In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic required many of us who worked from an office to suddenly transition to a work-from-home environment. Not knowing when we would all meet again in person, I saw this as an opportunity to knit our global team together in a way that we never had before. My solution? Host a weekly team get-together on Wednesdays that I called Breakfast Club/Happy Hour. Following is a note that I shared with our CEO Girish Rishi on March 27, 2020, following our first meeting:
“Thought I’d share that I had the best team meeting ever this week. All but 4 of 35 on my team were able to make it. We called it our Breakfast Club/Happy Hour (early for those on the West Coast, late for those in India).
30 minutes. No agenda. Two asks: Cameras on and come ready to share “My quarantine in six words.” It was so fun. We laughed. A lot. We saw a baby and a dog. We saluted the parents who are also now homeschooling. We welcomed a new teammate. We encouraged a colleague who had to postpone her wedding — her six words were, “Will you marry me in August?” We actually have two on my team in that situation. What are the odds? And did I mention we laughed a lot? It was a much-needed stress reliever at a time when stress is running pretty high for many of us. It absolutely filled me up at a time when I was starting to feel low. Might have been the most important 30 minutes of my week.
We will do it next week and every week until we come out of this. Someone asked if we could continue after the WFH mandate has passed. We will, but maybe only monthly versus weekly. There will be some good that comes of this; thinking these kinds of connections will be one of them.”
Re-reading that note now, I feel all the emotions of that day. Little did I know, nearly two years later, we would be still working mostly from home, and we would still be having our weekly Breakfast Club/Happy Hour!
For the initial 9-12 months, I was the host, keeping things pretty informal. A few weeks later I added a little structure. I would put together a trivia game — decades (‘80s, ‘90s, etc.), movie quotes, holidays, Disney movies, Olympics, etc. — or I would ask teammates to contribute content based on a theme: What are you binge watching? What is the best thing you’ve cooked during lockdown? Which movie describes your life during the pandemic? What books are you reading? Share a photo from your best vacation ever. Tell us two truths and a lie about yourself (and we guess which is the lie). Some weeks I’d present riddles and word-based puzzles and we’d see who could solve them first. We gathered photos of teammates as babies and high school seniors and guessed which photo belonged to whom.
Then we started getting more creative and others on the team took turns hosting with topics such as:
- Guess the movie soundtrack — audio version
- Share the #1 song on your 7th birthday
- Which three people — no longer living and not related to you — would you invite to your “Dearly Departed Dinner Party?” What will you serve them?
- You are starting a late-night TV talk show. Name your first interview guest and first music guest.
- Share the best online purchase you made this year
- Share the worst online purchase you made this year
- What song makes you most happy?
- What actor would you choose to play you in the movie of your life? What actor would the casting director choose to play you?
- Share a photo of your home office
You get the idea. 30 minutes of non-work fun that gets us engaging, sharing and laughing without judgement. Attendance is always optional. The door is always open for whatever and however you want to participate. You don’t have to share or play the games to attend. Sometimes, just joining and listening is all someone needs to get their day back on track.
And now, nearly two years in, it has occurred to me that our weekly half hour of stress relief and fun has in many ways served an additional purpose. Purely by accident, it has become an exercise in diversity and inclusion. We are learning about the uniqueness of each person on the team by sharing our likes and dislikes, how we spend our free time, glimpses into our lives growing up and today. We’ve learned a lot about what we have in common — where we have connections or shared experiences that we didn’t previously realize. Teammates who may not share in larger forums have felt comfortable doing so, allowing us to get to know them better. We did it by simply having fun, being naturally curious about each other, open to sharing in a safe environment, and getting comfortable laughing at ourselves and with each other.
So, as we step into a new year — with many of us still working from home — I encourage you to think about how a regular cadence of non-work fun can help you embrace the uniqueness of your team and stay connected. For me, our 30-minute weekly get-together delivers a big dose of energy and motivation that reminds me why I like working here and how grateful I am to lead this team. It’s my one “can’t miss” meeting of the week. It’s also a reminder that fostering diverse and inclusive teams doesn’t necessarily require special committees and programs. Sometimes it just requires us to be genuine, open, curious, and kind. It requires us to show our humanity and embrace each other for who we are — smart, driven, funny, nerdy, emotional, goofy, super interesting people. When you get that part right, the rest, it seems, will take care of itself.