How coronavirus is bringing us even closer as a company

March 26, 2020 | Rune Kallehauge

Everyone from hopeful start-ups to major financial institutions has started to feel the impact from the coronavirus. Employees have been sent home. Some businesses are feeling the threat of closing down and the entire COVID-19 situation has put a new perspective on the everyday lives for millions of businesses worldwide.

At Nordic API Gateway, we are trying to get the best out of the situation by collectively supporting one another amid social distancing, and by trying to keep each other’s spirits up during these trying times.

The intent of this article is to inspire you with new initiatives that can be integrated into your new work from home (WFH) situation. We sat down (virtually, of course) with our Founder and CEO, Rune Mai, to chat about our remote culture and the activities ahead.

Rune has more than a decade of experience working in fintech and building a remote-driven culture for Nordic API Gateway. Today, we consist of 60 employees spread out over offices located in four fantastic cities worldwide: Aarhus, Copenhagen, Gdansk and Veracruz.

So, the big question we hope to answer in this article is: Which activities can you put into play to keep up the company spirit and work even closer with your colleagues?

Working remotely is crucial to our DNA

Fortunately, many businesses have already been taking precautions to exposure and transmission of the coronavirus over the past weeks, and so have we. It’s without a doubt a new situation to many, and Nordic API Gateway is no exception. Rune had the following to say regarding our remote values:

“Since our start, it has always been central that we are able to work from anywhere at any time. It has always been a part of our culture and we basically treat our offices like cafés, with a sort of ‘come and go as you please’ mentality. Virtual meetings are just as normal as physical meetings for us, and it’s totally normal that people are communicating that they’re WFH on our common online chat channels.”

Indeed, the remote lifestyle of the company has been a resounding factor since Day 1. Nordic API Gateway was originally founded by three guys working in three different locations: Aarhus, Copenhagen and Reykjavík. This required them to build our company around a long-distance collaboration - running everything on Google Docs, the cloud and an excessive use of Slack. We have therefore always had a natural trust in each other and our working efforts, even though we haven’t physically seen each other or worked in the same locations. Rune elaborates:

“We’ve always trusted our employees, and they’ve had full freedom to work from wherever they want to. The recent COVID-19 development has tested this setup and so far we’ve passed the test with flying colours due to our remote DNA and company culture. I believe everyone wants to succeed, no matter where they’re working from or when they’re working. So we have a great mix of early birds and night owls who are delivering their very best to ensure our products and services keep thriving.”

Bringing the teams even closer: remote lunches, funky hats and weekly virtual happenings

Now on to the fun part: What did we actually do to keep up the spirit and evade a situation where people felt isolated

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, we had to act fast to initiate social activities. Fortunately, we’re fintech-fast movers in everything we do. In the following section, you’ll get a direct sneak peek into how we’ve integrated our culture 100% into our remote office way of working.

We’re specifically adapting to the new, fully remote setup with activities that make it just as fun (or perhaps even more fun) for employees to “come in to work”.

The 'Hit List'

For instance, we created a new initiative called ‘The Hit List’, with projects to turn the dire corona complications into a competitive advantage. The hit list consists of tasks or projects of any size; those kinds of projects that you tend to skip due to lack of time in your everyday work life. Rune elaborates a bit on how and why the hit list came about:

“Everyone came together and helped define the list, solely for the reason that it had to be an opportunity for all team members to break with the tasks they normally have on their team to solve one of these ‘under-the-radar’ tasks. The reason I proposed making the list was actually because I feared what to do myself. Usually I spend 90% of my time talking to people in the organisation face to face. Of course I found that much harder to do when we work away from each other.”

The hit list allows everyone to participate in tasks where they can bring value. This also means working together with people you might not be used to working with on a daily basis. It’s pretty cool to virtually meet up with no-so-familiar faces for an hour or two a day to solve something different. So far the list has brought people closer together, and we have solved a great amount of tasks that have been lying around in the archives for a while.

Moving on from the hit list, it’s lunchtime!

