Hello everyone! We are Devhouse, a team of developers, testers, managers, and designers engaged in a dozen different projects. We have 35 team members, each with varying experience, skills, and grades, and we work entirely remotely across 10 countries. At the end of last year, we set ourselves a goal: to implement regular educational activities that would help everyone grow and develop, as well as facilitate communication not only within different project teams but also within the company as a whole. This falls under my area of responsibilities, so I'd like to share how we organized this.
We already had experience organizing internal meetups, which was quite positive, but for various reasons, it didn't become a stable practice. We drew conclusions from this experience, set new goals based on them, and gradually started to implement them.
Essentially, we had two major tasks at hand: motivating speakers and engaging the audience.
Before starting the meetup activities, we did a little warm-up by creating a knowledge library in Notion. Since we already managed all our documentation, handbooks, company information, employee details, and projects in Notion, the choice of the tool was straightforward. Everyone could contribute the most significant professional resources for them to the library—books, articles, YouTube channels, podcasts, and more—adding tags related to their professional areas for easy searching.
This way, we tested the waters regarding how willing people were to share knowledge, compiled an excellent collection of materials recommended for review, and allowed people to contribute to the collective development. The sources recommended by them are displayed on their Notion profile, enhancing interest and respect from colleagues.
We understood that we could move forward. The main ideas to generate and maintain interest in meetups were:
- Choosing topics that are understandable to the majority, regardless of specialization and knowledge level
- Gamification of the process
Here we kept it simple - we asked the employees for their opinions. We conducted a survey listing topics related to various hard and soft skills and asked them to vote for the ones that interested them. This way, we identified topics that are definitely worth covering in the upcoming meetups and would be of interest to the majority. We also asked them to vote for the types of activities they were willing to participate in, such as games/competitions, collaborative coding, or watching presentations from major conferences. This helped us identify the most popular educational activities that we decided to try.
For each meetup, we decided to include some interactive component, such as a quiz, activity in Miro, or questions from the speaker during the meetup. This allowed us to determine winners and the most active participants. After each meetup, in our corporate workspace on Slack, we congratulate the winners. Our designer prepared cool templates for award placements.
All of this allowed us to maintain a leaderboard in Notion, where at the end of the quarter, we can see who scored the most points. It turned out to be a good motivational system for participating in meetups.
The second aspect of gamification was quite challenging, but it was worth the effort. As mentioned above, we decided to organize games and competitions in coding, layout, and design as separate educational activities. For our first attempt, we chose an open-source game, coded the backend to process logins and leaderboards, and tweaked the frontend to display the results. We ended up with a super cool activity that marked the beginning of a series of regular meetups. Next, we replicated this approach for another game and plan to create several more similar activities.
I myself am a frequent speaker and understand that the main motivation for giving a talk is your own development. Nothing hones and solidifies your knowledge like sharing it with others. However, this is why it's important for the speaker to already have a good understanding of the topic and not spend too much time preparing. Therefore, in the aforementioned survey, we also asked who was willing to give talks and what knowledge they were willing to share with colleagues. It's great that based on the results, we were able to find the first 5 speakers who were excited about the idea, fueled others with their enthusiasm, and helped make the process consistent.
However, public speaking and preparing presentations can be challenging for some. So, in the same Notion workspace, we created a preparation guide, describing the speaking protocol, providing a presentation template, offering preparation tips, instructions for creating a quiz, essentially everything needed to conduct a successful meetup.
This also streamlined management; instead of endlessly explaining these instructions to each speaker, we simply shared the link and only addressed any remaining questions.
Any activity should have feedback. Therefore, after each meetup, we gather feedback, which helps the speakers understand how clear and structured their presentation was, what other aspects can be highlighted on the given topic, and what can be improved for the next presentation. In our team, we have a friendly atmosphere, and we are open to constructive feedback, which definitely makes subsequent meetups better.
Yes, we didn't do without it here either. In our Notion workspace, we have a table for the most frequent speakers, and once a quarter, we highlight the most interesting presentations based on feedback. Naturally, appearing in announcements on Slack, being seen as an expert in a particular topic by colleagues, is quite pleasing.
When the first stage of topic selection was completed, we decided to further automate the process and implemented the ability to propose new topics in Notion. We also included a voting feature for the most popular topics. However, we didn't get speaker suggestions from there, and from the voting, we extracted what was already clear and understood. The conclusion here is that having a person who periodically reminds about this and actively seeks speakers is crucial. For instance, noticing the most active participants in discussions during meetups or knowing precisely who is strong in a particular topic and can share expertise. The task of finding speakers is still challenging, especially when there aren't that many people in the team.
An even more challenging task is preparing educational game activities, which consumes a significant portion of my time. Partly because I'm not a programmer and coding is a hobby for me, and partly because it's inherently complex. But the success of each game is the main motivation to continue creating them.
One of the main advantages - topics that interest the majority - is also a drawback. It imposes limitations on the depth and specificity of the presentation. However, considering that the main goals of the meetup are broadening horizons and team building, this choice is justified. For narrower topics, we can organize smaller events. For example, we have separate meetups for QA, project managers. We also communicate as needed to share experiences. In Slack, there are dedicated channels for developers based on different technologies, where you can seek advice from colleagues or share your own developments.
Choosing the timing of the meetup is also a challenge when everyone should have the opportunity to participate, considering different time zones and their individual meeting schedules on projects. We tried to choose the optimal time and, of course, we record the sessions for those who missed the event.
To sum up, introducing consistent educational events in our IT company has been a beneficial initiative. Thoughtfully selecting universally understandable topics and adding playful elements have encouraged active participation and knowledge exchange within our diverse team. While some challenges remain, the positive results emphasize the importance of investing in ongoing learning and promoting team unity, especially in a remote work context.
Share, does your company have a practice of educational activities? I would appreciate your questions in the comments and your likes.