Tech insights: How Iress Built Systems to Encourage Connection and Recognition Remotely

How Iress Built Systems to Encourage Connection and Recognition Remotely

By Marcelle van Niekerk

COVID-19 created many business challenges: the way we worked, everyday routines, how we connected, remained productive and felt valued had to be rapidly adjusted. Iress has implemented strategies to boost connectivity and recognition while working remotely, both at a team and company level. Here’s how they’re doing this.

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Iress is a technology company providing software to improve performance in the financial services industry. With over 2000 people, they have done multiple cultural surveys with their teams to get regular feedback from everyone on the company’s culture.

From the results, it became evident that people want to receive regular recognition and know they are valued by their teams and the company at large. These themes became even more relevant during the pandemic, since people were more isolated and looking for ways to remain engaged.

We spoke to Engineering Team Lead Niressa Kistan about the concrete steps she and her team have taken to stay safely connected, maintain resilience, manage mental wellbeing and recognise individual contributions.

How they stay connected as a remote team

Iress follows agile work practices to give everyone in the company equal access to information and make sure it’s easy for team members to connect with anyone in the organisation.

In the fully remote setup, this means:

  • All teams maintain regular standups, retros and planning sessions.
  • As far as possible, team members keep webcams switched on during meetings to replicate face-to-face conversations.
  • Meeting owners try to ensure that all people have a chance to contribute during the session.

For Niressa, maintaining regular contact with other team members is important to reduce isolation and keep their priorities on track while working remotely. “As a development team, we can’t work in silos. We need to collaborate with many cross-functional teams to deliver high quality software,” she says.

“Through collaboration, knowledge from the work each developer has done is shared openly. We also ensure that there is joint effort with other teams to distribute information more easily and make decisions more quickly. So we need to be able to communicate effectively and frequently.”

In addition to this, Niressa’s team of developers also wanted to figure out ways to remain connected on a personal level. They’ve always been a tight-knit group and wanted to maintain that in the new remote setup. It was also important to Niressa as a team lead to provide a space to check in on her team’s mental health during the pandemic.

“In an office you could chat to somebody face to face. We can’t do that now, and had to make other plans to connect. For the team members who lived by themselves, it could get lonely. Therefore we have built in a few new opportunities to meet with each other.”

Here are the ways in which Niressa and her team connect and collaborate, and the measures Iress has put in place to encourage engagement.

Dedicated time for check-ins within standups

At the office, daily stand-up meetings would be 15 minutes long. Now that everybody is remote, Niressa and her team have lengthened it to provide adequate time to catch up with each other.

“It’s not a rigid meeting where we only discuss work. This time gives us the space to talk about anything - whether it’s recent news, pets, exercise, or whatever people want to share!”

Multiple catch-up slots

Niressa’s team has set up a standing Zoom invite at 3pm every day. Started and managed by a member of the team; teammates can chat with each other about anything that’s on their minds - even if it’s not work related. It’s been added as a permanent slot to everyone’s calendars so they have the opportunity to catch up as they find the time to do so.

They also have an additional team meeting every two weeks for the team to get together and discuss topics that are affecting them.

“We provide feedback and share ideas,” says Niressa. “It’s easier to maintain relationships when a ‘safe space’ is created for people to be themselves and talk about non-work related topics as well.”

Virtual drinks for local teams

Regional teams, including Niressa’s, host informal, bi-weekly meetings in Cape Town to see each other over a drink on Zoom.

“The Cape Town office has around 35 people who work together like a family,” says Niressa. “We miss each other, and it is important to meet as this allows us to share how we are doing during the pandemic.”

Company and structural updates

Iress is a global company, operating in multiple regions across South Africa and abroad. To ensure individuals and teams don’t lose touch with the company’s mission, Iress hosts frequent sessions to give company-wide updates.

How they support team leaders

It’s easy to forget that adapting to the pandemic and managing teams remotely was also new for all the team leads at companies. This is especially important to keep in mind given the lasting emotional and operational impact the pandemic has had on people’s personal lives and businesses.

To ensure that team leads could confidently adapt their leadership skills to be effective in a remote setup, Iress put the following initiatives in place:

A dedicated support network for team leads

Iress has created communities for their team leads to ask questions and problem-solve together. They are also providing additional learning and development to help leaders brush up on their leadership skills while working from home.

“We have fortnightly meetings with regional team leaders to share ideas, and learn from each other. Recently, our learning and development team provided all leaders with access to short courses through Udemy for Business to help us positively influence our teams, and be more impactful as leaders,” says Niressa.

Company-wide health and wellbeing support

Iress has hosted multiple online sessions about working with remote teams, managing stress and building resilience. Now more than ever before, their goal is to help teams maintain their health and wellbeing as they navigate the pandemic.

“We’ve been supported through a global webinar series with industry experts focussed on managing work and relational stress, how to build personal resilience, and improve productivity. These sessions have taught us how to connect and direct our teams during tough times, and to stay focused on what’s important,” says Niressa.

In addition, all people at Iress have access to support through Life EHS, which offers finance, legal, health and wellbeing advice.

How they recognise achievements remotely

Iress has introduced new tools to improve how teams show appreciation to one another while working from home.

“It’s important to celebrate when our goals, big or small, are accomplished,” says Niressa. “Team members feel more motivated when we consistently appreciate each other and provide acknowledgement.”

Here are three ways they encourage giving kudos:

Acknowledge teammates in retros

Niressa’s team has regular retro sessions where they work on Miro. During this time, there is usually a dedicated place where team members can add sticky notes to give an appreciation shout-out to their colleagues during a sprint.

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“Team members write down constructive notes detailing each other’s strong points. They’re getting to know each other really well and understand who is best suited to assist with specific issues, and recognise each other’s talents. Miro has enabled us to do that remotely and say thank you easily,” explains Niressa.

Public shout-outs on Slack

Iress has also set up a global Slack channel called Simple Steps, where anyone can share stories about teammates who have gone above and beyond or achieved something significant. Iress people from around the world can join in the celebration with messages or emoji reactions.

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“One of my team members who received a shout out on the channel was both grateful and pleasantly surprised to be recognised from people across the globe, and not just from within their own team. It’s really motivating,” says Niressa.

Quarterly team award ceremonies

“Our relationships have become stronger across teams – and we deliver our milestones knowing that everyone is working towards the same goal.”

The engineering team at Iress held its first “awards ceremony’‘ at a virtual Town Hall meeting over Zoom. Each team got to nominate a peer who exceeded expectations, or made meaningful contributions to a project so that they could recognise them for their efforts in front of the entire regional team.

“I feel like Iress has really made an effort to improve the connection between the teams, and to prioritise recognition of great work that happens. We don’t wait for retros or quarterly results to thank each other,” says Niressa.

“Every organisation will work differently in the future as a result of the pandemic. We are working hard to find the balance of flexible working, being responsive to changing conditions and to think differently about how we work together to drive great outcomes for our business and our clients.”


Niressa Kistan is an Engineering Team Lead who manages the delivery of new features at Iress. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, going on weekly hikes and long walks with her dogs!

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