by Glenn Weinstein
Co-founder and CIO
500 employees, scattered globally across nearly 180 locations, gathering for a virtual all-hands company meeting with slides, live video and audio feeds, in-person special guests, recorded videos, and polls. What could go wrong?
In reality, Appirio’s annual meeting on Friday, Feb. 1 came off without a hitch. In past years we’d gathered all employees at in-person events in San Francisco, Scottsdale, or Napa. But this time we decided to try it virtually, asking Appirians to congregate in one of 19 gathering places, including our San Francisco HQ, our Indianapolis development center, our London office, and various conference rooms and homes across the U.S., Europe, and Japan. About 160 employees who didn’t live close enough to a gathering spot would join from home offices.
At first we contemplated hiring an events firm to handle logistics. But we decided that Appirio, one of the original 100% cloud, no-server companies, could pull this off using our existing technology, at $0 incremental cost. And we did! Our success was due mostly to attention to a series of minor details, which added up to an immersive experience. We also benefitted from the comfort level in our cloud technologies that comes with everyday use.
How did we do it?
It started with Google Spreadsheet forms, to survey the employee base on their likely location on Feb. 1, as well as votes for company awards like innovator of the year, ultimate team player, and others. We also posted meeting logistics to our wiki, which runs on Google Sites.
Game day arrived early on the morning of Feb. 1. We set up in our San Francisco 90 minutes prior to the meeting’s start time, in order to start things up and allow locations to connect and dial in at their leisure, avoiding last-minute stress and ensure a prompt 7am PST start. The technology lineup included:
- Citrix GoToWebinar, to broadcast the master slide deck, carry the live audio feed, and run the poll questions, which we pre-loaded. Viewing sites could receive audio via telephone or VOIP, whichever worked better for their location and available speakers.
- Google Hangout, to invite the 10 largest sites to join via video. Each site used a laptop-mounted webcam to display their “scene,” and labeled their feed (e.g. “Appirio Indianapolis”) using the Hangout Lower Third app extension. Sites also connected their Hangout machines to projectors, so participants could see the other 9 sites. All 10 sites muted their Hangout microphones, since the live audio feed was via GoToWebinar.
- Google Hangout On Air, a broadcast that allowed attendees who weren’t at one of the 10 largest sites to see the live video.
- Salesforce Chatter, using a “Company Meeting 2013” group for ongoing banter. The group collected 313 posts, 341 comments, and 2,052 “likes” during the 5-hour meeting, including ideas, shout-outs, congratulations, links, photos from the remote offices, and witty remarks. For example, after we presented someone with an award, Chatter would light up with great comments about that person.
- YouTube, where we uploaded a handful of professionally recorded videos, like customer testimonials, for playback during the meeting. (We didn’t try to play back the videos live over GoToWebinar, because they looked too choppy that way.)
If you’re considering hosting your own team meeting this way, check out tomorrow’s Appirio Tech Blog post for the more technical details and tricks of the trade.