Elwood: It’s March 12 of the year 2020, California’s been locked down for 3 days, Illinois
is just starting lockdown, businesses are scrambling to get data into the cloud,
nobody can find toilet paper….and we’re wearing sweatpants.
Jake: Time to work from home…hit it.
The world around us changed dramatically as the Great Panini became a reality. We made some big adjustments at work, at home – at everywhere. Online meetings became the norm and, if you were lucky enough, even after things began opening up again you were able to continue working remotely.
That’s the kind of company I landed at. We’re all over the place, happily working remotely and doing video meetings when we need to. There are some incredible advantages to working remotely and it’s more than just sweatpants. Having comfortable surroundings to work in means I don’t have the added stress of “do I look ok” or “is my desk messy” or any of the other hundreds of things one gets judged on (consciously or unconsciously) at the office. Familiar smells, familiar sounds, and personalized lighting all add to one’s ability to be able to focus on work. We are more productive because we are less distracted with the things around us.
But…being in disparate locales for 2+ years has had weird consequences too.
This past summer we had an in-person event for the entire company. If we didn’t have previous plans, didn’t have Covid, and were ok with traveling, we were finally going to get to meet each other face to face! I cannot tell a lie…I’ve worked (mostly) alone for over 25 years. Working with a team, even if remotely, has been fun and wonderful. But meeting these people with whom I have been talking to daily, people I have come to care about, to trust and respect, well that was exciting. Even the “I hate people” part of me was excited at this prospect.
For reasons, I was very isolated. It had been sooooooooo long since I had been around my peers but I also wanted to make extra special sure to not catch the plague. This meant that I had a big decision to make. I decided to go, to mask up, and to keep healthy distances whenever possible. The People team took such good care of things and co-workers were so careful that, while just a very few folks ended up testing positive, it was not a superspreader event. Kudos to our Event Team!
Off I went
It’s funny (not odd funny, but funny funny) meeting people you “see” every day. You think you know what to expect. You think it’ll be easy to recognize others. You think it will be like a normal office.
You think wrong.
Most folks wore real clothes rather than just t-shirts. Everything about the other people – skin, eyes, hair, shape, everything – look different IRL. Everyone was taller than I expected. Everyone. OK, I forget how short I am, but still they all looked much taller than I expected.
Worse, and most embarrassingly, people for whom I would absolutely know their name from a picture had my brain coming up completely blank in person. It was like I had face blindness. I felt ridiculous and like I was insulting everyone. I wasn’t insulting anyone, of course. It was just that my brain broke from overactivity (and nobody had their names across their shoulders like they do in video calls).
It was the onslaught of so many people at once combined with searching out the people I work most closely with (my direct team), while simultaneously trying to match up the new-to-me form factors (not the least of which was a colleague who surprised me by being both pregnant AND about 8” taller than I expected). While I struggled to keep my immediate department straight, I was completely impressed with one particular person from our people team who said hello to every single person who walked by. BY NAME. WITHOUT AN INTRODUCTION. I think she’s actually a wizard.
It Gets Better
The brain breakage settled after the first night. It got easier to pull up names when seeing a face and we sort of fell into that familiarity that happens when you work closely with people in person.
Being together for the first time felt like being at a giant family reunion…but the good kind, the kind we all WANT a family reunion to be. Some of us masked, some of us kept our distance, some did both, some did neither, and every iteration thereof. And everyone was respectful.
It’s perfectly understandable to be nervous about first meetings. And it was probably even weirder for you folks who already had worked side by side with teammates and had to adjust to remotely working. Reintroducing yourselves to each other must have been filled with thoughts of “gosh you changed!” or “you haven’t changed a bit!” and “have I changed that much?”
The Big Question
Is hanging with people in person really that different from hanging with them online? I feel like it is.
I learned that the people on my team are as amazing in person as they are in chat. We poured our hearts out to each other and got to know each other really well. Fueled by top-down openness and sincerity, our team opened up with each other about things personal and professional.
While I always learn from my co-workers, at our workshop I learned so much about my co-conspirators…er, teammates. I learned that I can trust them. I learned that they have my back and that I want to have theirs. From the larger team, I learned that we are led by people who care about business, yes, but they really care about people.
We meshed like we had been (enjoying) sitting next to each other for years. I don’t know about other teams, but I hope they received the same kinds of feelings that I had.
What I Learned From Bingo
I learned that playing bingo with hundreds of people in some mix of present and virtual is….a challenge to say that least. It was representative of how challenging it can be to keep a company’s messaging true to the vision and mission when working with the incredible diversity of people who are all over the globe. Companies that lack clarity in their messaging and those with lackluster leadership can’t do it. We do it unbelievably well here because trust is top-down. We trust each other enough to be radically candid. And our radical candor engenders trust from each other. Really, it’s very cool.
So, In Person or Remote?
The upshot is that I still prefer working remotely. I think I will always be more comfortable working here in my home or at the library than working in an office. While my dog may bark or I may have to step away to take care of something here, I don’t have to worry about talking super softly if I have a personal call. I can light candles or incense at will, I can play music or soundscapes without having to wear headphones, I don’t have to worry about other people coming to work sick, I can (within reason) make my own hours, and I can work from wherever is most comfortable on any given day. We are, after all, NOT living a Severance life.
All that said, I hope we do an in-person meeting again.
Until then, I have to rely on video calls and slack and our JumpCloud community for entertainment…errr, work.