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Solutions For More Community At Work? 205 205

CrunkCreeper writes "I work at a tier-2 hosting company (SAP, web servers, Citrix, databases, etc.). I started working at this location two years ago in January. The company had anywhere from 20-30 other employees, and now we are just over 100. People with all different IT experience are employed. At one end of the spectrum, you have accounting, billing, and sales. At the other end you have the help desk, analysts, and engineers. In the past we were hiring mainly people in their 20s, and now we're hiring more senior people in their 30s and 40s. Incidentally with our expanded demographic and recently aggressive hiring, people are not as familiar with each other as they used to be. This happens to some extent and will continue to happen more the larger our company grows, but I would like to curb the corporate feel a bit. I'm trying to bring family or community feel back to the company. The reason for this need is that great ideas are normally discussed in non-formal environments. Beside this fact, I want people to genuinely have more fun and decrease the sometimes uncomfortable discussions with 'that guy' from 'that department.' Being an IT company, I find it more natural for collaboration via computer, but welcome more traditional methods too. How does your company keep or build a community environment using technology?" Read on for some more on how it works at CrunkCreeper's workplace, and give suggestions for how to make things better.
" Here is what we currently use for collaboration, both formal and non-formal:

IRC — We have used a dedicated IRC server from the start, and it helps out tremendously when people use it (the Linux folks use it heavily), but it doesn't entice a vast majority of the employees. It's used mainly for BS'ing, but also becomes a very important tool when things are awry.

Facebook — Most people are on Facebook, but obviously there are details about the company that cannot be discussed, which is an issue since most of these profiles are public and it is a somewhat common practice to be friends with some clients.

Exchange 2007 — E-mail is the main source of communication, but can't it be painful sometimes? Everyone on the IT side receives alerts about tickets and other automated checks of systems. On any given day I generally receive 100+ alert messages. When we're not reading our filtered alerts into specified folders, general discussion about projects and fixing issues usually is anywhere from 20-60 messages a day. Quite honestly, I'm sick of e-mail and don't wish to get any more of it. I know a lot of you feel the same way.

Phone — Just using the ol' phone is the other primary way of communicating with the customer, but not ideal for communicating ideas with others at the same time. We have bridges, but they're only used for conferences with customers.

Company Meetings — We have these a few times a year. They're fully catered and consist of introducing the new people, talking about new contracts, and congratulating others on successful implementations . These generally last about an hour or so at the end of the workday. Unfortunately dedicating to these meetings is not the easiest on people's schedules, especially the help desk, and is not an open forum.

There are forms of collaboration that I have been thinking of. To list some, there is phpBB, Elgg, Jabber (discussed a few times before), and Google Wave (hard to push currently). Personally I think that a closed social networking platform would be ideal, where ideas can be posted and read at any time. Tell me what you think of these ideas, if there are more suitable solutions, or what you use at work."
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Solutions For More Community At Work?

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  • by godrik (1287354) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:42PM (#30966512)

    A room with a coffee machine, one or two tables and some up-to-date newspaper will make people sit during their break and talk about the news.

  • Leagues... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomhath (637240) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:50PM (#30966580)
    Back in the "old days" employees organized golf, bowling, softball, or whatever leagues. Even something like a fantasy football league that only meets a few times a year will help people get to know each other.
  • Two words: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:52PM (#30966594)

    Nerf Guns

  • Re:Ideas: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by buanzo (542591) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:53PM (#30966604) Homepage
    Troll. And fascist. BTW, Latinos are in the West. And, FWIW, "America" is an entire continent, not just the United States *OF* America...
  • Job security (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fractal Dice (696349) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:55PM (#30966616) Journal
    People will get along with people they know they are going to be working with for a long, long time. People aren't going to form emotional attachments to people who may mysteriously vanish from their cubicals after the next quarterly results. Older workers know the game ... the younger ones are still naive about what lays ahead.
  • by zitsky (303560) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:56PM (#30966620) Homepage

    I've worked in several startup companies that grew quickly. You can't *make* people want to get to know each other or spend more time together. You're fighting the natural changes that happen when a company starts getting bigger. Implementing technology will not solve the problem you're trying to address. If you really want people to know each other and interact, then find ways for them to spend face time with each other. Host parties, organize events at local bars, have some group lunches, etc.

