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How Coffee Break Contest Made a Big Impact on a Small Team

Meet Focus Lab

In the downtown heart of Savannah, Georgia lies the office and headquarters of Focus Lab, a branding agency that has helped reshape dozens of brand identities, including Udacity, Serverless, and Marketo. With 25 employees, they are a small but mighty group that collaborates on everything from brand strategy, creative content, and user interfaces for their clients.

Spend a day at Focus Lab and you notice that it’s lively. It’s a workplace abuzz with check-ins, notes, meetings, and more. However, like more and more workplaces these days, those messages and meetings don’t always happen in person. For many folks on the Focus Lab team, Savannah is home. For many others though, home is somewhere else. Focus Lab is committed to having a distributed workforce, with team members located all across the country, and only about half of their current team works out of the Savannah office.

So those interactions and collaborations? They happen all over the place – often on various Slack channels, Zoom conferences, and email chains.

Making a Distributed Culture a Cohesive Culture

CEO Erik Reagan and People Operations Director Kellie Groover take their culture seriously at Focus Lab, and approach the concept of a distributed team as thoughtfully as they can. We know companies thrive when they are connected, and we also know employees value the ability to work from where they want to. So key questions remain:

  • How do you connect people located thousands of miles apart?
  • How do you make sure that the home office team isn’t divided from their remote coworkers?
  • When informal interactions are few and far between, how do you build familiarity and trust so coworkers feel like teammates?

Kellie and Erik were in search of answers to these questions when they connected with Coffee Break Contest founder, Varun Deedwaniya. Varun knew what CBC had to offer: unique team-building challenges designed specifically for a remote team, weekly recaps showcasing the team, leaderboards, and updates to fuel the water cooler conversation.

For a team like Focus Lab,

competitive, spirited, ready to connect,

the fit felt right.


Kicking off Coffee Break Contest

Kellie, Erik, and Varun got everything moving quickly through the onboarding process. After collecting the name, email, location, and role for the various team members, Kellie gave a quick explanation to everyone at their next all-hands. Coffee Break Contest hit everyone’s inboxes the next day with the same explanation and a quick question:


Are you in?


The answer was a resounding yes. More than half of the Focus Lab team opted in immediately, with others opting in over the next few weeks as the FOMO set in. In that first email with the Focus Lab team, each person was asked to send a GIF to show just how excited they were. Obviously, the energy was palpable:

Will Ferrell.gif   Cotton Candy.gif   Avocado.gif

And the excitement only continued:


100% of the opted-in group participated that first week


The banter followed not far behind!

image2.jpg   image3.png

Let the Games Begin

CBC has a thoughtful approach to how challenges are delivered every other week:

  • You start off getting placed in a team of 6 to 10 people for a season (usually a fiscal quarter, but can be flexible). You will have a team name, a running score, and over time, a team identity!
  • You receive a new challenge and a new partner (from your team) every 2 weeks. You both find 15 minutes together to complete the challenge over video conference. Quick, easy, personal interactions, and an opportunity to meet (and play with!) everyone more than once over the course of a season
  • Everyone receives recaps of complete challenges so that you can share in all the fun together!

CBC starts with challenges that are easy to understand and prompt you to do something silly with a partner. With these challenges, each season can hit the ground running with fun, creative moments the entire company can share together.

As the season carries on, CBC integrates new kinds of challenges to keep things fresh and appealing to everyone. One week might involve some trivia, the next week might feature a puzzle. Focus Lab found that they were particularly adept at creative photo challenges.

For one challenge, they made some partner costumes using only the items they had around their desk… and they did pretty well!

Cersei Lannister and her glass of wine

Cersei Lannister and her glass of wine

High-end fashion model and paparazzi

High-end fashion model and paparazzi

Each challenge brings something new. A new chance for someone to shine, to connect with a teammate in a wholly different format, and to take a well-deserved moment to enjoy the company of coworkers.

Focus Lab’s participants continued to thrive with each challenge. Not everyone was able to participate every week, but the structure of CBC makes it easy to jump right back in!

What Did People Think?

From a survey taken at the midpoint of the season, the numbers spoke for themselves:


100% of participants said they had conversations about CBC with teammates outside of their scheduled challenges


88% of participants said they knew their teammates better because of CBC


100% of participants said it was a pleasant addition to their week that they continued to find engaging


Deepening the Impact on Culture

Beyond forming fun and simple connections, Coffee Break Contest facilitates reflections on the company culture and team strengths. These reflections are integrated more and more over the course of a season.

As Focus Lab’s season drew to a close, they received a new type of challenge: reflect on their company and their teammates. It’s a small departure from the excitement and competition of previous challenges, but with the potential for a more rewarding experience:


“Discuss a moment when one of your teammates embodied a company value. Capture that story in writing and in photo!”


The various partners of Focus Lab took a week to reflect, and responded with stories that were kind, heartwarming, thoughtful, and uplifting:



“I feel more connected to my coworkers, both remote and in-office, after playing Coffee Break Contest.”

An Overwhelming Success

The survey numbers above can speak for themselves and Season 2 at Focus Lab has already kicked off and holds strong at 100% participation over several weeks!

But don’t just take our word for it… Kellie and Erik also had this to share:

  • “After doing CBC for just a few weeks, we already felt the positive effects of remote employees being part of office shenanigans.”
  • “For our new hire, it absolutely helped with her onboarding. She’s immediately interacting with other remote team members or locals she doesnt work with directly. That was a big win for me.”
  • “It’s been really great to see remote and in-office culture cross-pollinating. Having this naturally flow into our group conversations has been both easy and nice.”
  • “Our biggest goal for Coffee Break Contest was to have more interaction between remote and local teams, and it’s definitely been accomplishing that.”

Whether it’s building connection between a team that’s known each other for a while, onboarding new employees, or just looking for a plain old good time, we hope Coffee Break Contest can bring something special to your unique team!

The winning team from Season 1 had hats made in their honor. A little keepsake to remember the season!

The winning team from Season 1 had hats made in their honor. 

A little keepsake to remember the season!