Writing Challenge Day 11: Connecting With My Community

We spend so much of our lives building and participating in communities (like this one).

We choose where we want to live. We choose which friends and family members we keep in touch with. For many of us, the culture and the people are primary factors in where we choose to work. After all, we spend as much time with our coworkers as we do with our families—well, until March 2020.

I don’t think I ever realized how much influence these people have on my life. I’ve booked trips and purchased event tickets on recommendations from coworkers. I’ve made significant life decisions after speaking with coworkers. In some cases, discussions in my work community have changed my worldview.

While I’m grateful to live in a time where IT can send me home to work safely, technology doesn’t fill the void for community by itself. It can help, but it takes effort on our parts.

The reason I felt inspired to write about “connecting with my community” is that the pandemic has taught me that I take my communities for granted, and I suspect I’m not alone. So, in today’s writing challenge, I’ll focus on specific efforts to connect with our communities, including the one at work.

I know it’s easier to pass the time with a Netflix binge or a social media rabbit hole but try a few of these suggestions to connect. The Queen’s Gambit will be there forever.

1) Video chat a coworker about something small

Let’s start with an easy one.

Could your question be answered via Slack or Teams? Sure, but when it feels appropriate, ask your coworker if they have a minute to chat. If you used to walk over to his or her desk to ask that question, chances are, it’d be a welcome social interaction for your coworker as well.

2) Build routine connection times

A few months into all this, I woke up early one Saturday morning to hear my wife on a video call with our nephews and niece. After a few Saturdays, the kids had created a weekly tradition to call Aunt Caity and wake up Uncle Chris. It’s an earlier alarm than I would set, so call it a small price to pay for one of our favorite silver linings of 2020. If not for this tradition, they really might not know who we are. This one started organically, but the point is, try to create routine touchpoints with the people you miss.

3) Zoom on one device, game on the other

Speaking of the Queen’s Gambit, pick a game friends, family, or coworkers enjoy. I’ll bet there’s an app for it. My extended family has a standing Sunday night poker game, and after watching the latest Netflix sensation, my cousins and uncles have started the world’s most pathetic club of digital chess players.

If trash talk is your love language, pick a game all parties really want to win, turn on a Zoom call, and fill a giant pandemic void. For me, there’s nothing like a family member cursing me out over a bad beat to make times feel normal again.

4) Leave a comment to recognize a coworker’s effort

One of the strangest things about 2020 is that nobody is watching us work (I know, joke’s on me). This means you can go to the dentist or pickup your kid from daycare without explaining yourself. But it can also leave you wondering if anyone noticed all the effort you put into a project.

In the prehistoric year of 2019, you could thank a colleague in person. We could go for a happy hour after a time-consuming, successful project.

For our current times, be sure to send a message or leave a comment in the digital platform of your team’s choice. Bonus points for making it public. Additional bonus points if it leads to a conversation with a colleague you’ve never met face-to-face. Communities have always been naturally dynamic, so make a tiny effort to connect with new colleagues when you can, even if there’s no office to facilitate it.

The strongest relationships in my life were built face-to-face. Today, new colleagues are only avatars in my project workflow, so it’s far more difficult to connect on that level. Try to remind those avatars how much easier they make your life—we’ve all had days in 2020 where we can use that kind of reminder.

While we’re “accentuating the positives” from 2020, one the coolest phenomena of my lifetime is how people of all backgrounds have adapted and adopted technology to build stronger communities. Think about all the examples! Teachers and schools pivoting to online learning, grassroots social media campaigns to help those impacted by the virus, and of course, the crowning achievement of humanity—Grandma learning how to join a Zoom call.

Obviously, most of this is impossible without IT, and I know this particular group of IT pros is already quite good at connecting digitally. I would love to hear any more ideas that have worked for you over the last several months.

By the way, I look forward building stronger connections in our THWACK community in 2021. Stay safe and stay connected!

  • These ideas are fantastic, we lost touch with being a team during this time

  • I am getting really tired of the constant messaging back and forth. And yes I am not great at typing but that isn't why. I really do miss the in person interaction so lately I have been messaging, hey got a second for a call?. This way I get a little conversation with someone else other then the wife and kid I see all day and everyday. We also have our first team building virtual event next week that will be interesting and hopefully fun. 

  • I live in a community where - by necessity - "within walking distance" is an essential factor. That cannot help but create both a sense and a functional reality of community that most folks haven't experienced since the 60's. For 25 hours each week, nobody drives - in fact, nothing more powerful than a tricycle is seen on the street. Kids play in the street. Families have complicated plans - who they'll be with for lunch, who they'll drop in on during the afternoon, who to meet up with for a class or lecture, and so on.

    Or at least, we DID have those plans. Not any more.

    While it's hard to look at this change as anything but negative, I want to adhere to the "Accentuate the Positive" theme. Where possible, we've found our way around the risks and dangers.

    We visit, but from a distance: from porch to driveway; from sidewalk-to-sidewalk across the street. From backyard to backyard. Our conversations are necessarily louder, and thus more inclusive. The yard-to-yard chat expands across the street, and to the houses on either side.

    We study texts alone, but carry our insights and questions with us to the regular weekday, when we can jump on a phone or zoom call to compare notes.

    We pray alone, which is incredibly contrary to both our habit and our guidelines, but which we do knowing we're upholding the commanded not to put others' lives at risk.

  • Great points and suggestions so far. If anyone needs ideas on remote gaming with friends/family, I did a write-up of my experience earlier this year. 

    For work community, I try and remember to compliment and lift up wherever I can, and our weekly happy hours are always a ride with topics ranging from what makes a Disney princess to the latest shenanigans our kids (or chickens!) are up to. We aim for levity where we can in our regular chat groups, and have had several virtual contests (costume, pumpkin decorating, etc.) which have been fun.

    For family community, we quickly set up regular happy hours and all join when we can. I have done socially distant dining with my dad which was fun and interesting. It involved my dad buying us dinner and each sitting in our own cars and eating in the parking lot of the restaurant. We chatted through the windows across the parking space between, then switched to a virtual meeting so we didn't have to yell.  My brother and I game together regularly, at least until he lost his house and its contents to fire earlier this year. Luckily no one was injured (or even home), and eventually they will replace what they are able to. For now, we still are able to do some gaming with him on his phone. We tested (successfully) running Jackbox that way through a shared screen in discord. We have an advantage over him because he can only use have the screen for the game, but he still managed to win a few rounds.

  • These are great suggestions 

    My husband's company has a standing bi-weekly "Game Time" on Friday afternoons. They'll jump on a Zoom and shuffle the latest Jackbox game - most of the folks on his team have always been remote, so he's appreciated the opportunity to have new partners/teams on these gatherings.

    We've got little nieces and nephews spread out around the area, so while we may not always get to have a regular Facetime (I love that you and Caity do!) we have several group texts in which we'll receive video updates about the littles. Technology is so amazing allowing us to connect with family from NC to CA. It was especially helpful when it came time for Thanksgiving this year, and we had small blocks dedicated to Facetiming those we'd normally be seeing across the dinner table! 

    While technology doesn't allow me to give bear hugs, I sure am grateful for how it's kept me in touch with my personal and professional communities. I have hope for what 2021 will bring, but for now, I'll look forward to video team gatherings and virtual game nights!  

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C