  • by chrysrobyn (106763) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:01PM (#30966666)

    Your problem is that you don't see much between Facebook and a fully catered company outing.

    Once a month, a volunteer from every department gets the department to go to a local bar or local eating establishment. If they're lucky, the manager will cover half the costs, the grunts pick up the rest. My manager orders a few pitchers of Shiner Bock and a few appetizer plates and asks for $5 from everybody. Not everybody attends, and there's more than one person who doesn't drink alcohol, but they have O'Douls or whatever monstrosity, so they're placated.

    Of course, the word "volunteer" is important. Once one person does this in one department, and they get to talking, hopefully another department will pick up too. If two departments complete a big project, then two departments can get together and maybe the other one will think it's a good idea and try to do it too.

  • by Aladrin (926209) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:11PM (#30966732)

    No, it needs to be taken a step further. They need facetime -in the office-. They need to work together and discuss things constantly if you want them to feel like a team. People you only see at the company picnic are just people, not friends or even really co-workers.

    But the company probably doesn't want to pay for them to talk to each other. They would rather pay them to be productive instead. You'll have a hard time making this actually happen.

  • by elsJake (1129889) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:11PM (#30966734)
    As you get more and more people involved it's only natural for things to get colder. Human beings aren't built to get close to everybody , most can only "handle" a certain amount of friends.
    You can certainly try to make them all get along with various teambuilding activities , parties and the like , and that will help to some extent , but you can't force them to feel close to one another. After all you can't offer 10 people the same amount of time you could offer 5 , if you were to divide it equally.
    The only thing you can do is hope that people working in the same team will start to bond while at the same time not gather any negative sentiments towards other teams.
    The best way you can do that ? Make sure everybody is doing their job right _and_ not pissing all over other people's job.

    Example Case : You've got the IT service guys fixing everything up , cleaning all the viruses from the network, but the rest of them can't be bothered to remember one secure password to their account.
    IT will hate everyone for making their job more difficult than it should be , and everybody will hate the IT workers because they caught them on a bad day and got shouted at.

    Another thing I've found helpful is having a friendly face pop in and ask if there's any unresolved issues in any department or if there's any improvement that can be made. This person can't always be their direct boss , people get scared of talking about things that bother them to people that have a say over their future.

    In the end all these people are only there for one thing , their job. Make sure they can do it as easily as possible , and as good as they can and you'll see people getting along.
    What pisses people off the most is _wasting their time_ even if they're getting paid for that waste time it will hurt them and they will take it out on others. At the same time don't force them to pretend their having fun if their not , that just annoys people further

    Now since they're all trying to do their job , if you can show them that it would be easier if they worked together , that would help even more. GIve them the proper tools to collaborate and help each other and they'll all thank you for it.
  • Re:Job security (Score:5, Insightful)

    by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:12PM (#30966750)
    Plus, older people will already have a well established circle of friends so won't necessarily feel the need to make more. That doesn't mean that they'll be cold or stand-offish, but it does mean they won't necessarily feel the need to be best buddies with every 20-something, who only wants to talk about what 20-somethings talk about. They will also have different styles of social lives, such as having to get a baby-sitter whenever they want to go out, so the possibility of spontaneous gatherings or beer-busts after work won't necessarily appeal.
  • by foolish_to_be_here (802344) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:12PM (#30966752)
    As a SENIOR staff member @55, it "resemble" that remark! IBM use to promote work at home, home at work. Don't know if they still do. More lip service anyway. My advice is not to get too chummy (overtly) at the work place, making it too family oriented is not all good. Keep the work professional and "on task" keeps folk as better more productive workers and happier, of all age mixes. Yes, you can still have fun but your there to your job to do. It also helps to keep the inevitable work place politics to a minimum.
  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:15PM (#30966766)

    seconded - now you're moving away from the geeky 20-year olds you're simply finding that the usual geeky means of communication isn't suitable for everyone. In fact the 20-year olds will find this too as they age.

