Innovation Heroes

TRANSCRIPT - Beyond the virtual happy hour: There has to be a better way

June 8, 2021

Peter 

This episode of Innovation Heroes is brought to you by Windows 10 Pro devices, powered by the Intel vPro platform. Visit shi.com/risetothechallenge to learn more.

 

Shawn 

They said, "Okay, I'm going to take my Friday beers happy hour, I'm going to take what we did in the office, and I'm going to bring it online." You can't build culture in a distributed environment in the same way.

 

Peter 

Welcome to SHI's Innovation Heroes, a podcast exploring the people in businesses giving us hope in our drastically disrupted world. I'm your host, Peter Bean. [music plays].

 

Peter 

[funky techno music plays] The offices we've been going to in the last year look a lot different than what we're used to. Cubicles and desks have been replaced by kitchen tables, and your pet has become your favorite co-worker. [dog whining] We've done a pretty good job of adjusting to this new status quo, but I can't help but feel a little nostalgic for the way things used to be. ['50's sitcom music]. I think it's safe to say that there's others out there who feel the same way as I do. As much as I love not having to do my morning commute anymore. I missed the water cooler talk. [water burbling and woman chuckles] But you know what I really, really miss? The pranks. April Fool's is only a week away, and usually by this time of year I'd have done all my prep work for the perfect prank. Pranking my colleagues is a lifelong passion of mine, and one I take very seriously. [jazzy orchestral music plays]. One of my all time favorites was when we tied our colleagues furniture to the ceiling of his office-- keyboard, mouse, screen, everything was exactly where it was, but hanging from the ceiling just an inch off the ground or the table. I can still picture that beautifully stunned look on his face as he swung the door open, only to see his whole world upside down. [door opening, man screaming]. I'm sorry, Andrew, I had to bring it up. Stay tuned at the end of our interview if you want some inspiration for your own remote pranks to make this an April Fool's to remember. [music plays]. I think the reason I miss these harmless pranks so much is because of what they represent. They're a reminder of just how much we've lost in this new virtual-everything world. Pranks are so much a part of building up morale, making friends, and sharing random, awesome little moments. And that's all changed now-- possibly for good. Which is why I can't wait to speak to our guest today, Shawn Hewat. She's the CEO and co-founder of Wavy, a company that has dedicated itself to bringing back a spark in workplace team building and virtual events. They've done some amazing things since the start of the pandemic, and I really want to know: is it ever possible to build a meaningful workplace relationship over a WiFi connection? And if so, how?

 

Peter 

Shawn, thank you for joining us today. It's a pleasure to have you here to kick off Season 2 of Innovation Heroes. Episode 1, super pumped. Thank you for being here.

 

Shawn 

Thanks so much for having me. I'm pumped to be here.

 

Peter 

So, before we get into the work that Wavy is doing now, I just wanted to ask you about your journey and what led you to this moment. How did you get here, and what inspired you to pivot into trying to rescue our virtual office culture from the doom of boredom?

 

Shawn 

So my co-founders and I wanted to start a company and really build a community around shared experiences. We all have a love for experiences over things, we love to travel, and we love to really build relationships through shared experiences, like activities, or events, or adventures. So we started Wavy. We were initially focused on B2C software,nd we were really getting a good start there, and launched a text messaging solution, it was actually pretty cool. But then all of a sudden the pandemic hit. Number one thing was just because we're physically distant doesn't mean we don't still want to have shared experiences, and do new things together, and spend that quality time with each other. People are still craving that connection, and it initially started with friends and family and kind of organically grew into this huge space in the corporate side of things. In connecting while being remote, distributed, hybrid, flexible, whatever you'd like to call it, finding ways to have shared experiences and connect on things other than just work is is a massive problem. So we took our kind of passion for the experiences world and our knowledge from the employee engagement space, and combined those two things together to build a platform, and build online experiences that are actually fun to take part in, that will help teams build that connection and happiness between colleagues and team members. And really create a remote company culture that's just as good or better than an in-person one.

 

Peter 

Okay, so I'm gonna play devil's advocate because I-- you know, I've been in virtual stuff my whole life. Video conferencing, events, webinars, all the things that we do online, and I wasn't blown away by the first kick at the can at a lot of these events that happened after the pandemic started. I was invited to...I don't even know, 30 or more, probably. And I-- [Peter chuckles] I didn't go to any of them. To me, it was, "I don't want to spend another hour on on video after spending eight or nine, drinking alone in my living room with my friends, or watching somebody cook with my friends. I just want to get off video, and not do that." So I'm curious, how are you treating this for people like me? Right? How do you overcome that? How do you get them excited, engaged, involved, and bring them into these events, and have them have a great time?

