Fostering Connections Through Virtual Meetups

2020 has been a year of challenges. But it’s also been a year for visionaries. 

One of the highly valued perks of being an Automattician (A11N) is being able to travel, often somewhere fabulous, with your teammates for an annual in-person team meetup. 

In light of the current state of world health, these oft looked forward to gatherings haven’t been possible. 

As a diverse and dynamic global family, you may be wondering “so how did they fare in the face of such adversity?”

The answer is: rather well!

Enter stage: Visionaries.

Automatticians (A12S) are a varied group of individuals with a wide array of skills and creativity. So, it’s really no surprise that the eagerness to hang on to the value of team meetups was quickly shifted into virtual meetups. 

Team after team worked together to research and organize their own versions of virtual meetups. 

Using Zoom to host group hangouts, shared meals, collaborative learn-ups, and team building experiences, teams were able to enjoy some of the social perks of meetups without the travel itself. 

Let’s take my team – Cerberus – as an example.

We allocated three days for our virtual team meetup and worked together to create a schedule of various activities. It was a collaborative process leading up to the meetup dates, with polls to narrow down the final selections from a list created out of a few brainstorming sessions.

In the team building department, we had a virtual tour of a team member’s farm. Not only did it allow us to get to know each other better (the goats and pigs were clearly the highlights), but we also unanimously agreed that it was enlightening to see how a new farm is established. The community spirit surrounding their little farming area was encouraging to see and provided inspiration for some of the struggles so many have been facing in 2020.

We also engaged in the team activity of a virtual escape room. None of us knew what to expect on this one and we were all fairly concerned about getting permanently locked inside the virtual room if we weren’t able to figure out the clues! But amazing teamwork was on our side and by working together, we were able to make it safely out to enjoy the rest of our meetup.

If this is unknown territory for you, I highly recommend it – for work or family. It was downright fun. It’s very similar to a live escape room where you’re each able to explore the virtual room, look for clues, share and discuss your findings and work together to solve the puzzles. It’s an excellent exercise in teamwork.

On a more formal learning front, our team opted for WooCommerce and GitHub learn-ups. Since our team focuses on supporting WordPress.com, we often find ourselves up against WooCommerce and GitHub matters that can leave us scratching our heads for a moment. So these were coveted sessions that connected us with experts in these areas, again via Zoom, allowing us to ask questions and really personalize the learn-ups to our own needs.

They were both great sessions of cross-team collaboration that were just as beneficial as an in-person meetup.

We got an insider view of how the WooCommerce support team approaches troubleshooting, what to look for, where to look for it, and when to escalate the issue or ask for help. This was invaluable information!

For GitHub, so much was demystified! Most Happiness Engineers aren’t developers and the world of GitHub can feel daunting and overwhelming. In this learn-up, the terminology and processes were clarified, providing better insight on how to find, research, and get more information on various issues that are being worked on.

While just a small portion of the many activities that formed the Team Cerberus virtual meetup, it’s not hard to see how much meaning and value were packed into the virtual alternative for a team meetup.

During our wrap-up meeting we were all hard pressed to pick any one particular activity as having been our favorite, as it was a delightful mix of learning and team building.

Alas, teams may not have had the honor of travelling to a new place to embrace our comrades, (a day we do covet for the future) but a virtual meetup was a workable alternative. It covered the core functionality of a team meetup and created an opportunity for a deeper virtual connection. 

Team bonds were formed and strengthened; new skills developed; existing skills enhanced; and no one got lost en route! (Except for Richard’s lunch during our meetup!)

There’s no question that A12S rose to the challenge to pivot and adjust; find enjoyment and value; persist and thrive. 

Thus is life within Automattic!

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