    So you have to go back to the traditional face-to-face stuff, meetings happen naturally round the coffee machine, the canteen, the smoking area (especially this place as I find people like to spend time out there chatting instead of working.. go figure!) you just need to encourage this kind of communication.

    Bear in mind people will be happy to talk to others, but won't initiate the communication - so you have to find reasons to make that happen. That means finding ways to put 2 people from different areas to work on something together.

  • Re:Job security (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:23PM (#30966804)

    Yup, as a new employee, its definitely nicest to be welcomed by nobody, ignored by the whole lot, and generally avoided because the established crew doesn't believe anyone new will last long enough to make it worth their while. Certainly inspires the new comer to skip browsing the wanted ads, when no one at the company interacts with, let alone befriends them.

    I've worked at places outside of IT/software development, and often people are friendly regardless. It really doesn't take much effort to be nice to someone. Perhaps its the cubicle environment. Or perhaps the non-social stereotype associated with computer-people is more accurate than we like to believe... (Or perhaps I keep having a poor experience with the software companies I work at...)

  • by causality (777677) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:30PM (#30966858)

    Maybe it's just me, but I don't go to work for "community". Don't get me wrong; I like what I do and we are all cordial at work and everything, but at the end of the day I don't really want to be your friend. Maybe this makes me "that guy", but that's fine with me; I just prefer to keep the professional and personal aspects of my life as separate as possible.

    I felt that way when I worked in a large office for a major corporation. Mostly because the socialization was perfunctory and not genuine, and could be filed under "office politics" more than anything. I saw how people gossipped about the relationships and private lives of others, and it was not in a compassionate or positive light. I quickly ended up feeling the same way that you do. Simply put, those are not the sort of "friends" I care to have. Though unrelated to me, my real friends are more like family members and this provided quite a contrast against this sort of childish politicking and vying for advantage. I was very good at what I did and enjoyed the work. I really just wanted to come in, do my job, and go home but was required to humor those who wanted to turn work into a social club.

    I was convinced that a lot of these folks had no social life whatsoever outside of work, and were trying to compensate for that by imposing on others by means of the corporate hierarchy. It really showed in the undue and greatly exaggerated importance that minor meetings and events had for these folks. It's like organizing little lunches and get-togethers was the only time they felt significant or important, which frankly was sad to see. I'm all for being on good friendly terms with co-workers, but I hope the inquirer of this Ask Slashdot doesn't take it too far and replicate this sort of maladaptive behavior.

  • I worked for Tivoli shortly after their heyday, which is to say, just after IBM acquired them. We had beer bashes on Fridays (do those still happen?) and offsite company meetings once a year, which means I attended one (not counting the billion dollar bash with Lyle Lovett — YAWN)

    None of these events did anything to bring people together. People hung out with people they know. I hear the ropes course actually works, though. :)

    The one thing I saw that worked was to include someone from another department in meetings they could get something from. For instance, I was on the team that included the inventory component, and I went to the inventory developers' meetings to bring our issues to them. Not only did this make me the best-informed support engineer (I do not use the term lightly — all but one of the people with this title had systems administration background when I worked there) but it also made me more familiar with people outside my department, and I was able to mix with a different crowd with minimal discomfort (on their part, most significantly.)

    With all that said; mixing alcohol with company functions is fucking over in the US due to liability issues, at least for the forseeable future. Until we kill all the lawyers (sorry, NYCL) this situation will persist. This is part of why I'm in Panama right now, looking for cheap land; you don't have some ambulance chaser up your ass with a flashlight at every turn. (The other reason? Agua es vida.)

  • Food and drink (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cyrano de Maniac (60961) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:54PM (#30967012)

    It's simple really -- the same way you build up relationships with people outside the office -- around food and drink.

