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A year ago, I introduced a new Slackbot, fondly known as Donut, to PagerDuty.

When I interned in San Francisco last summer, I was looking for ways to meet people who weren’t on my team, in my department, or even in the same office as I was. Randomly messaging employees in the Toronto office or on the Sales team seemed like a little much, even for someone like me, who enjoys taking occasional strides outside of her comfort zone. My awkward introduction to people I passed on the way to meeting rooms and the cafeteria was also reaching its breaking point. You can only say, “I don’t think we’ve met, but my name is…” so many times within the same day.

Since the goal of the Donut app is to “spread trust and collaboration across [an] organization,” it seemed like the perfect solution to my own dilemma and also addressed a challenge PagerDuty was facing during growth: maintaining connectedness and community across international offices and distributed teams.

When installed as a Slack channel, Donut pairs two employees once every two weeks, encouraging members of the channel to direct message each other to meet up for coffee (and maybe a donut!). My vision for this integration was for employees to take a break from work to meet new people or do a virtual hangout with people they would never otherwise run into. My internship ended the week I presented the bot during Hackday, and I left hoping that people would be interested in the idea, even if just for a little while.

Fifty-two weeks and 26 pairings later, I returned to PagerDuty for my last internship before graduating, and I’ve learned that:

  1. People are still using Donut to meet each other.
  2. Donut is now recommended to new hires as part of the onboarding process.
  3. Real donuts are actually quite elusive in the San Francisco SOMA district, so bubble tea has become a popular alternative for meetups.

Donut has given a way for us to meet people without having to put in much effort since it does all the pairing! We also recently discovered that it uses some interesting algorithms to make the matches, focusing on people who have interacted the least with each other in other public channels. This makes for some interesting meetups, like one engineering manager’s meetups with 10 new hires in a row. Our employees enjoy Donut so much that they have even recommended it to friends at other companies.

Lisa Thompson, Sales Ops, on a call with Dick Hartshorne, Senior Recruiter, working out of Arizona. 

The above insights merely scratch the surface of what Donut has brought to PagerDuty. When I pulled the stats, I found that in the past year, there have been more than 1000 introductions made between employees at PagerDuty, 600 conversations started, and almost 500 confirmed meetings!

The Art of Actually Meeting Up

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s for randomly facilitated meetups by Donut or weekly one-on-ones, every one of us has had to cancel or needed to reschedule. We overbook, we overcommit, and sometimes, we’re just tired—and that’s okay. Donut is supposed to make people happier, not bring them down.

The first step to ensuring that people will eventually meet up with each other is to initiate the conversation. Donut messages often get unintentionally ignored or forgotten. One nice thing about Donut is that it sends a reminder to your group at the end of the week and the next if it hasn’t heard back. How’s that for some initiative? The only job we have is to remember to send out that first “Hello!”

It took me and my first Donut buddy over a month to find a time that could accommodate her morning talks, my sporadic team meetings, and our last-minute conflicts and reschedulings. In a society that’s getting busier and busier, we all struggle to set aside time during our work day for non-work activities. But as one Dutonian told me, “Every Donut has been more than worth the minutes away from work.” We can’t underestimate the significance of meaningful connections with people, so why not take a breather from work to go on a walk with someone new?

Measuring Cultural Impact

Donut has been continued to be active for a year, and although the channel is quieter than when it first started, people are definitely still going on their Donut runs. When I sent out a call for feedback and fun stories from meetups, I got overwhelmingly positive responses.

They’ve found some new use cases for Donut as well, like integrating it into larger teams to foster better relationships between members and allow teammates to get to know each other outside of work. During the onboarding process and orientation, new hires are encouraged to join Donut as a way to quickly meet other employees and get more comfortable with being at the company. Additionally, about a month ago, there was an odd number of members in the channel, so Donut matched three of our employees instead of just two. For fun, the three of them named their meeting an “Almond,” and they had a great time learning about each other and their very different roles and teams.

The Almonds: Phylicia Jones, Talent Development; Liberty McBride, Business Applications; John Coleman, Engineering. 

PagerDuty has grown a lot since my last internship; yet, I feel as though the company culture has not been hit with the negative impact many other places may experience in the same situation. If anything, the work environment has become even more welcoming and friendly than it was before. Thanks to Donut, we’ve started erasing the potentially divisive lines between teams and departments and have kept people connected despite the challenges that come with expanding into five different offices around the world.

It’s exciting that my Hackday project is still alive and going stronger than I ever expected. The continuity and success of this culture hack is a testament to PagerDuty’s commitment to its People First values. If you want to give us a shot, join us for the next chapter of our ongoing journey in DevOps!

Me and Heather Holyoake, Business Operations. 

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