March 13, 2020: the last day we were all in the office together, wrapping up a busy week and preparing to work from home for an indefinite amount of time. "How long can this last?" we wondered. "Two weeks? A month?"
None of us could have predicted all the ways that our lives would change, personally and globally, over the 20 weeks to come. But here we are! One hundred-some-odd work days later, we've adjusted as best we can to the new abnormal, making it work while we work from home.
While some aspects of our office culture can't be replicated in the time of COVID (we miss our daily drives through Galloway, our group high-fives, the unique ways we each say “Good morning” when we came through the front door—some of us quiet, some mumbly, some booming, some sing-song-y), we've worked as a team to face the challenges of these uncertain times and we hope to emerge, as TV commercials like to tell us, stronger than ever.
MS Q&A: What do you miss about working in our office?
Working remotely is great. Working remotely during a quarantine is not. Being remote is still super flexible and productive, but it can be difficult to supplement the social aspect of working in an office when there are few (if any) options available for socializing otherwise.
I really, REALLY miss the dry erase boards that line the walls in our collaborative spaces. It's really common for me to grab a marker and think a problem out or explain a point visually, and I had a hard time not having that at my fingertips during collaborative meetings.
Working Together, Apart: Collaboration
Flexibility has always been part of our culture, but WFH-FTFF (working from home for the foreseeable future) was an adjustment for us all.
Whether working from home office, spare bedroom, dining room table, or back porch, some of us discovered our extrovert tendencies raised restless red flags when left unattended. Others found surprising freedom and focus in this new routine. And we all enjoyed occasional appearances from pets, children, or significant others in the background of Zoom calls, especially when those appearances meant we could mark a bingo square off our boards.
One way we've had to adapt is changing the way we collaborate, with each other and with clients. (It's one of our core values, after all!) Our Creative Director, Jess, in particular is a master of thinking out loud and collaborating in the moment, and she recommends an app called Mural.ly for Zoom-based teamwork. If you can't put actual sticky notes on the literal walls, this is the next best thing.
We like hanging out. We like having fun. We look for every opportunity to do both of those things together. When the pandemic hit, we had to figure out how to do them in a different way.
Immediately after we transitioned to remote work, we struck up routine ways to have fun and stay caught up with standard hangout fare like twice-weekly optional Zoom lunches and the occasional Zoom happy hour. Our Director of Engineering, Maranda, also started leading us through virtual yoga sessions. (Our soul honors your soul, Maranda.) And we made it a point to play office bingo the same way we used to, except all our bingo squares are Zoom-friendly now.
We love yoga-ing it out together.
MS Q&A: What’s been good about working remotely?
Having greater flexibility is nice; I will sometimes take a brain break and go on a walk in my neighborhood, or do a little yard-work to clear my head before hopping back online.
There’s so much trust and individual accountability to our workday. No one is looking over your virtual shoulder or setting unrealistic expectations for 'business as usual' productivity. That meant a lot, especially in the early weeks of uncertainty.
Actual footage of a game we played in which Chelsea asked us to find a collection of items around our house. The first person to come back with them won... I don't know, glory?
We've also made it a point to keep having structured fun in really big, really silly ways. For instance, last month we competed against each other in a week-long series of games. We came up with four Zoom-friendly events that the team got behind in a borderline scary way:
- We played Scribbl.io, which is basically online Pictionary (a team favorite)
- We played a Zoom-friendly game of our own invention that called for each of us to run around our houses at lightning speed to find forks, scissors*, DVDs, grass, and a “cardinal red item”, which ignited a fierce debate about what constitutes “cardinal red” that frankly still isn’t settled
- We had an elimination-style contest for Best Zoom Background
- And as our final event, our Art Director, Jessica (JT), put together a customized game of Jeopardy
*A dozen people literally running with scissors was an oversight and will be addressed by the newly founded Mostly Serious Safety Committee.
Weekly Mental Health Wins
And finally, we share our weekly mental health wins with each other in addition to our typical Friday Wins. (This is a great exercise all by itself—when’s the last time you asked your teammates what little victory they’re celebrating?). The first few weeks of our new normal were tough, but reflecting on the little good parts helped us adjust. And even now, several months into this thing, we’re finding more joy in learning new languages. Weeding our gardens. Trying new recipes. Embarking on fitness challenges. Spending more time with our kids. Sleeping in. Meditating every morning. Maybe we’d always spent our time looking out for our own mental health, but this five-minute exercise helped us gain some perspective that we got to share with each other.
The most important thing we learned? Never underestimate the power of a Fun Committee (yes, we have one of those) faced with coordinating activities for an exclusively remote team. They stood and delivered.
MS Q&A: What have you learned through navigating the past several months?
It's totally doable! I was pretty skeptical that we could keep our culture and camaraderie vibrant while working remotely, but I've still felt very connected to everyone. Kudos to the creative minds on our team who have found fun, new ways to stay in touch.
While working remotely, I've learned that it's hard to work in the same spot all day. it's best to mix it up, even if just for a short time and then go back to your main desk area.
As a team, we found out that we’re actually a pretty adaptable bunch. I’ve had collaborative sessions over Zoom that felt just as creative and productive as our in-person methods.
Keeping On, Keeping On: What's Next?
Our long-term approach to how we office is changing. Our in-office-versus-remote policy beyond the endless expanse of COVID-19 is currently being fine tuned, but it'll definitely reflect what we've learned to be true: that actual-in-person-togetherness isn't what makes Mostly Serious Mostly Serious. Rather, it's our principles and core values and adaptability being in full force no matter where we are, or what the global circumstances are, or how much grit is required to see things through.
And when we think about it, that's a pretty kickass thing.
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