[Update: Connected Lab was just announced as one of Canada’s Top Small and Medium Employers for 2018, making us a winner for the second year in a row! We’re truly honoured.]
In 2017, Connected Lab was chosen as one of Canada’s Top Small and Medium employers, making us one of the youngest companies in the history of the award to win (here’s our original article celebrating the award).
Last week, we were asked to speak at the 2018 Top Employer Summit alongside such luminaries as Dr. Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman to go to space, and the Honourable Rona Ambrose, former leader of Canada’s Official Opposition.
The topic of the panel was “Experimentation and Innovation from Canada’s Top Small & Medium Employers.” Here’s what our VP of Operations Ally Contardi had to say.
“Product development requires a mix of design, engineering, product, and business mindsets.
“Traditionally, however, those are very different cultures. You’ve got software engineers working side by side with innovation experts. You’ve got MBAs collaborating with industrial and graphic designers. In order to build great products, all of these disciplines and all of these individuals need to come together and work collaboratively.
“Given this need, it was imperative that we implemented practices and policies that kept the culture integrated, allowing each guild to develop its own strengths while at the same time sharing its knowledge with other disciplines.
“So in addition to some of the more typical startup activities—things like ping pong and weekly socials with pizza and drinks—we implemented a number of practices to encourage collaboration across the various guilds.
“One of the most unique things we implemented at Connected to achieve this goal was a House System. Not unlike something you’d find in Harry Potter or the traditional private school, these houses are made up of employees from across the organization’s guilds, each with their own mascot, motto, and character.
“The houses are given budgets to plan socials and go on group lunches, not to mention compete against the other houses in scavenger hunts and trivia nights.
“All in all, the Connected House System has proven an extremely effective way for employees to interact with those they wouldn’t normally work with, and gives them a sense of belonging with fellow colleagues outside of traditional working relationships.
“Another practice we put in place to foster cross-guild collaboration was Donut Friends. Donut Friends is a Slack plug-in that matches different people across the company to go for a donut or coffee on us. (We even provide a “group” option for those too shy to meet one on one.)
“Donut Friends is unique, because it gives team members a way to meet new people without having to go up and ask someone out for coffee.
“As with the House System, Donut Coffee fosters a lot of new relationships, discussions, and ideas, creating a friendlier and more collaborative workplace in the process.
“Thirdly, Algonquin. Every September, we rent out a children’s summer camp in Algonquin Park for two nights to enjoy some time to disconnect and have fun.
“There’s nothing like being in the wilderness, completely disconnected from technology and work, to really get to know your team members. You can see how the bonds formed at Algonquin pay dividends in the workplace.
“Since what we do is so cross-collaborative, we don’t just want cultural and social unity, but deliberate knowledge exchange. That’s what empowers us to do great work.
“One of our biggest knowledge-share initiatives is our Thursday Roundtable.
“Each week, employees meet in one of our boardrooms to discuss an article or topic of note over catered lunch. It’s sort of like a book club: one person runs it, and great, open-ended discussions take place about issues such as women in tech, innovation philosophies, engineering practices, management styles — you name it.
“As with Thursday Roundtable, Microlearns are essential in promoting knowledge and skill exchanges. They allow employees at any time to present a 20- to 30-minute talk on their area of expertise to the rest of the team, either over a catered lunch (“Lunch and Learns”) or to a smaller team at some point throughout the day. Microlearns are a regular part of life at Connected.
“Our education credit (which is $1,000 a year to be used towards books, courses, or conferences related to one’s job) is another way for us to individually bolster people’s capabilities, which they can then bring back and share with the team.
“Finally, we are a proud and frequent host of local meetups, whether it’s Toronto Android Developers, Swift Hack Night, or the next session of our homegrown Voice Tech TO—all in the name of teaching and learning.
“Whether it’s to promote knowledge exchange or deepen social ties across the guilds, these are just a few of the ‘crossover’ practices that make Connected Lab a top employer and a great place to work.
Speech lightly edited for flow. Learn more at https://www.connectedlab.com.