Opinion

I tried: Bonding employees through Donut dates

7 min read

15 October 2018

Luminous PR tested Donut for Real Business. The app pairs up colleagues, encouraging them to get to know their teammates. Here's what the team thought about it.

Think employees in 2018 have never had better job satisfaction? Think again. In the UK, 61% of employees feel disengaged. This costs the economy £40 billion a year through absenteeism and staff turnover.

Company culture makes a difference. Happy employees are 12% more productive at work. But how do you create a vibrant company culture when your team is spread across the country, or even the world?

This is a challenge we face. Offering remote working allows us to recruit talent, irrespective of geography. Our staff value it too as it allows them greater flexibility with childcare, and helps promote that ever important work-life balance.

It also makes it easier for us to get to clients, no matter where they’re based. However, it does means our team don’t get as much face-to-face time with each other.

We were keen to find a solution that encouraged our far-flung team to make time for a catch-up. This could be about anything they wanted, work-related or otherwise. We hoped that by encouraging the team to maintain relationships, they’d not only feel happier at work, but do their jobs even better too.

Enter, Donut

Donut is a free app compatible with the messaging platform, Slack. According to its website, Donut’s mission is to help people “be happy and engaged at work”.

Each week, Donut randomly pairs up the team and suggests you go for coffee, or get together for a chat. The app automatically creates a new conversation in Slack for paired colleagues to discuss plans for their “Donut date”.

While face-to-face is the preferred method, our remote employees use Skype. For teams with an odd number of employees, one group forms a trio for their Donut.

Partway through the week, the Donut app bot will check in to see if team members have found time to catch up. We’ve found this little nudge really helpful in making sure we stick to our Donut commitments.

How’s it going?

We were impressed with how easy Donut is to install. All you have to do is add it into a Slack channel, and it will get started with the pairings.

Like most small businesses, we’re busy. While we care deeply about our culture and team mates, keeping our clients happy is always at the forefront of our minds.

With its actions and reminders, Donut makes catching up with colleagues a tangible ‘to do’. There’s no guilt associated with taking time out from your workload for your Donut date.

Our founder and CEO, Kirsty Jarvis, is happy with the way the team have adopted the Donut pairing app. She said: “A close-knit and vibrant culture has always been part of my vision for Luminous PR. Life is fast-paced here, so anything that makes it easier for the team to connect is a welcome addition.”

Our newest team member, account manager Lindsay Womack, found Donut a useful tool for the onboarding process. She said: “When you work in different locations, you don’t get to bond over tea breaks like you do when you work together in an office. I work from home three days a week, so Donut has been handy for helping me get to know my new colleagues.”

Any pitfalls?

We have spotted some potential challenges. If you’re out of the office all week, you can tell Donut and it will rearrange the pairings. However, you can’t remove someone from the Donut pairings before they start. Only after everyone has matched. If someone is on annual leave and not checking Slack, their Donut buddy will have to go without for a week.

We’re a small team, so a fresh Donut every week can seem a bit overwhelming. Plus, it won’t take us long to go through all the possible pairings. It’s not a deal breaker, though. Donut allows you to change the frequency of your pairings, so we might choose to do this less frequently. We’re still seeing how it goes.

Donut is a great replacement for those ‘watercooler moments’ that happen when a team works together in a physical office. When you’re a busy team, it takes discipline to ensure your Donuts don’t last longer than 10-15 minutes. If you start overrunning, the time cost could outweigh the benefits of closer colleague relationships.

Our verdict

We’ve enjoyed testing Donut for Real Business, and we’re going to continue using it. We’ve fully embraced the app, and making time to connect over tea or coffee is becoming a weekly habit for the team. Messaging through Slack is already part of our daily routine at Luminous, so adding the Donut app to facilitate meet ups costs no additional effort.

To any other remote teams out there, we highly recommend trying Donut — especially if you’re already using Slack for internal messaging. With 50% of the workforce estimated to work remotely by 2020, anything that can extend company culture to remote workers is a smart move for employee satisfaction. Remember: a happy business is a successful business.

Melissa Taylor is content manager at Luminous PR.