5 min read

The Island

The Island
Ahhh creepy masked koalas that gas people. Classic Simpsons. All credit to Fox Studios I assume?

I love working remotely.

I love being able to make my own schedule. I love not having to commute to an office and I love having complete control over the space in which I spend most of my waking hours.

But working remotely does come with its downsides.

For example, connecting socially to the people that you work with is challenging in a remote environment.

I'm lucky in this respect though, because I'm fortunate enough to be working for Atlassian, where people understand the importance of social engagement and the challenges involved and are actively doing cool things to alleviate it.

This post is about one of those cool things :)

Why Would Being Remote Stop Him?

I already touched on it a bit in the intro, but connecting socially with people when working remotely is damn hard.

When I was regularly working in an office, I didn't realise just how easy it was to run into people and spontaneously share a moment. Even introducing lunchtime games of Mario Kart was relatively straightforward. I mean, everybody was already there, in a shared physical space, at the same time. Simple stuff.

When you're working 100% remotely, it's very different. There are little to no spontaneous moments. Everything has to be planned or scheduled ahead of time and that typically means a motivated person has to expend effort organising.

But you can't just give up on those social connections, because they are critical to making all of the professional stuff a little bit easier.

I often take the lead on the social stuff, which is fine because it's an investment with a clear payoff and I'm happy to do it.

But I've only really done that sort of thing at the team level.

I can't even begin to imagine how complicated and exhausting it must be to try and do the same thing at the organisational level.

Shut Up! That's Why!

I mean, sure I've given it a stab at least once and I have some theories about promoting change beyond my immediate sphere of influence, but I'm more than happy to leave that sort of stuff up to my betters.

Speaking of which, one of the best parts of Atlassian is that it is full of people much more awesome than me.

And they've already established a regular social activity called Big Bash which has been going for years and years.

Historically, its been incredibly varied, but almost always entirely co-located. People would come together in various places across the world and have a bunch of fun doing some sort of event. Said events range from scavenger hunts to building structures out of cardboard all the way through to cooking and game shows.

But with the introduction of Team Anywhere, all of that stuff goes out the window. In a world where people are not already physically co-located, getting everyone together becomes both a cost and logistical nightmare.

The obvious solution is to go virtual.

And our amazing events team did exactly that for Big Bash 2021.

See You On The Island...

I'm just going to put this here to start us off on the right foot.

Do you see this? Do you see how amazing this is?

If you're not familiar with that blocky art style, the image above is a screenshot of a custom-built island in Minecraft.

The events team called it the Island of Atlassia and they even made a trailer for it, which was pretty goddamn amazing and certainly succeeded in getting me hyped.

Apart from respecting the amount of effort that must have gone into creating the space itself, the usage of Minecraft as a virtual events platform is an amazing idea. Even people who don't play video games can pick it up easily and all they really need to do is walk around and look at things.

But it wasn't just an island to wander around in.

It was also a competition of sorts that pit random teams against one another in various games. For example, there was a scavenger hunt (i.e. finding medals in a mock-up of the new Atlassian building), a memory game (i.e. matching blocks of the same type) and a defence scenario (i.e. defeating enemies attacking a city). There were other activities as well, those are just the ones that stand out in my memory.

As is typical for Atlassian, a bunch of it was themed around being environmentally responsible, which I am all in favour of because it would be nice to not leave Earth a smoking ruined husk for generations of humans and animals to come.

All up, it was a fantastic afternoon where I got to play some games with people I'd never met before and immerse myself in a staggeringly impressive virtual space redolent with Atlassian culture.

No One Can Silence Me But Me!

There's always room for improvement of course.

Being that Atlassian is such a large company, in order to get everyone to be able to participate, we were broken down into fairly large groups before the actual event, but they were too large to do anything more than introduce ourselves.

During the event itself, we were broken down into much smaller groups and put into a Zoom call together, which was great, but it was very much a "team formation by fire" kind of situation, and I would have loved to have spent some time with those people before we did the event, to connect with them and get to know them a little bit more.

Speaking of the event, because it was a competition and because it was all scheduled, it was timed, and the Minecraft scripting involved teleported us from place to place. Completely understandable approach, but it didn't give me enough time to just explore and marvel at the world that the team created.

In fairness, they did have another event later on in the week that I think would have allowed for some arbitrary exploration, but I didn't get a chance to attend that because I was busy :(

That's about it though. Everything else was amazing.

I Want Answers Now or I Want Them Eventually

I have no idea how long the events team was working on this.

Not only did they create an amazing virtual environment with an incredible amount of care and detail, they created games within that virtual environment. None of that is easy. It feels like a years worth of work, or possibly more.

But it was worth it in my opinion.

I got to know some new people, I got to learn things about Atlassian and I just got the sense that someone cared about me and my experiences.

I'm going to remember this for a very long time, and I'm going to remember it fondly.

If you're looking for a way to get people together remotely, you might not have the time and resources to put together an entirely custom Minecraft world. Not many companies would.

But you could use Minecraft all the same. There is nothing stopping you from just exploring and building things together in a randomly generated world. You could even make a simple game of it, getting people to compete in who can construct relevant structures.

Think about it.

Anyway, to finish this blog post off, here are a few more screenshots helpfully supplied by Chantelle from the events team.

This was a shot of the scavenger hunt, inside the mock-up of the new Atlassian building
This was the defence event in the city, where we had to squash bugs