Luna Park is an online platform that connects remote teams with social games, icebreakers, and trivia that can be as short as five minutes or as long as 90.
Since the pandemic, it’s pretty clear that remote work is here to stay, and that’s something Luna Park’s COO and co-founder Arlen Marmel saw early on. Thus, he was motivated to start the company in January 2021 with Ben Anderson.
Having worked as the Head of Marketing and Distribution for Crunchyroll as well as the Director of Customer Acquisition & Retention at Hulu, Arlen is familiar with what it takes to bring people on board and retain them, whether that’s employees or customers. He’s a master at keeping people engaged.
In this episode of the Employee Onboarding Podcast from Process Street, Arlen discusses:
- Growing a remote business during the pandemic
- Scaling a remote international team
- Bringing play into work and onboarding
Growing a remote business during the pandemic
- Connection happens naturally in an office setting but not in a remote one.
- Remote organizations have to put more effort into making sure their employees can connect with each other.
I’d love it if you could share a little bit more about how you ended up with Luna Park and started this awesome platform.
So I think my co-founder and I made an observation pretty early on in the pandemic that remote work was here to stay. If we can rewind our brains a little bit to that moment, a lot of folks were saying, “Oh, we’ll be back in the office in a month or in a couple of weeks.” And I think we were looking at the landscape saying, “You know what, I actually think this may be a more seismic shift in work culture.” And we started to ask ourselves, well, if we’re physically distributed from our colleagues, what changes? And we felt that one of the biggest changes is our ability to connect and build relationships.
You know, so much of our connection happens from just the physical proximity of being in an office with our colleagues. And when you remove that, it became pretty clear that productivity is fine, right?
It’s really easy to jump on Zoom and Slack and these other tools and get work done. But what about our relationships? What about trust and empathy? When you join an organization, how do you get to know your colleagues?
You lose a lot of the serendipity that comes from being in an office and just bumping into your colleagues at random and noticing, you know, somebody’s got an Aerosmith t-shirt, and you happen to like Aerosmith, as well.
And so we’ve worked really hard to try to re-infuse some of those opportunities for deepening pre-existing bonds, building new ones, and creating trust and empathy.
And so, as a company, you all are really small still, is that right?
Yeah. So we’re, we’re probably about 20 people today. We’re distributed around the world. We drink our own Kool-Aid, we use our own product, obviously, Luna Park, as I mentioned, our objective is to help companies deepen pre-existing bonds and create new ones. And there’s a whole bunch of ways that we can talk about that. We do that.
But yes, we are still relatively small, but we worked really hard to ensure that we’re globally distributed. So we serve a lot of different global teams, and we look for global points of view.
One of the biggest challenges that we face when connecting global teams is cultural boundaries, right? What might be interesting for a team in the U.S. might not be as interesting for a team in Europe or Asia. So we try to bring all those perspectives to there.
So when we grow our organization, we think really deeply about bringing folks together from around the globe with different perspectives and different backgrounds.
Scaling a remote international team
- Bridging cultural differences is a major challenge for Luna Park.
- Arlen is still growing and learning how best to onboard new employees remotely as the business scales.
- The Luna Park team plays games with all the new hires to break the ice.
Yeah, that’s actually something that I really sort of latched on to when we first started using Luna Park at Process Street was the little toggle of like international teams, because our team is also globally distributed. So being able to make sure that we’re inclusive, even in the games that we play, creating that engagement is super important.
Yeah, honestly, it’s one of the biggest challenges we face because there’s no such thing as just global culture, right? Regions have their own culture. And so sometimes we’ll get teams that are very interested in engaging in activities that have a lot of cultural infusion. We deliver experiences that can bring people together regardless of where they may be in the world. And I think in doing that, we have a unique advantage because we’ve built our own platform.
So we have experiences, like our live events (We run live events, 30, 60, 90-minute experiences with game shows, escape rooms, things like that) and an on-demand library, where we run experiences, which are shorter. They’re between, say, five and 30 minutes, and they work for small groups, so as few as two people, so that you can empower your team to more easily get together.
