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In a post-pandemic world, cultivating connection is not remotely the same

I noticed it at the first all-staff meeting in March 2020. You could see each person’s face on the screen. At the start of that year, Spitfire employees were based in four separate offices. We had few remote employees. Working from home was more the exception than the norm. So staff meetings typically included a few on-screen images of groups of employees in conference rooms. Lively for sure, but impossible to see individual faces. The first meeting after our office closure was striking. After years of groupings around conference tables, each Spitfire had equal screen space. We were at once separate, individually visible and all together.

When the pandemic started, Spitfire had several advantages that helped us rapidly transition to a fully remote organization. Our employees traveled frequently. We are an organization without warehouses, manufacturing lines or clinical laboratories. Our work is portable by nature. With multiple offices, we already had a solid remote network in place. Though we had these advantages, we also had the initial bumps experienced by so many. Highlights included thinking hey, there’s a kid in that meeting—oh wait, I think that’s my kid; why isn’t my camera working; and the always popular trying to speak but realizing you’re on mute. But really it was fine. And besides, it was only two weeks, right?

As two weeks turned into something a lot longer, we established an employee wellness committee focused on individual wellbeing and the organization as a whole. Our intentional efforts to stay connected with one another changed as our needs changed. Daily virtual lunches moved to weekly online hangout opportunities and later to monthly morale-building events. New affinity groups were established, including one for caregivers. We started a weekly meditation and yoga session. The through line for all was and remains the recognition that community and connection are essential to our work, to our wellbeing as individuals and to our health as an organization.

In the years since the pandemic started, Spitfire has grown and changed. Our offices have long since reopened, but we are no longer office based. One-third of our workforce is fully remote. We have employees in more than a dozen states. For some, being in the same physical space as a fellow employee requires a plane ride. For many, casually stopping by a colleague’s desk is no longer an option. The in-person “hey, do you have a second?” moments that many of us relied on have been replaced with text requests for a quick meeting. And all this means the ways that we intentionally support community and connection are changing too.

This became especially apparent when we considered how to celebrate together at the end of the year. Like many organizations, pre-pandemic Spitfire held a single holiday party near headquarters, with the option for employees outside of the area to fly in. Once in-person gatherings were permitted during the pandemic, Spitfire held smaller holiday gatherings near each office. But now, as our workforce has expanded further, we’ve become an organization without a gathering point that works for everyone. Holding an event where some have to watch from the sidelines isn’t inclusive, so it’s time for our year-end traditions to change too.

It’s essential that the opportunities for connection that we create are equally accessible to all employees. This year we’re trying something new. We’ve set a spending limit, and each person gets to choose an activity that feels meaningful or celebratory to them. Spitfires can celebrate alone, with family, with friends, with other employees. The only requirement: take pictures! We’ll meet together virtually toward the end of the year to share our experiences.

Of course, this new approach is still a change. And with change comes adjustment. But we hope that the adjustments we make individually bring us closer together as a community. We all have an equal place. Our activities should reflect that. Though created in response to our new geographic reality, our year-end activity gives each person a chance to reflect on their own concepts of commemoration, holiday and new year. And that is definitely something worth celebrating.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 6, 2023 at 15:53 pm and is filed under Spitfire culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.