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Transforming remote work: How pod standups strengthen your team


Emerson Taymor

January 08, 2024

The greatest challenge of a remote team is facilitating connections and building culture. Without culture and deep connections, teams are less efficient during good times and fall apart during tough times.

You miss those magical moments at the water cooler, those impromptu late-night struggles over a tough problem, or the casual chats at the lunch table. Plus, if you’re like me, you’re tired of spending so much time on Meet and Teams. You’re hesitant to add another forced 1-1 or team event.

We went fully remote due to Covid. Before that, we had a 10am daily standup in each of our offices. Like you, we were thrust into a remote setting during a chaotic time with unprecedented uncertainty. We continued this standup practice but switched to a “global” standup on Google Meet with all our US team members. It was a decent way to stay connected. Still, you can imagine the limitations of having 40+ team members on a Google Meet at once, and your team might be even larger.

Introducing the pod standup

During this bizarre time, one of our teammates (if I recall correctly, Michael Morrissey) came up with the brilliant idea of the “pod standup”.

We would continue our global standups on Mondays and Fridays, but for the rest of the week, we would break out into small “pods”. These pods would consist of 5-6 randomly assigned teammates. Each week, you would be grouped with four different teammates, some you may have met, and some you may not have.

These pod standups would last ~10 minutes and follow a simple agenda:

  • Out of Office: Anyone OOO today or planning to be out soon
  • Announcements: Any company announcements
  • Shout-outs: People could shout out teammates (not only in their pod)
  • Icebreaker: The fun part, more below

The Icebreaker

The icebreaker was a key way for us to get to know our colleagues. These prompts could be anything personal or professional.

We have had hundreds of prompts over the past 3.5 years of running these pod standups. A major shoutout to Jess Ramos and then Méon Graham for keeping these prompts fresh. Some of my favorites from last year were:

  • Which emoji best describes your mood right now?
  • Share a rabbit hole that you went down recently. For example, you started with one thing and then you realize it’s been a long time and you’re still researching the same topic.
  • Finish the sentence: Kids these days will never understand…

Why do pod standups help distributed teams excel

The magic of these pod standups is that we:

  • Interact with colleagues we might not otherwise meet
  • Enjoy a fun icebreaker that encourages us to open up beyond work
  • Create a safer space for introverts to participate
  • Have space to joke around and experience play in a remote setting
  • Accomplish all this in only 10 minutes!

These standups are a small, but mighty tool to increase connections in a remote setting.

Additional information to help you adopt the pod standup practice

  • A shared, running notes document (we use Google Docs) includes all information on who is OOO, company announcements, and the icebreaker. It has pre-filled spaces for each pod to take notes. The link to this document is included in every calendar invite.
  • After each standup, the notes with all the shoutouts and prompt answers are cross-posted in our Slack #intercom channel.
  • Each pod is led by a different teammate each day. They take any new notes in this document, including shout-outs and responses to the icebreaker. The pod leader is randomly assigned on Tuesday and then they “popcorn” it to another teammate on Wednesday, and so on.
  • Struggling with prompt or icebreaker ideas: try ChatGPT

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