2023 Award Winner

Asynchronous team building for the win

Asynchronous Team Building | Edgar Allan

In our remote office, opening our computers and logging onto Slack is the closest thing we have to a commute. Almost everything we do is facilitated through the app, from public morning updates that let us know what everyone is working on to quick huddles with team members. But while Slack is great for getting the “work” part of work settled, we’ve found that it’s also pretty good at helping us connect on a more personal level, too.

Ten years ago, we started Edgar Allan in a real, in-person office at the Goat Farm in Atlanta, GA (novel, right?). That physical office space was at the core of our identity as a company, lovingly built and designed to not only meet our needs, but also show the world — and each other — who we were. From trinkets on our desks to the soft blue glow of our very own EDGAR ALLAN neon sign, the office was a big part of how we imagined ourselves …. and how we connected with each other.

But when the pandemic began, we shifted to permanent remote work. This structure has offered us the freedom to grow into a global company, with team members all over the United States, as well as in South America, Serbia, and South Africa. But with this expansion, we've also had to make a real effort to stay connected as a team.

In the office, it’s easy to forge connections. You spend at least eight hours per day around colleagues, coming together through both work and non-work-related things, learning about each other’s lives just by being in the same room. Online, though, it’s not that simple. We aren’t just handed these moments together — we have to make them happen. And if they don’t happen, there’s a cost. Feeling connected and having strong bonds at work is one of the best ways to ensure a happy, successful team. It makes people better at their jobs and keeps them around longer, too.

Since the pandemic began, lots of companies have tried different ways to foster virtual connection, but it can feel forced and just plain awkward. Sitting down 20 people, throwing them in a Zoom room, and asking them to chat during a planned “happy hour,” isn’t always, well, happy. This method doesn’t tend to produce the best results, nor does eating lunch together on-screen (and at the EA office, we tried both, to varying degrees of success). Getting together in-person can work, but if colleagues are spread out all over the world, then that’s not going to make remote team members feel closer at all. Instead, it pretty much excludes those who can’t make it to the in-person event.

Over time, we’ve realized that the best way to foster virtual connections is through low-stakes, asynchronous touchpoints. Instead of herding everyone onto a Zoom call, we turn our physical distance into an asset by encouraging our team members to share pieces from their corners of the world through casual, ongoing challenges that spark conversation.

These challenges have been successful not only because they're relatively easy to participate in, but because we can do them on our own time, asynchronously. Time zones and schedules don't have to line up — we post our update in Slack and then go about the day, knowing that our team members will see it whenever they get to it.

Inspired by these challenges, we started thinking about how we could continue with other asynchronous connections — and then came Wordle.

Like the rest of the world, a few members of our team fell down the Wordle rabbithole and began sharing their scores every day via Slack. As more and more team members began participating in the daily Wordle, we thought that maybe this was something that we could bring to other teams, which is why we’ll soon be launching an app that we’re calling Slack Games (for now).

Slack Games is a collection of micro-games, tasks, and interactive activities served to teams via Slack to help people share bits of their personalities and lives.

By sharing these small slices of ourselves with each other, we can connect on a deeper level. With each post, emoji reaction, and pet picture, we’re able to construct the invisible foundation that the relationships within our company are built upon. And since it’s virtual, we can do it any time, from anywhere in the world, without demanding too much from each other.


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