Presentation Karaoke, aka Battle Decks, and #distributedtreats for engineering teams

Remote, distributed engineering teams often rely on periodic in-person offsites or meetups to forge the kind of personal connections that contribute to a great, collaborative working environment.

However, with the restrictions we are all experiencing due to COVID-19, it could be a while before we’re able to get our teams together IRL. So today we tried two things for our group’s virtual all hands meeting on Google Meet.

We can’t supply donuts or catered lunch or dinners out right now, but we can provide a #distributedtreat. I sent each of my folks a $5 Target card to get themselves something to enjoy during our meeting. Why Target? My folks are located all around the US, and I know that Target will likely be both near their homes and reliably open during COVID-19 restrictions. They allow gift cards to be emailed, so I don’t need to access employee private address information. And Target has salty snacks, sweet treats, beverages, and even produce. [Editor’s note: expensing gift cards is not allowed, so I decided to just do it on my own dime. #totallyworthit]

Here are the treats some of my folks got for themselves:

  • Dark chocolate orange Lindt bar

  • German chocolate cupcake

  • Lemon ginger kombucha

  • Probiotic root beer

  • Protein smoothie with fresh fruits/veggies

  • Blackberries

  • Bollywood Theater Masala Chai

  • Coffee cake

  • Nilla Wafers

  • Microwave nachos

  • Chocolate croissant and bacon

  • “Ethically dubious coffee that went through the digestive system of a small mammal that someone gave me years ago because I ran out of coffee”

Treats in hand, we started the meeting with an overview of teams, people, and projects. We shared progress on our group’s long term strategy. With about twelve minutes left, we carved out time for a little fun in the form of…

Presentation Karaoke, aka Battle Decks. Our three participants had three minutes to present to the group using a deck made up of wacky incongruous slides in a funny, improv style. The slides auto-advance every 10 seconds. Some sample slides are below, which include memes, charts, architectural diagrams, etc., and which we crowdsourced from the group (in our version, we included the contributor’s handle):

It’s obviously fun to see people’s personalities emerge as they try to make sense out of the slides as they appear. The rest of the crew can also express themselves by having a hand in creating the slides. And it’s just total comedy as people really ham it up.

It turned out to be a great exercise that worked well for the the video conference format and had high parallel engagement on slack as we went along. And it only took 12 minutes out of our meeting.

Perhaps others can benefit from the sharing of this idea, and I hope to hear your creative ideas on how to help engineering teams connect and escape for a few minutes through the medicine of laughter. Comments here on Twitter: 

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