The regular lunchtime has certainly changed. This used to be a period where you had time to chat about everything outside of work. Guess what? It still is. Now we’ve just moved away from the company cantine into Google Hangouts and, more interestingly, into our homes. Everyday at noon, a link is being posted on Slack inviting people to (virtually) cook and partake in lunch together. Says Rune:

“TV Kitchen is on and starring the Nordic API Gateway Masterchefs dishing out secret family recipes and hacks on how to boil the perfect egg. This has proven to be a really funny way to get together and learn more about each other: by seeing people's living rooms and kitchens, and discussing everything from the coronavirus situation to the perfect meatball. We get around everything.”

But why talk about it when we can show it in pictures? Bon appetit: 

Back from lunch break and on to the next meeting … with Spiderman, Sideshow Bob and a leopard

To increase the fun, we’ve naturally decided that our remote meetings “require” dressing up. Have you ever seen a fintech CEO literally ascend his throne? 

Well, now you have.

Rune shares one of his funniest experiences from the first full remote week:

“Our new culture initiatives have made people wear whatever they want to in our daily meetings. I have sat down to discuss work with both Spiderman and the Hulk. One of the funniest moments was last week when our CRO, Michael, had made a hat out of tin foil (the truth is out there), while our COO, Filip, was wearing a funny hat and glasses and our CSO, Jonas, was dressed up like Spiderman. The only thing I had was a chocolate bar wrapper, so I improvised: I placed the wrapper on top of my head and we continued the meeting.”

Rune stresses that it’s really important to bring the humor to inspire each other and make people laugh. There’s no doubt that dressing up for meetings is a keeper for us moving forward, even after the coronavirus blows over. And in the future, we’ll start handing out awards for the best weekly costume.

“Welcome to Gateway Cribs”

The list of initiatives keeps evolving. Up next, we’re doing another amusing activity that reveals how our fellow colleagues live. It started out as a Slack channel, with pictures from people posting everything from their home-office situation to a competition on coffee machines and computer setups. The launch of this channel has allowed employees to invite each other into their homes, and the pictures have kept streaming in even over the weekend.

We’ve decided to take this initiative to the next level by encouraging people to film their week and share their ‘Gateway Crib’ old-fashioned MTV style. We can’t wait to share a peek into our lives with you on our Instagram account.

It’s Friday and the week is winding down: Let’s party!

Who says it has to be boring working from home? We keep up the fun behind the screens by hosting a Friday bar with quizzes, funny jokes and celebrations of the tasks that were conquered in the past week. Last Friday, 40+ people attended our virtual pub and it lasted for a couple of hours: playing Jackbox, joking around and dressing up. Our upcoming Fridays will be a great mix of team gatherings, pub quizzes and cold beers enjoyed directly from the friendly confines of our own homes.

On Fridays we also evaluate how the week went and everyone is welcome to bring stuff to the table, whether it’s an idea for improvement or for a new social activity. Everyone is responsible for creating a great work environment and getting the best out of the new circumstances.

The positive taken from COVID-19: We’ve never been closer.

Going back to where it all started: COVID-19. It has of course been a different situation for everyone, and our hearts go out to those around the world who have lost loved ones due to this serious pandemic. On a positive note: Even though we, as a company, have never had less physical contact, we’ve never felt closer.

Our live home-office feeds have allowed us to get to know one another even better. So even though we sometimes miss being at the office, it hasn’t been all bad. For now, we will keep enjoying mass remote lunches, virtual celebrations and enhanced collaborations across teams. We believe this will enable us to emerge from the situation stronger than ever. Rune concludes:

“To me, it’s really important that we’ve created a culture where working remotely becomes an advantage and a strength. We had all the components in place from the beginning, and now we’re experimenting on how we can become a fully remote organisation while still keeping the human touch.”

Thanks for reading!

We hope you enjoyed this article, and we’re always eager to hear more on how others are coping with the coronavirus and remote working. So please feel free to drop us a line and inspire us. We’ve certainly tried to flip the situation into having a positive impact on our company culture and we believe we’ve succeeded so far by translating some of our social activities into virtual ones. 

Don’t forget... 

We’re still on the lookout for other brilliant minds to join our fabulous fintech family, whether you work better in the office, at home or on the go. So feel free to check out our latest open positions here to learn more about us as a team and the company we love building.