    Things that have worked very successfully at my workplace (not all in place at the same time over the years):

    - Friday Beer Bash. 3PM on Fridays (or most Fridays) have a self-sponsored beer bash. A few volunteers buy beer, some non-alcoholic beverages, and some chips/cookies etc. Everyone is invited to come, sit, and visit. Everyone is expected to chip in a couple bucks toward the food.

    - Donuts. A set of people gets together at the same time in the morning once a week (Friday at 8AM when we did it) for donuts in the conference room. This isn't a "come grab a donut and go back to your office/cube" thing, but sit around the conference room and talk about anything and everything (work related or not). The participants are on a rotation to bring donuts, milk, and juice, paying out of their own pocket whenever their rotation comes around.

    - Grilling. Pitch in together to buy a grill (or get one donated by someone, or the company). During months where the weather is nice enough, grill lunch outside, everyone bringing their own items to grill that day. Probably do this once a week. Organize payment for propane/charcoal however makes sense (chip in a buck once a week/etc).

    - Cooking contests. An annual brownie contest, chili and cornbread contest, etc. A panel of employee judges gets to judge the contest, or everyone in attendance votes for their favorites. Have some sort of small prizes for the top three (e.g. small gift cards), funded however makes sense (company, entrance fee, proceeds from employees chipping in at the door to cover extras like beverages).

    - Often the "self-sponsored" events above (beer bash, grilling, donuts if you choose to do it that way) end up generating more cash than actual costs. Whenever the amount builds up to a sufficient level, have a "free" pizza/whatever lunch paid out of the proceeds.

    - Not quite a food thing, more of a beer thing, but start up a bowling league, company softball team, or something like that that gets people from different departments to join up around a common interest.

  • Recommendation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 955301 (209856) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:58PM (#30967036) Journal

    You are fighting an impossible cause. We aren't designed to know and care about this many people. If you intend to let your business grow beyond 10 individuals (Yes! Ten. Those people each have at least 3 people they care about, making the minimum count 30 already) then you will fail to accomplish what you are looking for. More importantly, if some of them fall for it and begin to trust others at the office, they run the risk of being *deceived by someone they are attempting to trust*, while at work. You will have effectively attached their desire to work there to the outcome of any one relationship they build at work. If *one* relationship goes sour, the person is that more likely to leave altogether. This is why you want all relationships to "not mean anything" at work. It's important to the business.

    Other than that, best of luck.
    http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html [cracked.com]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number [wikipedia.org]

  • Beyond insightful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:15PM (#30967176) Journal

    Nobody gets close working on work-related projects. It's the non-work things you have in common with people that makes them something other than their position. Unfortunately, you can't force this from the top, and your HR department can't be tasked with making everybody like each other*. You will need to get the ball rolling for extracurricular clubs. Note: this will cost company time, both when you set it up, and every time an event occurs. Golfers and bowlers will leave 10 minutes early to hit the links/lanes, and then waste another 20 minutes the next morning discussing the particulars of the event. It's worth it - worth every dollar.

    Sports: Golf, bowling, flag football, (insert other sports as appropriate)
    Arts: Dinner/show clubs (you provide busses, if possible), singing groups (a holiday chorus that sings at local events or ret. homes)
    Environmental/Community Service groups
    Anything where you have a group of people that cuts across the company (i.e. - no correlation to work stuff) is good.

    Help out with meeting space, minor cost items (weekly gift for lowest foursome, maybe a small trophy at the end, a room for group meetings or practices), but mostly leave them alone. If you meddle, it will backfire.

    Finally, understand that there will be some people who completely separate work from play - they're there for a paycheck, and have no desire to interact. Offer them inclusion, but mostly let them be.

    *The "company picnic" is about the worst function ever to try and engender camaraderie. You throw people together who interact in smaller groups, with interest completely apart from the activities you will provide.

