Flywheel Software is a remote-first team building a no-code data activation platform. They have approximately 50 teammates with two physical offices, but most people work from home from around the world.
The Flywheel Software team first used Gather to collaborate during virtual hackathons. Nolan Kruse, a Sr. Solutions Architect (and now team-proclaimed “Gather Guru”) saw Gather’s potential as a place to build connections and work culture.
“The time I’ve spent building our Gather Space is worth it because it sparks that little bit of joy that I don’t see in other virtual meetings. It brings fun into the workspace. And it helps us foster digital interactions that are as similar to workplace interactions as possible.” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
He used that first hackathon to build a custom Gather Space for Flywheel Software. Since then, the team has started holding meetings in Gather, and Nolan’s on a mission to make their office an engaging place where the team comes every day.
We sat down with Nolan to learn more about his team’s transition to using Gather for more than just hackathons, and get his best advice for other teams onboarding to a virtual office.
The first hackathon
Flywheel Software holds quarterly hackathons. They’re a chance for the team to take a break from normal, day-to-day work, and during this time they pause all other meetings and sprints.
Sometimes these hackathons result in really random projects (such as training AI to draw pictures of cats in the style of Monet!) and other times they turn into sophisticated product features that their clients actually use today.
The Hackathons started in a Gather template, a pre-designed Space that makes it easy to jump in and get started. The Flywheel Software team enjoyed using Gather for these events because you could “see” each group working on their project. The spatial audio and video made it easy to jump between tables and talk to other people about their work.
For Nolan’s first hackathon, his project was building out an official Flywheel Software office in Gather.
“I went from an in-person company to being in a fully-remote workplace. So I thought, what do I miss on a daily basis? And is there a way to foster it virtually?” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
That’s what sparked his curiosity about Gather and the ways his team could use it beyond just the hackathons. As he started customizing their map and getting more excited about the potential, he ended up spending two all-nighters just having fun and building out the Space.
His main goals?
- Create a more robust World’s Fair spot. (That’s the name for their weekly all-company meeting.)
- Create a coworking space where anyone can collaborate.
With more green space added, space for coffee chats, and games included in the Space, this first office was complete.
But Nolan didn’t stop there!
From one-off hackathon to quarterly tradition
The next quarter, Nolan decided to use the hackathon again as a time to continue building out the virtual office he’d created for his teammates at Flywheel Software.
He used Tiled to build out custom tilesets for their map, and created Fly Town: A whole world for his team to explore with different buildings for different types of meetings or conversations.
Fly Town includes:
- A cafeteria where the team can hold Lunch and Learns
- A coffee shop for coffee chats
- The “Flynasium,” where they have a pool, gym, and a link to the Gather Grand Prix
- A library for team onboarding that links to a variety of company docs
- A lounge and bar for casual chats
- The Beach Prix (a different race track than the one in the Flynasium)
- A game room where the team gathers weekly to decompress over a fun (and competitive) game of Draw Battle
- An escape room for the brave & bold to explore
- A custom-designed, Flywheel-shaped office space where everyone has their own desk space to customize however they please!
Now, it’s officially become tradition for Flywheel Software that Nolan expands their Space during the quarterly hackathons. He’ll even hide in the map sometimes and build a secret portal to whatever he’s working on, just to keep it a secret until the last day!
On the final day of the event, when each team presents their project on a stage in Gather, Nolan is like the grand finale. “What did Nolan do in Gather today?!” It’s an engaging event for the whole team.
Switching to Gather for all-company meetings
The decision to use Gather for World’s Fair was pretty easy.
“Gather is just more fun than other meeting apps.” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
They hold this meeting every Friday. It’s mostly a presentation-style format, with 10-15 people talking each time. Typically the leadership team stands on the stage, and at the end someone from Engineering or Product will show new feature demos.
The fun comes in as people start reacting to the presentation. They’ll shoot confetti, trigger the applause sound, and even have an air horn noise embedded in an object near the stage.
“These are nice perks that you don’t get in Google Meets. Gather is something different – it’s this atmosphere you can create that’s unique to your company that no one else has.” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
When World’s Fair is over, some members of the team will take a break together and go do a few laps around the race track before turning back to work. There are also spots for quick coffee chats around this area, so if anyone wants to break off for a quick conversation, they can easily find a spot.
Once their team grew beyond the size of the free plan, there was no question that Gather was worth paying for.
“Gather was already ingrained in our weekly routines, and everyone has fun when in it. We knew it was a must have.” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
Starting to spend more time in Gather
In addition to World’s Fair each Friday, the Flywheel Software team has a Water Cooler event on Thursdays that’s meant to be a casual break from the day. They’ll spend this time in Gather usually playing Draw Battle.
Individual teams are also starting to develop their own habits in Gather. The Customer Team, for example, has moved their recurring weekly meeting into Gather. 1:1 meetings also typically happen in their Space, and sometimes before meetings, they’ll do a lap around the race track as an icebreaker.
“When you’re waiting for a meeting to start in a remote environment, you need icebreakers. With Gather, there’s so much to talk about around you and you can see ‘body language.’ It facilitates conversation when you’re waiting for something to happen. It’s an important part of our culture.” – Lauren Stein, Operations at Flywheel Software
As for customer calls, Nolan’s actually considering building custom rooms in their Gather office where they can host each client. He dreams of a really special and tailored experience that’s unique to each one.
Advice for other remote teams
Don’t feel like operating in a remote environment is impossible.
“The thought of keeping people engaged remotely can feel really hard. If you’re not naturally extroverted, it can feel very hard. But there are so many options out there, Gather being a huge one, that allow for remote engagement.” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
As for getting your team excited about your Gather Space, Nolan recommends finding other people at your company that naturally encourage engagement, and who are also “a little wacky.”
These people can help get the team excited about what you’re building, and tend to naturally schedule meetings or events that can bring people into your virtual office.
“Gather is definitely worth the minimal investment. It gives you the perks of flexible work without the downsides. And it helps people have fun - it’s a no brainer.” – Nolan, Sr. Solutions Architect at Flywheel Software
For a full tour of Flywheel Software’s office, check out this video they shared on LinkedIn.