Five Lessons From Our Monthly All Hands

Lessons learned creating a once a month get together for 50 people across five different timezones.

By
Markella Apergi
on
Feb 18, 2020
Category:
Future of Work

The best time of the month for many of us at ScreenCloud is our monthly All Hands meeting. It’s the one time of the month that our distributed team comes together to discuss product updates, news and company announcements. This is a fairly usual format in startups and being a distributed team, it helps keeps us all working in harmony.

So given that we can’t fly everyone to one location every month, I bet you’re wondering what we use. Yes that’s right, we all meet at a video conference.

Now imagine trying to coordinate five different time zones, 10 different locations and 50 people. As we’re getting bigger these numbers will only increase.

Setting up in the beginning felt a lot like this:

Why is the image so blurry?

The start of every single monthly all hands sounded like an untuned Adele song “Hello, can you hear me?”

Hello Bangkok team, can you hear me? LA, can you hear me? New York, can you hear me?

Try out different tools and see what works

We first started off sharing our All Hands using Youtube Live, but streaming quality wasn’t great. Now we’ve switched to Zoom and quality is so much better and set up so much faster. Investing in new equipment is essential, but think creatively.

First, try to make the most out of the equipment you already have. Our main issue in the beginning was that the sound was not clear and had loads of echo and background noise. Our mistake was that we rushed in investing in a good microphone which really improved the sound, but it didn’t solve fully our problem. Our CTO Luke had the idea to use the microphone of AirPods and guess what, the sound is now working like a dream.

Here’s our current setup and tech stack if you’d like to replicate something similar:

  • A computer for the Zoom video conference using a Logitech Brio Camera on a tripod facing the presenters and AirPods as a mic
  • A second computer to join the Zoom conference call using the in-built camera facing the team and a Blue Yeti mic for the Q&As
  • A third computer connected to the screen with an HDMI to show the presentations

Time is important

We don’t want anyone missing our All Hands meeting because it’s 2am and you know we’re humans and sleep is essential for our survival. We want to give everyone the opportunity to interact and ask questions live, so we’ve chosen a time that’s convenient for everyone. For those who can’t make it or are on holidays, we always make a recording that they can watch at a later date (Zoom gives you the option to record your session).

Okay this does occasionally mean compromise, our LA guys have to get up pretty early and our Bangkok team have to stay a little late, but we’ve managed to find a time that’s at least attainable for every employee.

Be organised

Everyone is busy, so start sending the All Hands invites early. Survival of the fittest is the unspoken rule when finding and booking the right meeting room, so give yourself a head-start if you’re managing the presentation side.

Finally, even if you think you can set up the computer, the microphone and the camera in 15 minutes, think again. Always give yourselves extra time for testing. We’ve been there, there’s nothing more awkward than starting the video call and having all eyes on you while you’re trying to fix the broken sound from the front of the room.

Do not settle

Even if you think you’ve nailed the set-up of your all-hands, continue trying new ideas.

Now that we’ve figured out how to make sure everyone is seen and heard, the next thing we’re looking into is increasing engagement and involvement. We’re experimenting with Sli.do, an audience interaction tool for meetings that lets us create Q&A and brainstorming sessions. Bonus points, you can even get feedback on your presentations and run polls.

Think about the content

What makes our All Hands so special, apart from seeing each other’s faces and getting introduced to new team members, is the life lessons our co-founders give us. From David’s numbers to Mark’s stories and Luke’s product updates, our All Hands has transformed into a learning experience for all of us. Of course, we’re still figuring things out, at this moment in time, it’s mostly our co-founders who do the talking, but we’re encouraging team members to also do talks about what’s important in their area of the business. Some ‘guest appearances’ we had in the past were our Head of Marketing, Sim, talking about the importance of data visualisation and our Product Manager, Josh, giving us an overview of our apps roadmap.

Your turn,

  • How do you run your all hands?
  • What works and what doesn’t work?
  • How do you make them valuable and empowering?

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have.

Markella Apergi

Marketing Executive at ScreenCloud. I like to write about start ups, work and marketing. I love gifs, the TV and the cinema and I try to be funny.