We don’t use Zoom or Google Meet. We think those are great tools for business meetings but not so great for social engagement. So we built our own solution from the ground up. And it’s a fully interactive platform, right? On Zoom, if you’ve ever gotten together with your colleagues, usually one person is speaking, or two people are speaking, and everyone’s muted. And all you can do there is screen share. Luna Park is truly a fully interactive experience.
So I can give you an example of one of our mini games that I think is really globally appealing. Basically, every team member is represented up on a board on the screen, and they have to tap keys on their keyboard in sequence to advance a spaceship to Planet Luna Park.
And I think it’s worth saying that one of the things that we found along this journey is that games, specifically social games, are an incredible way to connect people, regardless of their background. You know, regardless of where you may be from, what differences we may have, everyone has games in common. And games actually mimic a lot of aspects of work. You collaborate in a team, you need different people to take a leadership role, you need to communicate effectively, or you may reach a challenge and need to overcome that.
We try to actually create experiences that your team will truly enjoy. But also, in many ways, it mimics work, and it creates this trust and empathy that you might not be as conscious about.
You might not recognize it that’s happening, but you leave with this warmer, stronger feeling towards your colleagues.
Tell me a little bit about the evolution of your employee onboarding at Luna Park as you went from two employees to 20.
I think onboarding employees in a physically distributed world is a really challenging experience because what I’ve discovered is, and, as you mentioned some of my previous experiences at companies like Crunchyroll and Hulu, we were based out of an office, and in most cases, the vast majority of the employees were in-office. And what happens when a new employee joins is they’re very easily exposed to the broader organization.
A simple example is in both of those companies, we serve lunch, in, you know, you would go grab lunch, you would be exposed to a bunch of employees. And it’s really not an active effort on the part of the joining team member. In a physically distributed world, it’s much harder for a new team member to get up to speed really quickly on who the team is and what all the working parts are, and get exposed to people outside of their group. And so obviously, we use Luna Park ourselves.
I’ll say that one of the things I’ve observed about our evolution is that when we were growing from like two to, say, 10, it was actually really easy to have kind of a personal relationship with everyone, just by virtue of the fact that team was so small, and you’d have business with everyone on a daily basis. And you’re really able to create that connection. But as the organization has grown, it becomes a lot harder. And we’ve identified this kind of missing link.
So when you’re in an organization, and you’re in an office, the most junior team member likely has exposure to the most senior team member, let’s say the CEO of the organization, almost by accident.
You can walk to the restroom, you can walk past them, you can kind of see how they handle themselves, how they behave. But in a distributed world, the only way for the most junior employee to get access to the most senior employee is to probably take an active role and schedule a meeting or, you know, reach out to them on Slack or something like that. And that’s incredibly intimidating. It’s, frankly, a little awkward. And in some cases, it may not even be appropriate. But I think we would all probably say we’d like the most junior team members to have exposure to our C-level team. But that gets more difficult as the company grows.
So how do you foresee scaling that as companies get larger and larger?
So you know, with Luna Park, we started with our live-hosted event. These were typically 60-minute experiences that allowed you to bring the vast majority of the team together. We call them high impact. It’s an amazing way to get a large swath of your organization together synchronously for a little bit of a longer period.
But if we’re being candid, the most actively engaged organizations can do something like that, maybe monthly, right? How frequently can you really carve out an hour of the entire team’s time? And so we recognize that this is an amazing opportunity to kickstart.
I talked about some of the benefits of being in this synchronous space with your whole organization, but other tools are needed in the toolkit, and so we introduced our on-demand experiences. These empower managers and other people throughout the organization to get together with smaller groups for shorter periods of time.
Organizations are comprised of diverse individuals. Some may be really excited about getting together with the whole team for an hour-long experience. But some may be less so, and it may be more appealing for them to get together with someone on a one-on-one basis. And so I think for us, you’ll continue to see us innovate on new experiences that enable teams to continue to recognize each other and build culture.
But we’re always looking for these different ways and moments to continue connecting the team because, as I said, I think it takes a little bit more work in a distributed world to pick up the slack that maybe the office kind of used to do for us.