  • by AuMatar (183847) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:54PM (#30967418)

    I think you're missing out. Its the community at work that decides whether a job is a soul sucking, burnout inducing hole or someplace you can actually enjoy going to every day. Its not about office parties or other forced socialization, but being able to talk to your coworkers and enjoy it, being able to laugh at work together, etc. If I had to work somewhere again where there was no friendship I think I'd get suicidal- it just makes that huge a difference to actually enjoy 1/3 of your life.

  • Re:Ideas: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:57PM (#30967430) Homepage Journal
    The attitude in my original post is not just that of Americans. If I were going to live in Mexico or China, or anywhere else for that matter, then I would seriously immerse myself with my host country's language and social/behavioral norms. It's common fucking courtesy.

    People who immigrate to America have the luxury of not being expected to adapt to the social and behavioral norms of America. Americans such as myself who believe that they should are labeled fascists or nationalists. America is a big melting pot. Shouldn't immigrants make more effort to, you know, melt a little?
  • Re:Ideas: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by turbidostato (878842) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:23PM (#30967550)

    "If I were going to live in Mexico or China, or anywhere else for that matter, then I would seriously immerse myself with my host country's language and social/behavioral norms."

    Except you wouldn't get any job because, you know, you shouldn't hire first generation immigrants as it's highly undesirable: They are very xenophobic and they will congregate into their respective groups and, in their native language, will badmouth and gossip about everybody who is not like they are.

  • by brettz9 (969574) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:27PM (#30967568) Journal

    Firstly, I congratulate you for your caring enough about taking on the issue.

    However, I think it is worthwhile to ask (if you, like most companies, have not already considered) whether employees have enough incentive to really want to work together in your company.

    If companies gave a share of the profits to every employee in the company, not only would those employees have a stake at being more polite to clients, more innovative, etc., they would also see that their own interests were tied up in the interests of the other employees. It wouldn't be us-vs-them as far as other departments, or me-vs-them, it would foster working together, and a sense of ownership in the company, especially if the company also regularly consults with and consider the employees as part owners in decision-making.

    When the employees stand to gain from greater cohesion, executives aren't solely responsible for attempting rah-rah motivation that encourages them to do so. No executive would join or stick around with a company which wasn't rewarding him or her, so executives need to stop thinking they are in a special class of people who are inherently motivated for grander things like team-work and service.

    Just because one hopes employees will just naturally have an ethic to work in the interests of the company--including fostering good relations with other co-workers--doesn't mean they will.

    Too many companies assume that only executives are worthy of enticing with a share of the company's profits, or they make the program opt-in or dependent on the employee spending some of their own money, while some of the strongest benefits may come from there literally being collective ownership by everyone (at least as far as having a share of the profits and some decision making). Everyone has reason to work together, beyond the inherent but more elusive rewards for doing so.

    While this might not be your company's issue, and while the suggestion may only seem tangentially related to your question, ensuring people are motivated for the fundamental reason most choose to be with a company (and to work at all) really needs to be taken into account before they will be more productive and more interested in collaborating and feeling at home at work.

    Capitalism has it right when it recognizes people need incentives, but oddly, such incentives haven't been adequately brought to the common people who might otherwise be wooed by communism. Many executives today actually come off as rather communistic in assuming people should just work for the benefit of the "state" (corporation). They insist that workers should just be satisfied with a salary and fear of losing their job, and that this should be enough to motivate anyone. It isn't.

    To reference Slashdot canonical authority, note that one of the serious moments in the film Office Space was when the main character is asked whether having a share of the profits would motivate him, and he actually admits it might.

  • Re:environment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Al Dimond (792444) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @02:52AM (#30968584) Journal

    I agree that cubes are pretty bad. I've worked in a cube and I've worked in an open-floor office. The open-floor office was much better. I had less personal space but I didn't feel walled in. Cubes don't really provide meaningful privacy but do stunt social activity and collaboration. That is, you can hear the guy two cubes over haggling over car prices on the phone, but if you want to round up people to go out you have to go around to everyone's cube individually. And when you're in an open environment you get the benefit of everyone's decorations, of the view out the windows, etc.

    The funny/sad thing is that people in cubes really fight when management wants to alter the space by taking down or shortening walls.

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