At Punchcard Systems, we miss our watercooler chats, team lunches, and being crammed around that boardroom table for our weekly all-hands meeting.

A forced, rapid transition to remote work in early 2020 meant we were scrambling for ways to maintain our organizational culture through our new primary communication channel of Microsoft Teams. Not only were colleagues who had worked together for years missing the shared physical space, but we needed to find ways to build relationships with new colleagues that joined our team without ever meeting anyone in person.

The weekly ritual of our all-hands meeting is a key touchpoint for team cohesion and each week a different team member provides an icebreaker activity. These icebreakers have been essential to maintaining and building trust, at Punchcard over the last year and critical in shaping our remote workplace culture that promotes positive mental health.

The creativity of Punchcardigans in adapting icebreakers for Microsoft Teams meetings has inspired us to find a way to share our Meeting Icebreakers with a larger audience. Hopefully this app will help other organizations build and maintain their culture, community, and relationships in the virtual meeting environment.

What it does

Meeting Icebreakers will aid meeting facilitators in selecting and running icebreaker activities for their virtual meetings.

No more searching the internet to find an idea for your next meeting icebreaker and then trying to figure out how to run it remotely. The thoughtful user interface will aide the facilitator in choosing and guiding the icebreaker and prompt the other meeting attendees for their participation and interaction. Let the Meeting Icebreakers app do the work for you!

How we built it

Any and all Punchcardigans who wanted to participate were invited to join the challenge team. Even some of our non-technical staff, like our Project Coordinator got involved.

We started off by drawing toast to develop the flow of our app and apply a user centric and design thinking approach to the development of our submission. The FIGMA templates provided by Microsoft helped us build out the UI. Our developers took that imagined user flow and applied technical expertise to build out the app. A few late evening team meetings to test the product and squash the bugs got us to the finish line.

Despite working ad hoc on evenings and weekends with people contributing when they could (after Oiler's hockey games were over and when the kids were in bed), the team managed keep the momentum going and come together to build a product that we are proud of. We are already using the app at Punchcard and hope others will too.

Challenges we ran into

So many icebreakers, so little time! It was difficult to decide what type of icebreakers to focus on for the first iteration of this app.

We had some initial difficulties setting up a multi-developer environment for creating the app. We also found the incomplete documentation for the meeting extensions and lack of sample projects with the meeting API challenging.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

It works! And we use it a Punchcard!

We are very proud that we built something based on our workplace culture that drew on contributions from the entire team and we can't wait to share it with a broader audience.

We are also proud that we were able to provide the user with the single sign-on experience.

What we learned

The majority of new learning for us centered around how to use the Teams meetings API and the React components for Teams. We also learned that we are a bunch of procrastinators if we don't set deadlines for ourselves.

What's next for Meeting Icebreakers

We plan to continually update and add to the icebreakers available through the app. Next steps are to add options for choosing the meeting icebreaker activity by length, category, activity type, as well as an option make up your own question. Additionally, we plan to add options for image responses and small breakout groups to promote further inter-team connections. We also want to add interactive icebreakers where the app provides instructions for the activity.

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