which of course, leaves us exhausted and with even less trust in our tanks. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s burning us out.
We’re in a bind right now. How do we get out of it?
For our team, the answer lies in better understanding what trust really is.
For that we turn to the expert: John Gottman, the famed psychologist and professor emeritus at University of Washington known for his foundational work in relationships. Not only did his research result in an entirely new approach to couples therapy, it had ripples far beyond. His groundbreaking methodology allowed researchers to codify and then measure interactions between people in new ways, and has been applied to research not only into marriage but also parent/child relationships, office teamwork, and even soldiers in Iraq. That broad application has unearthed elemental truths that now inform broader theories of human relationships.
And, of course, at the very center of human relationships lies trust. Research into its properties and dynamics upend conventional wisdom in many ways. Traditionally we think of trust as dependability. We trust people that do what they say they will. Yet, Gottman says, “Dependability is not enough. I can trust you to always be evil.”
So if trust isn’t linked dependability, where does it come from?
“I have to trust you to be more [than dependable]. I have to trust you to care about me.”
Care might feel like an unusual word in a work context, but there has been a great deal of research into it. Studies have found that care at work boils down to something called “emotional acknowledgement”, the act of noticing non-verbal cues and acknowledging them. It’s as simple as mentioning to a frowning co-worker “you look upset this afternoon” or a smiling teammate “you seem excited today.” It seems like a small thing, but it has enormous power.
In evolutional biology there’s an idea called costly signaling theory. This theory says that a small act can be seen as a sign of genuine intentions if it was a risk for the sender. So, for example, a peacock displaying its feathers is an “honest signal” of fitness to mate because it also attracts predators. It’s risking its own safety to communicate.
In a work context, acknowledging someones feelings at work is and “honest signal” because it’s both a display of vulnerability, and shows a willingness to get involved in complex situations with difficult emotions.
And all helps explain the trust crisis in remote work. The remote workplace is almost entirely comprised of text based tools that are focused on the content of work: email, documents, chat, code, etc. An unintended side effect of those content focused tools is that they strip away the emotional context that we bring to the work. Building trust isn’t about what we say, it’s about how we say it, but we don’t have a place for that anymore.
And that’s where we come in...
At Frond we want to help remote teams work in new ways that build trust as intuitively as they when they shared the same office. For our first product experiment in the space, it seemed natural to start, well, at the start.
Joining a new team is both exciting and scary. As we’ve built our team remotely, we’ve found that those forces are only magnified. Onboarding is a crucial moment for teams to start building relationships with a new teammate. And to relying entirely on text based communication in that moment misunderstands how those relationships grow.
We built Hello to add the emotional content back into the first day experience on a remote team. The product is built around personalized video because we know that how you say “we’re so excited you’re here” is the most important part. It might seem like a small thing, but we believe it can have a powerful ripple effects those first few months. We’re not stopping at onboarding, there's plenty of exciting projects coming down the line. We can’t wait to share them with you!
Give Frond Hello a try today and follow @frondcom to keep up with the latest!
The Frond Team
Nov 30, 2021
Trust is what great teams run on.
That may sound like something on a motivational poster, but we think that there's much more to it; something that explains this moment in work in a profound way.
Trust is intuitive.
Research shows that trust works like a muscle. It grows when you use it, and atrophies when you don't. We don't think about "exercising trust" at work, we just do it. That's because it comes from a lifetime spent learning how to build trust; in every face-to-face interaction, every long lunch, hallway chat, and even just being present in the same space every day.
Building trust in person is intuitive, and that's why we believe the switch to remote work has been so hard for many teams.
But, trust is not intuitive remotely...
Without an office, things start feeling a little off. We have more meetings, more pings on Slack, more emails. Our managers are checking in more than ever. It feels like we're working harder but getting less done. Many call it Zoom fatigue, but we see a trust crisis. Remote work requires more trust. It's process-driven and only works when everyone trusts that process.
And since we're no longer in our offices, we're cut off from exercising trust in the ways we know best. So without the trust, we need, we're taking our in-person tactics, performing work on Zoom, and micromanaging each other. So we spent time with great remote teams, learning how they work together and exercise their trust.
... until now.
And now we're using all that knowledge to build Frond: a new set of tools to help remote teams cultivate the trust they need, even when they can't be in the same room. Today we're taking the first step in that journey, with a solution to a problem we felt as our team was growing: recreating the excitement of a first day, when a teammate joins remotely.
Meet Frond Hello, a warm welcome for new teammates.
It combines personalized welcome videos from the team with links to everything a new hire needs to hit the ground running. We built Frond Hello to quickly scale our own team and celebrate special moments along the way – and we found it so delightful that we decided to release it as a taste of things to come.
Give Hello a try today, and check back with us soon — we've got big plans.
The Frond Team