 

Shawn 

It's such a good question, and I can relate to it because before we pivoted into this space, I have to say I was kind of playing devil's advocate. And I think my team members and I kind of set the highest bar for what an engaging and truly interactive online event would look like. So first is how can you make an online event that feels as far away from a webinar as possible? So there's a few things we're doing at Wavy to bring that feeling to our events. The first is we never want someone just sitting and staring at a screen for an hour taking part in our event. Second is that we want people to come away from an experience, having done something interactive, like made something or created something with their own two hands, had like a tactile aspect to it, or having a shared experience like a competition or collaboration, or a shared conversation with their colleagues. So really coming out of it feeling like you've done something interactive, and you've learned something new, or created something as part of the process. I think when the pandemic hit a lot of people leaders-- and we've seen this in company as of 5 people to 5000+ people, they said, "Okay, I'm going to take my Friday beers happy hour, I'm going to take what we did in the office, and I'm going to bring it online." You can't build culture in a distributed environment in the same way. So much of company culture has been like built around this, like, physical office. When you bring work into the online world when you're not physically there with your colleagues, you have to be a lot more intentional about how you approach culture. Making sure that things are inclusive, accessible. Giving people the gift of time, doing something together at lunch, or, you know, ending the workday a few hours early. That's a huge benefit in a remote environment.

 

Peter 

Okay, I want to dig into that because we talk about this-- I talk about this all the time at work. And I see two kinds of cultural events that are important that we need to tackle. Ones are the planned ones, right? And that lines up really well, I think, to what you're doing, right? Because it's planned, you can curate the experience, the event, around a time, a place, so on, and so forth. So that aligns to me, that makes sense. The other side of it is-- I hate to use the the cliche, the water cooler, right? But it's the ad hoc, right? The meeting at a conference, or in the hallway, or the "let's go out to lunch together and have that incredibly deep conversation that leads us to go out to lunch again and start to form a friendship". How are you looking at that side of it, and trying to create and fill-in around the scheduled stuff that type of experience?

 

Shawn 

I'll even add in one other type-- like, there are so many reasons that people gather. The first is, you know, the calendar. Like, if you have a company, you're going to gather for something for the holidays. There's things driven by the calendar, like your quarterly town halls. Then there's things that are a little bit more organic, that are driven by milestones and moments like someone's birthday, someone joining the company, or exiting the company, someone having a baby, you know, celebrating life's moments and how that works into team culture. And then there's this kind of third area of, like, spontaneous, just like relationship building. How important that is in creating dynamics and connections within a team, but also cross-functionally. I think what we're building today lends itself really well to the two-- like, the first two scenarios, whether things are driven by a calendar, or by a milestone, and you have a really big reason to come together and gather. The spontaneous side of it, I haven't truly seen solved. There's also some really interesting tools getting built, and we definitely see ourselves playing in this space in the future where if you are using something like Slack, or Microsoft Teams, either little prompts, or AI-powered chat bots that can randomly create those water cooler moments.

 

Peter 

This episode of innovation Heroes is brought to you by Windows 10 Pro devices. [music plays]. After a year of working remotely, it's never been more important to me to work smarter and safer. And while there's a lot of things that go into making that happen, having the right devices running the right software is certainly a major part of the equation. That's why I'm proud to recognize our first sponsor of the season, Windows 10 Pro devices powered by the Intel vPro platform. Simply put, Windows 10 Pro devices powered by the Intel vPro platform are designed for how we work now, whether that's remote, on-site, or a mix of both. They reduce app performance issues by up to 3 times, empowering your team to work smart with up to 40% better overall performance. They also improve IT efficiency and productivity by up to 3.8 times, reducing costs and complexity, enabling your team to better protect, monitor, and repair your hardware. Modern workplaces also need modern security, like Windows Hello and biometric specialized hardware. Windows 10 Pro devices on Intel vPro help prevent up to 99.9% of identity attacks so you can work remotely with confidence. Rise to the challenge and invest in modern devices with Windows 10 Pro, powered by the Intel vPro platform, so we can all go forward together. If you're in charge of making your team work smarter, safer, and more efficiently, reach out to SHI to learn about how you can do more with Windows 10 Pro devices. Or visit shi.com/risetothechallenge to get started. [music fades out].

 

Peter 

I want to pivot to design. What does one of your events look and feel like, and who do you imagine attending when you're designing them? I also want to understand, like, the benchmark for success, how you gauge that. Can you walk me through that?

