A little over two years ago, an unprecedented pandemic triggered the biggest disruption to work since the steam engine. With no safe way to gather together in the office, we all started working from home.
And for the most part, that was a good change. Remote work is more efficient. There's fewer office distractions. You work on your own schedule, not someone else's, and can tackle projects when they make sense for you. And nobody misses spending hours in traffic commuting every day.
At the same time, it feels like something’s been lost.
Remote work is lonely. There’s no way around it. Before you could kick around ideas and explore with your deskmates at a moment's notice. Now that interaction has to happen in a formal meeting, if it happens at all. Making progress once meant announcing it to your neighbors and celebrating together. Now it feels like pitching your work into the void—checking one task off on your to-do list and waiting silently for the next to come in. How is this contributing to the success of the team as a whole? Without close relationships to judge from, it’s hard to see where you fit.
For managers, it’s even worse. So much of your job success depends on other people, and on your ability to anticipate their needs and remove obstacles for them. Before you could get a sense of where things are at by strolling the office and observing who seems stressed. Now, that instant temperature check is gone. Being a manager of a fully-remote or even a hybrid team makes for paranoia and stress.
We felt this acutely at Allo. Even though we’ve been hybrid the whole time. Even though making remote work effortless is our whole mission. The less we were able to meet face-to-face, the less connected to each other and the work we felt. If even we were feeling less cohesive in a remote-only world, what hope is there for anyone else?
We realized that we’d need to address all the ways that people connected with one another without meeting if we wanted to achieve our goal of making distributed work effortless. And so we set out to redesign our product from the ground up.
Today, we’re announcing an exciting new set of features in Allo. The goal is to give distributed teams even more ways to stay cohesive even when they’re physically separated. The new Allo offers four different ways that people can align on goals, understand their team and how everyone contributes, react to what’s happening, collaborate asynchronously, and just generally stay on the same page whatever their role and wherever they are.
Our philosophy and approach
To figure out how to solve a problem, it helps to define it. We think one of the main challenges with distributed teams is this: the lack of most passive forms of visibility, team-building, and accountability. We call this the office’s “connective tissue”, and it’s the thing that’s missing in a remote environment.
Think about it.
When you're working together in an office, you can learn about your coworkers by seeing how they decorate their desk, or listening to what they talk about at lunch. You can gauge the general tone of the company by looking around and seeing what people are working on. You can see who's available and who's on break or vacation by counting empty seats. If you have a question or need help with something, you may not know the exact person you should talk to, but you probably know what part of the office they work in, so you can walk over there and find someone to make an introduction.
In a hybrid or remote workplace, none of that holds true anymore.There's no real passive way to get to know the company, your team, what's going on, and how things are doing. Every interaction when you're working remotely is active—unless you go out of your way to check in with people, it doesn't happen. As a result, it's harder to form tight bonds with your colleagues or interact with them in a way that doesn't focus on a specific project or goal.
Remote work needs tools that specifically recreate this connective tissue if it’s ever going to seem as effortless as working in an office. Fortunately, there’s actually a really good model for what this could look like: Online multiplayer gaming.
The interesting thing about online gaming is that it brings together people from all over the world with very different backgrounds, skill sets, inclinations and gets them to collaborate, usually without ever meeting in person. It does this through very intentional design decisions that help make goals transparent to everyone, that track progress and give instant feedback, and which help everyone understand how they are supposed to contribute so they can better support one another.
We thought, what if we were to apply those same principles to work collaboration?
This is not exactly the same thing as gamification. A lot of the initial gamification schemes for work were relatively shallow and focused mostly on motivation. The idea was that if you gave people points for their job performance and set up leaderboards, people would work harder. It worked well for certain types of people and certain roles that were more inherently competitive. But it wasn’t a fit for others. And it wasn’t very fun.
What we were interested in were the techniques game designers used to help people collaborate, not set them up to compete.
What we ended up with was four new modules:
OKRs (Objectives & Key Results)
Allo OKR harnesses the flexible and powerful Objective and Key Results (OKR) framework pioneered by Google to help teams define goals and track progress to keep everyone moving forward together. Allo OKR makes goal setting painless for managers and takes the uncertainty out of understanding how your individual work maps to collective team success.
It lets you turn high level priorities into actionable Objectives that teams can align behind cross-functionally, then map those objectives to measurable Key Results that help the company see how it’s doing and adjust to changing conditions.
The existing Allo Canvases are becoming Initiatives, which can be mapped to Key Results, delegated to team members, added to Projects, and managed with Kanban boards. Initiatives with due dates are now also tracked in an all-new Calendar view, making it easy to see everything in the works and when it should be done.
And each Initiative is still a fully functional Canvas, so it becomes the central location for all materials and real-time collaboration related to that work.
People pages provide a way for the team to learn about each other and recognize the things that make their coworkers unique. People pages provide a place for team members to highlight their interests and give updates on their lives and the things they’re working on.
People is also updated automatically using data from other parts of Allo—showing who people most commonly work with, what Initiatives and KRs they’re contributing to and responsible for, and statistics about their working style and morale. Users can also earn customizable achievements for things such as interacting with other teams or making edits in Canvases, giving organizations a way to incentivize behaviors that contribute to success and recognize the excellence of diverse contributions. This is currently limited to tracking actions in Allo itself, but we plan to add more data integrations with other business tools to allow Allo People to provide a holistic perspective on a person’s work, wherever that might happen.
People pages help team members easily connect with coworkers that they might never have the opportunity to meet in person, which helps eliminate guesswork when tracking down the right person to talk to when taking on a new project or working cross-functionally.
In game terms, People pages function a bit like your character profile—organizing all the relevant data about you and your job role, and making it available to your teammates so they know what to expect from you and how best to work together.
Allo Posts is a new space in Allo for announcements and asynchronous conversations that aren’t centered on a specific Canvas. Similar to a social media news feed, it’s a great place for team members to share updates and questions about what they’re working on, and for their coworkers to share answers and celebrate wins with them.
It all ladders up to Dashboard, the single source of truth for projects and collaboration happening in Allo. Allo Dashboard collects data from all the other parts of Allo and presents it in an easy-to-digest format. From progress on OKRs to staff happenings to leaderboards and recent achievements, it helps the team stay abreast of what’s happening and celebrate wins together.
Best of all, these new modules all harness our existing Canvases to be even more powerful. Every Initiative is actually Canvas that can be used for real time and asynchronous collaboration related to that item, and Allo keeps track of that collaboration and uses it to update the Dashboard, Posts and People Pages.
I’m really excited about all the new changes in Allo, and I can’t wait for you all to try it! It’s free to trial for teams of any size. But if you’d like to see it in action, you can schedule a demo with one of our Allo experts and they can take you through how it might work for your team and your unique situation.
This is just the beginning of the exciting things we’re working on to bring distributed teams closer together. I hope you’ll join us.