Building remote team culture outside of meetings: A day in CTO Labs’ Gather office

CTO Labs has created a bustling virtual office that fuels collaboration, innovation, and a great work environment. To give you a sense of what it’s like to work day to day in Gather, here’s an inside look at CTO Labs’ virtual HQ.

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Building remote team culture outside of meetings: A day in CTO Labs’ Gather office

Photograph of Philip Wang
Morgan Smith

CTO Labs is a boutique consulting firm in Australia. They’re Mergers & Acquisition technology advisors, and also professional services consultants, who help start-ups, scale-ups, and already-set-ups with complex technology problems. Their team is based in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and regions, too. 

While they get together in person sometimes, they primarily work out of their virtual office on Gather. (In fact, even when they’re in a physical space together, they still log in to Gather because it’s become the working norm!) 

A view of CTO Labs virtual office on Gather. 

They’ve created a bustling virtual office that fuels collaboration, innovation, and a great work environment. 

“We knew there must be a better way of collaborating in a mostly remote world that’s not 8 hours of back to back zoom calls. Team culture happens in the moments between meetings and we were hungry to get back into that norm. When we found Gather we instantly fell in love with it. The team was so excited to get into the office, decorate and connect.“ - Mike Mengell, CTO and Co-Founder of CTO Labs

Before Gather, they would use a mix of Zoom and Google Meet to try to stay connected with each other. Once they found Gather, it unlocked water cooler conversations and was “so much easier than other video apps we’d been using.” 

We talked to Mike Mengell, CTO and Co-Founder, Jane Evans, Head of Marketing & Communications, and Tania Blom, Marketing Assistant. To help give you a sense of what it’s like to work day to day in Gather, here’s an inside look at CTO Labs’ virtual HQ. 

Branding & personalizing the virtual office

When CTO Labs first created their office on Gather in August 2021, they started with a small template with only a couple rooms. Like most teams, they’ve evolved their office over time. (This is version 3 or 4 now!) 

They follow a lot of design principles we build into our templates, but they’ve also found great ways to incorporate their brand and personalize their space. 

You’ll find their logo and brand colors throughout the space, making it feel like a true extension of their company. 

Fun fact: When they did a brand refresh, updating the Gather office to reflect the new design was a key step in launching the new look!

You can see their branding show up in the design of these conference rooms. 
“Being able to include our Brand Identity throughout our virtual office was fantastic - we’ve used brand colours, logos and brandmarks - subtly - to personalize some of the flooring, seating and decorations. This helped take the office to something that was uniquely ours, helping to reinforce for the team a sense of working to a common cause, and for potential new candidates, they get immediate impression of a workplace they want to be a part of - professional but also a lot of fun.” - Jane Evans, Head of Marketing & Communication at CTO Labs

Each member of the team has their own desk area. They appreciate the ability for each person to personalize part of the office and express themselves. 

Jane's desk in the CTO Labs office. 

A virtual office gives CTO Labs an easy way to create a space that enables each of their employees to do great work. 

“As a software engineer working with a team spread across the country, I find Gather is awesome for creating an interactive virtual workspace that makes our collaboration and communication stronger. I can personalise my virtual space and make different sections for whatever I want, which makes it a cool and unique experience in the virtual world.” - David De Angelis Senior Engineering Consultant at CTO Labs

A day in the virtual office of CTO Labs

Getting work done

Employees use the office to help visually show what they’re currently doing. For example: 

  • They sit in focus areas when they’re online working but don’t want to be disturbed
  • They sit in the kitchen area to show when they’re on lunch
  • They sit at their desks when they’re online and available to chat
The kitchen area where employees sit to show they’re on their lunch break. 

They also hold meetings in Gather, including All Hands, Team Meetings, and 1:1s. 

A conference room in CTO Labs’ office. Notice the whiteboard for shared real-time collaboration and the custom-branded rug and poster!
“I enjoy seeing the office, being able to decorate and see what others have done with their space. I liked when we got together and decked out the space for Christmas, a simple team activity but one that was both quick and fun.” - Kelly Benson, Lead Consultant at CTO Labs

Their All Hands occurs every Monday and Thursday. This is where they share important business updates with the full team, so they typically see very high attendance at these meetings. 

“Working in Gather’s virtual office is highly collaborative and productive, particularly when working on projects with my team. The virtual environment enables us to easily work together and share ideas while having seamless communication! Also, I love the flexibility that comes with working in a virtual office. It creates a healthy work-life balance. Overall, our virtual office has been a great fit for me and has helped me become closer to my teammates!” - Stephanie Caterina, Senior Delivery Consultant at CTO Labs
The All Hands room where every employee can sit during full team meetings. 