Bringing play into work and onboarding
- Prospective hires play Luna Park games as part of the interview process.
- Having fun at work is incredibly important.
- New hires bring great energy and excitement to organizations and they should have the opportunity to spread it around.
Tell me a little bit about what the cadence is for a new person joining your team.
So typically, even before somebody will join our team, during part of the interview process, we’ll actually invite them to a Luna Park experience because it says a lot about who we are as an organization. You know, we create experiences that deliver serious value for our customers but are also lighthearted and quite a bit of fun. And we’re looking for individuals that can understand that. Luna Park, in particular, is a really interesting marriage of content creation and software, and so we need people that can understand that and appreciate that.
We’re always looking to bring people into the fold that have a unique perspective, but also that can appreciate what we do. I know your question was about onboarding, and I’m kind of talking a little bit about the interview process, but I think it’s relevant because it starts before we even bring them into the fold that we find people that not only delight in what Luna Park does, but often we’ll start to say, you know, “I wonder if you did it this way or I have a little bit of feedback on what you were doing there,” because that tells me that we’ve got a critical thinker with us that’s interested and engaged. And so that kind of starts before we hire, and typically we get excited about those types of candidates.
When we do bring them into the fold, number one, we’ll often bring the whole team together in a Luna Park experience for a low-stress, low-anxiety way for those team members to get connected to others.
For us, onboarding isn’t just about, “Okay, here’s the paperwork.” Of course, that’s a part of it, right? But I think another key component is getting to know your colleagues in a way that isn’t so formal and isn’t so tied to the business place.
As we know, it’s scientifically proven that teams that play together are more productive, feel more connected, and enjoy their work more. And so, we really try to infuse those elements of play, those elements of fun and access, which is, you know, a word that I’ve repeated a few times, but I think is really critical into our onboarding experience.
And that’s human development, right? Like, that’s from preschool age all the way to those that are graduating out of the workforce. Everybody needs that playful side.
100%, and I don’t wanna get super deep here, but we spend the vast majority of our waking hours working, and I am a firm believer that it might as well be something you love and enjoy. I like working on products that make people happy, that make people smile. I like working with people that I feel stimulate me, that are highly intelligent, but that are also fun to be around.
Of course, there are certain things that are more appropriate and less appropriate in the work environment, but I really don’t want there to be, like, work Arlen and personal life Arlen. I want to be myself, and I think sometimes we need a little bit of help, right, especially because, in a work environment, it brings together so many unique personalities, so many people from different backgrounds.
And so it inherently makes you a little bit more sensitive to what other people might respond to. And so we just create a space where you can see your colleagues. In a more human light. I think there’s a lot of power and benefit to that.
What would you say is the most important wow moment that you can create for an employee in the onboarding process?
I think most employees come to the table with this expectation that there’s a bunch of steps that they have to follow through to join this organization. But the other thing that new employees bring to the table is a lot of enthusiasm. And I think too often we don’t capitalize on that enthusiasm. You know, they come in raring to go, and it’s great for organizations to have that fresh blood, that shot in the arm. But especially in a distributed world, sometimes that energy might stay in a really small bubble. You know, they connect with one person, they connect with two people, they connect with three people, and those people get the benefit of it but maybe the broader organization doesn’t.
The more senior team members, the more veteran team members can coast off a little bit of that fresh energy and excitement and remember why you know your company is such a great place to be. And then the other way, that new team member can feel like they got access and exposure and maybe created some relationships early on.
Or at least the seeds of relationships that can pay dividends down the line that aren’t just with their core team, but across the organization.
A high-functioning social network is not disparate bubbles. It’s a lot of connective tissue across the entire organization. I think the absolute best moment to make that happen is in the early life of a new employee when they’re as engaged and as motivated as they might ever be.
And so I think creating that two-way conversation so that the veteran team members can capitalize on that energy and so that this new team member can hopefully plant some seeds for some long-standing relationships is probably the biggest opportunity you have in the onboarding process.
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What do you think about Arlen Marmel’s philosophy of work hard, play hard? Do you invite your new hires to play games with company leaders? Tell us about it in the comments!