 

Shawn 

Yeah, for sure. So first up is, what do our events look like and who are they for. To date, we've primarily worked with high-growth or big tech companies, and are also working with a variety of enterprise clients from across Canada and the United States. Our events are really designed to help people have some fun, shoot the shit with their colleagues, really shake it up and do something a little bit different than they've been doing in their daily remote work life. We really put them together in a way where you're not just going to be the kind of sitting down and staring at the screen throughout the hour long event. You're going to be an active participant and be able to truly engage while you're in a Wavy event. So let's take our cocktail-mocktail class as an example. You're not just going to be straight into making the cocktail, listening to the mixologist, and then the event ending. There's going to be an icebreaker, there's going to be the, kind of, first cocktail recipe, and then a game where you have to design your own cocktail bar and choose a leader from your team to come back and pitch that, and the hosts are the judges and decide who has the best cocktail bar. We'll, then you get into the next cocktail or drink and ask questions along the ways that people are actively taking part. You know, maybe we work together to name this drink as a team and come up with our own brand. Maybe we break out to talk about, you know, our most memorable mixology related experience, or what you'd recommend that I should watch on Netflix based on 2 minutes of chatting with me. We build in a lot of different breakout moments and minigames into our experiences so that it does get chopped up and not contribute into fatigue. And most importantly, shared memories and conversations with your colleagues that you'll ideally continue to connect on post-experience.

 

Peter 

You know, that makes a lot of sense. When-- you know, I mentioned at the beginning I didn't like the ones I went to, and you just highlighted two very different things that were lacking from all of them. There was no pre-boarding. There was nothing before the event. It was your your email link and that was it. You know, maybe the channel manager the booked it sent an email saying, you know, "Yay, welcome! We're doing this in two weeks. Woo-hoo!" But, you know, there wasn't much to it. So, knowing that there's a bit of an experience beforehand that you're curating, that sounds appealing, because you're right. That that would get me excited for it. Building anticipation is important, we try to do that in all the experiences we create. And then the breaking it up. I mean, the way you describe the mixology event at the beginning, the one you don't do is pretty much the one that I went to. It's, like, you hop in, maybe there was a-- maybe they paired it with a musician to start it off, you know, to kick it off with some music, but you know, then you're hopping in, they're doing some mixology. There's some questions at the end. And then, you know, people sit around and drink the drink for 10 minutes and leave. And that was it. There was no-- and I just take those events that I went to, and think about them the way that you described, and they immediately sound more interesting.

 

Shawn 

So often people think about it-- about, like, "Okay, what experience are we doing? Are we making cocktails? Are we painting? Are we making candles?" But what we fundamentally believe is it doesn't matter what experience we're doing. It matters what new connections and memories you've been able to build with the people that you work with, because companies that have teams with good relationships, with good friendships, who feel happy, and feel connected to each other, will perform better. To your question earlier on, what we're measuring...we're pretty into the analytics and impact side of things.

 

Peter 

Yep.

 

Shawn 

So, what is level of stoke before an event?

 

Peter 

Yeah, how do you measure stoke? Seriously, how do you measure stoke?

 

Shawn 

It's my favorite one. I mean, it goes kind of with our brand of Wavy and you know, our brand voice is being a high-quality goof. So, "level of stoke" feels like a good metric for us. But that's really just part of the sign-up process. You know, "How excited are you for this upcoming experience?" We also measure whether employees are feeling more connected to their colleagues after taking part in an experience, and how satisfied people are with the experience itself, with the host, how satisfied the organizers are. Longer term, I think there's a whole new realm of data and analytics that we'll be able to get into with this new industry. How engaged people are, how many different interactions were shared. Lots of different touch points throughout the experience. So we don't look at it as just the event, but how are you engaging with Wavy from sign up to the next event, and how are we making a lasting impact between those two things? So...

 

Peter 

I want to go back-- you mentioned offices, and that's a perfect lead-in to the last question I wanted to ask you. And it's really about the future, right? So we've seen a lot of parallels in our conversation between your world and the corporate space, because what you're working on is pretty much the same as what I'm working on. So we're talking about hybrid, right? Hybrid is the buzzword of 2021. The work world is going hybrid, some people are gonna stay at home, some people are gonna go to offices, we're gonna have this distributed workforce. Okay, so you have experience now in running really awesome events in the real world and in the hybrid world. Have you started thinking about how to put them together for these new teams, where some people, maybe 10, are in an office, but another 10 can't come? Have you started thinking about how to create events for both of those groups simultaneously, that are fun, and engaging?

 

Shawn 

Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. And hybrid definitely is the buzzword right now. I think if we look at the long-term future, over 82% of companies in North America are saying that they'll be either all-remote or hybrid. So that's a pretty, pretty big percentage. But what we were talking about earlier, like, the reasons that people gather-- townhalls, sales kickoffs, quarterly business reviews, holidays-- those are all still going to continue to happen throughout the year. And if there are people that are remote, there's going to have to be an existence of that experience online. Especially when you look to how certain departments, or cross-functional departments, or intimate teams gather, despite them being remote. So what we're focused on for the next year to two years is really making sure that the remote and online side of that can be the best it can be. I think making sure that there's an accessible version of your event or experience online is so important. And I love that this past year has accelerated-- the normalness has normalized doing things online together, because it is leveling the playing field.