Beyond All Hands, they have a variety of meeting rooms and collaboration spaces where small groups can talk some with a specific purpose. The swarm room, for instance, has been designed specifically for small teams to come together and help solve a challenge someone is having.

They even bring clients in sometimes to collaborate, and they love it. 

“Humans are beings of convenience. By having the team in Gather every day the barrier of connecting to colleagues becomes extremely low. No bus or train commute needed to make it to a tech huddle or a brown bag. No scheduling of meetings needed. You just press a button to walk over to a meeting room or someone's desk. With our ‘video on as default’ value you can also have passing chats in hallways. It’s talking to people in person that you learn a little more about who they are. Relationships are built this way.” - Mike Mengell, CTO and Co-Founder at CTO Labs

Interviewing candidates in Gather

When candidates are interviewing to join the CTO Labs team, all interviews take place inside the virtual office. This gives candidates a way to experience the company culture.  

The reception area. This is where guests enter the office and can be greeted for a tour. 

Typically they enter the reception area and then join a member of the team for a walk through the office to a meeting room for the interview. It gives them a chance to actually “see” how the company works together, and feedback from candidates is always very positive

They also promote their virtual office externally on their Careers page because this gives a window to company culture and sense of fun. 

From day 1, new starters are on-boarded into the virtual office and they can start decorating their own space. Straight away they begin to feel a part of a bigger company whole (rather than a remote worker first).

Some of the employees even use their Gather avatar as their headshot on the Team page. Gather is truly a part of their culture, starting even before Day 1 of a new hire's journey! 

“As a leader, Gather gives a view into the team that can’t be matched by simple video calls. A few times a day I’ll make Gather full screen, check out who is in, who is talking to who, and also who is not in, or has been on ‘do not disturb’ for hours. That's the person I’ll reach out to and say hi. I get an early potential indicator into an individual's mindspace. Are they overloaded with work? Are they a bit disconnected? Are they struggling with something personal? It’s an enabler for a conversation.” - Mike Mengell, CTO and Co-Founder at CTO Labs

Building deeper team connections

Beyond the day to day tasks of actual work, CTO Labs uses their virtual office to deepen a company culture that truly cares about its people. 

They participate in R U OK Day, a national day in Australia where teammates hold meaningful conversations about mental health and check in with each other to ask “Are you doing okay?” 

CTO Labs organized this event for their team in Gather, and themed one of their informal rooms - the diner - in lunch time meetup for the team to break into small groups and chat informally, away from their virtual desks. Even the quieter members of the team joined, and it encouraged people to have conversations about wellbeing and check in on each other. 

After the event ended, they kept some RUOK branding around the office as a small reminder that it’s always okay to ask someone if they’re okay.  

Having in-person fun, even when working remotely

And of course, what would the work day be without a little sense of fun? CTO Labs loves how easy it is to share silly moments with each other on Gather. 

They ride scooters back and forth to meetings. They prank each other with objects in the space. Once, when Mike was on leave, he hid avatars of himself around the office so he was “still there.” There’s been hidden “rick rolls” and surprise decorations, and the team is now putting together a bigger program of fun virtual events for this year.

“If you’re a small team, jump in with both feet. Call it an innovative experiment and give Gather a go, with the easy to use templates there isn’t really a reason not to. 

For larger teams I would recommend building up some internal champions first. Start with a single team and get the ways of working sorted. This will mean you have more voices to help people with any questions/challenges they might have. But you HAVE to have video on a default. Normalise that across every team member because this is what makes it real. 

If you’ve got a couple of people with some design/digital art skills point them at the Gather github repo, there are SO many objects, artifacts and ideas which make building unique spaces so much more fun.” - Mike Mengell, CTO and Co-Founder at CTO Labs
A giant Christmas tree that the team decorated during a holiday social event. 

And just like any in-person office, they set aside time for team events where they can take a break from work together. For example during the holidays, they held a Christmas Tree Decorating Party (based on this guide). 

What’s next for CTO Labs’ virtual office? 

If you walk out of the office and toward the bottom of their map, CTO Labs has actually started to build an additional office that’s specifically for collaborating with different clients. 

They plan to expand on this part of their office to give their clients a truly unique and personalized experience. 

Our friend’s at weme actually did something similar and built Joy Valley for their clients. You can read weme’s Customer Spotlight here

CTO Labs also plans to create a dedicated space for onboarding new employees. They also have the idea to create a scavenger hunt in Gather. They would link important documents or fun team mementos in objects throughout the office, and use the scavenger hunt to facilitate an engaging way to discover these resources and learn about the company. 

To hear more about how CTO Labs uses Gather, check out this tour of their office

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