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‘Life is a blob’: How this Azavea team has kept remote worklife human

From employee-led wealth redistribution events to cross-team "study abroad," software developer Jenny Fung reflects on the ways her Civic Apps colleagues "adapted, supported one another, and found ways to laugh" through 2020.

A rousing game of Dominion with Azavea colleagues. (Courtesy image)
This is a guest post by Azavea software engineer Jenny Fung. It originally appeared on Azavea's blog and is republished here with permission.

2020 was awful in this corner of the internet, too.

The world shrank. Who was accessible changed radically. We, and the people around us, by necessity took on different roles. Including at work.

On the short list of people I interacted with most in the last nine months has been my Azavea team, Civic Apps. I could always depend on my team for some slice of life humor at our daily standups and team lunches. I see other Azaveans less, and primarily at companywide meetings. That forum became funnier, too, as — my theory — my class clown colleagues, suffering without an audience, unleashed pent-up humor. I’ll take more of that in 2021. For parents confined with their kids, the opportunity to interact with only adults at work was at times a relief.

I’m looking back at the year and reflecting on the ways we, colleagues at Azavea, have adapted, supported one another, and found ways to laugh through it.

Question of the Day

Early on in March, my team’s project manager, Deb Boyer, took the helm of company morale and posted a silly Question of the Day to a companywide Slack channel. It was a joy to find out my colleague’s secret talents and debate if a hotdog was a sandwich (the definitive guide to all your sandwich questions).

In her words, the “silly questions” rightfully stopped in the summer as we individually and as a workplace reckoned with the grave issues put on blast by the protests against police brutality and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Employee-led wealth redistribution events

Related to the above, 2020 amplified serious failures in the systems we live in. In response, Azaveans rallied around supporting Black, Brown, and First Nation communities with several employee-led donation match events. All told, we raised $6,000+ in employee contributions to organizations like the Philly Bail Fund, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, and the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative.

Participants Niki and Cole reflected on the efforts:

“[In 2020] members have stepped up to organize things like fundraisers and engage in more direct action. It has been really cool to see. … [T]his is a group that is self-driven. People are able to join when and where they see fit as well as call attention to issues they believe in.” — Niki LaGrone

“[T]hese efforts need a degree of autonomy from the larger organization in order to remain effective and focused on causes that may exist independently of our goals as a company. We are still in the workplace, but the workplace is a potentially powerful platform.” — Cole Kettler

Letting the outside world and inside world fuse

Life became one huge blob. Home became work, school, every single meal, dependent care, and socializing. Naturally, the outside world and work worlds fused more, and we made it work. When a child urgently barged into a meeting, it was no matter for another person to pick up the baton of the meeting, for the attendees to wait judgment-free, or even, in many cases, to encourage the child’s presence (often they just wanted to say hi and scamper off).

Less overtly, some weeks just felt heavy. Like there was a dark fog. We were responsive to those feelings. At one regular check-in meeting with my manager, we threw away everything and escaped into swapping stories about cool sounds. I considered making it our permanent agenda.

Keeping things fresh

Life Is A Blob Part 2. As a practical matter of staff coverage, we loaned a Civic Apps developer to another team for a few weeks. Penning the experience as “study abroad,” the summary was that the experience kept work fresh and cross-pollinated ideas, and it was fun getting to know people better across the company. We talked about making this a regularly available elective.

H/t to early pandemic coping: The fun committee organizes a monthly virtual board game night. There are a couple of religious attendees, myself included, and some occasional visitors. I love a little frivolous competition and learning new games alongside others. Recently we liked LetterTycoon. Mostly, we end up playing an oldie but goodie Dominion.

What’s next?

In 2020, we broke down some barriers and forged new connections, so that 2020 didn’t break us. We recognized and welcomed in history and the messiness that is being human a little more in workplace. Personally, I hope these perspective changes last long after the pandemic. Thanks everyone for rolling through the punches of this absolute (third times a charm) Blob of a Year. Welcome, 2021!

Companies: Azavea
Series: How to Work Remotely

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