Yash and Stella sit at a couch and video chat with Sarah

How a Donut Helped Our Team Feel More Connected

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Who doesn’t love a good pastry to start off their morning on the right foot? A donut made with just the right recipe can be the perfect pick-me-up. While you’re probably familiar with edible donuts, you may not know about a useful workplace app with the same name and, surprisingly, a lot of similar pick-me-up qualities. 

(Warning: There will be pastry puns to follow. Please donut hate me! 😂)

Before I begin talking about this sweet workplace app, allow me to share some backstory. CrossComm, like many companies, moved to a remote workforce during the pandemic. We quickly noticed we didn’t feel as connected once we all left our small office. We also grew by nearly 50 percent during this time, and we wanted our new team members to feel as connected as those who had been a part of the team for some time. Couple all those changes with the inherent nature of project-based work and we had a recipe for a disconnect. As head of HR, it was my task to help mitigate the physical distance and other factors as part of our consistent effort to improve our work-life balance culture. I noticed our friends at American Underground had begun using a Slack app called Donut to help foster connection for their co-working community. We thought we’d try it too! 

Donut Digest 2021

CrossComm employees took full advantage of the tool during our first full year of use.

Cooking up Connections

The tool is simple, automated, and concise, but still an engaging and effective way to sprinkle in opportunities for team connection throughout each work week. There are as many connection templates for Donut as options in a mixed dozen variety box:

Virtual Coffee: Each week, team members get an automated message in Slack inviting them to a virtual coffee meeting with another team member. The tool makes scheduling painless, suggesting potential times based on open slots in each team members' calendar. Donut even provides some conversation starters, though participants can really talk about whatever they want. Often these meetings end with new discoveries about shared hobbies or interests, and just as frequently they're a good chance to simply slow down and catch up. 

Cross Department Coffee: Similar to the Virtual Coffee dates, there are also automated monthly groupings of three to four members across different departments for longer Cross-Department Coffee breaks. These meetings allow for creative and entertaining collisions between groups of people that might not otherwise interface with one another due to the project-based nature of our work. At CrossComm, we also provide all of our employees with Oculus headsets and folks often take advantage of those fun tools for these longer sessions. From meeting in a virtual chat space to playing a round of VR mini-golf, they’re a great opportunity to foster conversations between project managers, UX designers, backend developers, and even our CEO. From a community-building standpoint, they’re a hole in one. (A donut pun and miniature golf pun in one. I couldn’t help myself! 😆)

Walkabout Mini Golf Screen Grab

Teams often take advantage of the Cross-Department Coffees to meet in virtual reality.

Watercooler: Finally,  we also utilize an asynchronous Donut tool called Watercooler. In a voluntary Slack channel, fun conversation-starting prompts are automatically posted throughout the week for team members to offer their personal perspectives. Who would have thought that the question “If you had a magic gift card that was unlimited for today only, what's the first thing you'd buy?” would begin with electric vehicles and end up with playful banter about world domination? Not me! But I definitely enjoyed the conversation along the way. Watercooler is fun, but not a huge time investment…and I say investment purposefully. I believe any time spent investing in team-building yields huge dividends because a connected, collaborative, and communicative team is much more productive.

Watercooler Topic 2022

Watercooler prompts often spark fun conversations over the course of a workday.

The Proof is in the Pastry

For us, initiatives like Donut aren’t just talk. While all the meetings and prompts are optional, our team members were happy to engage with their peers. In 2021, CrossComm employees made more than 350 connections. According to Donut, that’s more than 10 times the average for similar sized companies! And it wasn’t just a few chatty team members. Over the year, 92 percent of employees participated in Donut. 

Donut Digest Collaboration 2022

Participation in Donut was key to collaboration in 2021.

That level and volume of participation proves to me what I’ve always believed to be true about CrossComm—our culture is special and we love to connect with one another. One might say it’s baked into who we are as a company. Learning more about each other as people helps us be more effective team members and helps drive organic innovation.

While Donut wasn’t the only method we implemented to help foster relationships since the start of the pandemic, it certainly made a difference in connecting people.  I sincerely believe it's one of the reasons we were awarded "Best Tech Company to Work" by NC Tech Association. A lot of people in our industry might identify as introverts, and that’s okay! But I was so pleased at how few folks found the Donut tools intimidating. 

We have a wonderfully diverse team of individuals, and finding ways to cultivate new relationships and deepen others helps us keep a certain level of comfort that drives creativity and innovation. We spend a lot of time each week at work and with our colleagues; knowing that you have teammates that work hard and have fun together while doing it makes that time enjoyable and rewarding and that’s a pretty sweet treat for me.