It’s All in the Connection

Why There's Nothing "Remote" About Affimed's Coffee Talks

By Arndt Schottelius, CSO of Affimed

We are in our third year of the pandemic, and despite the fact that we are now slowly returning to our offices, the fact remains that pandemic or not, it can be a challenge to stay connected—especially as organizations grow. This has been my experience throughout my career, and I have always sought after and valued maintaining and creating opportunities to connect. It is not only vital to the health of the organization, but it is vital to our individual health and sense of well-being. Each of us plays a crucial role in the life of an organization, and this can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day—especially when the day-to-day is “remote” and “virtual.”

That is why we started hosting “Coffee Talks.” These virtual events are hosted by an executive team member for any employee who wants to chat and are held in small, intimate group settings. There is no standard for how the Coffee Talks should be conducted. For me, the only parameters are:

  1. There is no agenda, and
  2. I ask two questions: “What are you excited about?” and “What’s on your mind?”

The simplicity of the above is intentional. Simplicity allows for openness. The informality inherent in the above questions is intended to foster an environment of ease and positivity. Starting with what we are excited about elevates the discourse and further inspires candor, trust, and connection. This is truly why we are here. We want to hear from everyone. It is human nature to want to filter one’s communication, especially when speaking with an executive you don’t communicate with on a regular basis. Our motivation in keeping groups small and drawn across many areas is to foster lively conversation with the understanding that the information shared remains confidential with regard to any individual. We are here to listen and to learn what people in the organization are thinking.

Fostering a healthy and productive culture within and without Affimed is intrinsic to our mission. Obviously, part of that is strategy, with culture being a vital part of driving that (or, as some people say: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”). This is why we place such a high priority on getting culture right. To create a healthy and vibrant culture, we need to keep the lines of communication flowing.

I am appreciative of the fact that giving feedback entails risk. We all tend to want to share only our successes. My intent is to eliminate any sense of risk or discomfort and show that any concerns voiced by an employee are addressed in a meaningful way. I’ve noticed that sometimes there will be a topic that arises and forms a sort of cluster of concerns that need to be addressed. This offers me greater awareness of potential gaps that I can either provide feedback around or bring to my leadership team or management board without mentioning the person who has brought up the concern.

Every employee at any level, irrespective of title, should feel that they have the ability to connect with me and have an influence on company strategy—because we are all working for the same vision and goal. Topics that have been shared have touched on resource constraints, clarity around roles and responsibilities, and a desire to know more about the company’s strategy or how one’s work is fitting into the larger picture. Better communication has also been a recurring topic that we are focusing on in a variety of ways. I do not underestimate the importance of these questions.

One of the many positive outcomes of these virtual coffee talks has been the implementation of short updates triggered by specific questions from the participating employees—devoid of overly scientific language or detail—about the progress that is happening along with other exciting and meaningful updates. It can be easy to be so focused on our vision and mission that we forget to acknowledge and share the gems along the way.

We look forward to continuing these intimate, virtual events and as we return to the office, being in person will be a much-welcomed bonus. It is worth taking the time to listen—especially in today’s world, with the cacophony of demands and distractions. Breaking bread (or bagels) together and sharing what’s on our minds is at the heart of a meaningful culture, community, and creating the positive change we are all working so hard to realize for patients, each other, and the world.