When your office changes from a physical place to a virtual space, there comes a time when you realize an important member of your team is missing. It may not be apparent at first—the feeling comes gradually.

After counting everyone twice and checking that we hadn’t mislaid our COO in the wilderness, we had to face the facts.

What we had lost was our coffee machine.

The deserted kitchen at Meilisearch's parisian office

With it, we lost the informal discussions we used to have in our kitchen looking out on the rooftops of Paris. The small details of our coworkers' lives we learned day by day, the discoveries—that another team slew a bug, or that someone had a ready-made answer to a question bothering you: all these pouches of intimacy and shared knowledge had to be created anew.

Meilisearch veterans had a structure to fall back on, but for new arrivals, this level of trust had to be built from scratch, without a physical office. In this article, we'll take you with us on that journey and explain how we encourage informal discussions at Meilisearch.

We pay special attention to our onboarding process

We try to make sure each new member of the team feels welcome on their first day. We want to take away as much stress and awkwardness as we can to make the first few weeks as smooth as possible.

Before the start of the contract, we schedule meetings with each and every person in the team. The lineup of the calendar for the first two weeks is already clear: our priority is for new Meilisearch members to chat with everyone. They typically last 25 to 50 minutes and can be with 1–3 persons at a time. The goal of these meetings is for everyone to explain what they do at Meilisearch of course, but also to break the ice for further discussion down the line: it's the mixing of the coffee beans!

In between chatting with their new coworkers, the new recruits can read our Team Page on Notion. Each person has a detailed profile with their communication preferences and their preferred work style, their quirks and the qualities they value, what may drive them nuts and what people might misunderstand about them.

To be or not to be, that is the question

Each member can then share anything they like about them. We believe our biographies are a concentrated dose of a few months of small talk, all in one place!

We create dedicated spaces in our chat and schedules

We are very proud of our team: it’s a collection of people with diverse interests and backgrounds. We believe this stems from our roots at Ecole 42, but that’s a subject for our next blogpost! This makes our discussions interesting and sundry.

Our Slack channels reflect some of that range: we have channels dedicated to cats, food, cinema, games, music, books and of course: the #random channel! This is where we speak of our travels, share photos of the first snow, and recommend pieces of content that we enjoyed. We even developed an emoji-rating system for movies and cultural experiences!

Any Meilisearch employee who wishes to can join the Random Coffee channel and be randomly matched with another person for a coffee later that week. It's a time to chat about anything and everything—the brewing time.

We use huddles on Slack for weeklies and other meetings. But sometimes, we need a rubber duck who talks and listens to us rather than the written chat! Our team is most fond of Discord and coding together with their mics on.

We organise special events

We started doing after-work hangouts on Zoom during the first lockdown in France. Then there was a slight decline… until we realized we really missed them! These events are not mandatory. We play games together: Skribbl, Gartic Phone, Codenames… and anything we feel like!

Twice a year, we also have our in-person get-togethers: the offsites! We strive to make them a comfortable and enjoyable experience for everyone, accommodating people’s needs and leaving plenty of pockets of free time. We share some experiences and have fun together. These are our coffee add-ons: the milk, cream, glitter, and sprinkles on top!

We're always chasing the perfect blend

We believe Meilisearch as an organisation has a responsibility to build and provide the space and tools to make communication possible. But we also firmly believe that the next step is giving the wheel to our team members and trusting them to have the discussions they want.

We are always testing and researching ways to give our team members a leg up on the long process of building connections. As such, we expect to release a part two of this blog post as soon as we discover new flavors to add to our coffee mix!

P.-S. The Team Tea of Meilisearch wishes to reassure any future coworker that yes, we do have tea, and no, we aren’t all coffee maniacs.