 

Peter 

Yep.

 

Shawn 

I've talked to so many people this year who were already remote, who already lived somewhere else, who are parents, who don't drink, who didn't feel like they were necessarily included or thought about in the old way of doing events and bringing teams together. So, you know, we look at what we're doing now as an exciting way to level the playing field and do something that is a little bit more inclusive and accessible to everyone on your team.

 

Peter 

Yeah, it's an overwhelming topic. And I'm not going to go down the road because I will talk to you for another hour and a half, and I told you I wouldn't keep you here that long. [Peter chuckles].

 

Shawn 

I think my, like, kind of one way to summarize it is company culture was already scheduled for a big revamp. It needed to change in a lot of different ways.

 

Peter 

Oh, yeah.

 

Shawn 

And a lot of that's driven by DE&I, and a lot of that's driven by employee expectations. What people value. Pizza, after work beers, ping pong tables-- things like that don't equal culture anymore. People have value experiences over things. They value their time, they value health and wellness, and in diversity, and what they're doing together as a team.

 

Peter 

And I wholeheartedly agree. And with that, I'm going to wrap up. I want to thank you so much, Shawn, for being here. This was an awesome conversation. I can't wait to see what you do next, just knowing the way that you think, and what Wavy's doing. I am absolutely excited to see what's coming next for you and your organizations. Thank you so much for being here.

 

Shawn 

Thanks so much, Peter. It was awesome chatting with you, and hope to see you again soon.

 

Peter 

[music plays] Big problems need big solutions. But more than that, they need ingenuity, creative thinking, and a willingness to tear everything down in order to build something better. Moving everything online seemed like the fastest way to get us back to business. But companies like Wavy show us that there might actually be some hope about getting back to those magical, human moments that defined the pre-pandemic era. By putting people and culture first, Shawn Hewat gives us a hint at how the future's most successful team builders will need to operate. And now, the moment you've all been waiting for. [drum roll] A few of our favorite April Fool's pranks you can pull from your home office. [drum hit] Want to mix things up for your next video team call? Invite a goat. [goat bleating]. Yep, you heard me. Farmers around the world have embraced the cameo economy, letting you hire real life animals to pop in on your video chats. The best part? No cleanup required. And the money goes to a good cause. [notification ping] If you don't have a video chat scheduled on April Fool's, maybe your spouse does. A perfect opportunity to annoy them-- intentionally, for once. Give them a funny background, change their display name to something funny like "Batman" or "Wonder Woman". Or maybe just imply the famous cat head filter from the lawyer call.

 

lawyer 

Can you hear me, judge?

 

judge 

I can hear you. I think it's a filter...

 

lawyer 

It is. I don't know how to remove it. I've got my assistant here, she's trying to, but...I'm here live. It's not-- I'm not a cat.

 

Peter 

[notification ping] Want something even sillier? Change your background to a screenshot of your boss's home office, then dress up like them for your next call. [notification ping] Here's one that will remedy your office nostologia: put your Photoshop skills to work by changing your own background to a picture of somewhere in your old office. Then when someone notices, try and pretend like you showed up there and have no idea why no one else is there. [crickets chirping] [notification ping] And for our last prank-- you're gonna need some rudimentary tech skills for this one, but it's worth it. Record a video of yourself walking up to where you sit at your desk and whispering something in your ear. Wear what you're wearing on the day of the call, and then load that background as though it's a live background playing on a loop. For the first few minutes, it should just look like a normal static background. Then enjoy the reactions from your colleagues when they all watch you walk up to you and whisper in your ear. When it happens, say to the group, "Sorry, everyone, I just have to go help me do something. I'll be right back," and walk off camera. Sit back, and enjoy the confusion you have most certainly sowed. We hope these inspire you to do something fun and devious on April Fool's. Let us know how the pranks go, or if you came up with an even better one yourself. I'd love to hear it. [music plays] Innovation Heroes is an SHI podcast, with new episodes streaming every second Thursday on Apple, Spotify, Google and everywhere else. If you like this episode and you want to be our hero, leave us a 5-star review on your podcast listening app of choice. On the next episode, Intel's Stacy Shulman returns to tell us about the truly incredible leaps being taken in AI and healthcare. You don't want to miss it. [music plays] This episode of Innovation Heroes was brought to you by Windows 10 Pro devices on the Intel vPro platform. Visit shi.com/risetothechallenge to start doing more with modern devices. [music fades out]

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