Squirrels. Softball. Shattered watches. Pad Thai. What do all of these things have in common? They were a part of our recent stateside Marketing Team meetup, obviously.
In light of the changing nature of work, ongoing questions around public health and a felt need for in-person connection, InterWorks is shifting its focus to supporting and creating opportunities for smaller team meetups. Fostering a strong company culture is more important than ever, so many teams are getting creative when it comes to quality time spent together IRL (not via Zoom). This led to our Marketing Team remembering the simple joy of an afternoon at the park with friends.
Time to Rest and Refresh
When making plans for this team meetup, Global Marketing Manager, Jenny Parnell, weighed the personality and needs of the team and dreamt up what she thought would best serve team members where they are. I asked her a few questions about her vision, planning and execution for the meetup.
Q: What were the goals you wanted the meetup to accomplish?
After a 18+ months of the pandemic and how it upended everything about our way of working, we are all a little (if not a lot) burnt out. When thinking of options for team meetups, I tried to tap into what can be restorative. We all feel a sense of loss, so what can we do to regain our strength? I’m a minimalist at heart, so I try to keep it simple. Back in the spring, we spent a day at a museum taking in art and reflecting. After that, we ate pizza in a park together and just had nice conversation – and for once, it was not behind a screen. That time in the park is where I feel like we had the most restoration of hope and connection. So as we moved into the fall and decided to get together again, I thought back to that park time: ‘Let’s just hang out. Let’s pretend it’s recess all day long. Let’s just have no agenda other than be together and see what happens.’
Above: Carter throwing the football
I also asked some of my Marketing colleagues for their thoughts on the day. For a close-knit team that does a good job of staying connected virtually, what kind of difference could getting together for real make? Trick question. It turns out – quite a bit.
Q: Why are in-person gatherings important? How do they affect the Marketing Team culture and dynamics?
JP: There is a reality we have to face now: hybrid/remote/digital work is here to stay. We were lucky to have so much face-to-face time as a team before the pandemic, and I think it’s important to remember to not take that for granted. Looking forward, I do believe there will be more intentionality about time spent together in person. It is important to spend time in person together because with Zoom meetings, there is generally a need to have an agenda or get through a task, even if that is to just catch up. But being in person for a few hours, with no agenda, opens up the possibility for free-form conversation and ideas. It’s a single place for everyone to share rather than silos of various meetings and Zoom rooms. When in person, I think the goal should be to do things you cannot do on Zoom. Whiteboarding, brainstorming, eating a meal, playing. Make the most of the time in person when you have it; utilize that time to enrich your connection with others whom you work with. Then that next time you do get on Zoom with them, you feel refreshed.
The Marketing Team at InterWorks by nature is inclusive and experimental, and we are fascinated with how people operate and what inspires everyone. For that reason, we are always testing out ideas to help us gain insight into our work even more. With this last meetup at the park, it’s the same. Keep it simple. Keep it authentic. Make it fun. Don’t get caught up in expectations. Celebrate each other. Appreciate your team. In-person time just reminds me that we have a great thing here, so let’s do the work of keeping it real and keeping it going.
Above: Ricki taking a break from capturing the meetup in photos
Garrett Sauls, Communications Manager: I think there’s an energy or organic flow of seeing people in person that just isn’t replicable through digital means. I’m sure there’s some sort of psychology behind this that’s far above my understanding, but when you see people behind a screen, it’s easy to dissociate them from reality. When you see them in person, it’s a most tangible reminder that you’re interacting with an actual human – and humans like the tangible.
As far as how all of this affects Marketing Team culture and dynamics, I think it’s something that all of us value to some degree. One thing I notice is that we get far more interaction from the introverted people on the team. I think it’s easier for introverted folks to slip into the background via digital means, especially when you have loud and obnoxious people like me always chatting away on Slack. But truthfully, when we’re all together in the same little circle, I think we all feel a little more seen and involved, and interaction is maybe a little easier or organic.
Beyond all of that, I think it’s just good for us to get together without any set agenda to bond or shoot the breeze. These types of activity add a comfort level to our interpersonal dynamics. It keeps us from treating each other in a transactional way, though the entire team is really good about avoiding that. By building that base relationship, it becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable to be around each other.
Keep it simple. Keep it authentic. Make it fun. Don’t get caught up in expectations. Celebrate each other. Appreciate your team. In-person time just reminds me that we have a great thing here, so let’s do the work of keeping it real and keeping it going.
Ricki Thompson, Multimedia Coordinator: Simply put: Working with the Marketing Team is just fun. What’s crazy is that spending time together is, too. I consider each member of the team a true friend to me. What is unique about InterWorks is that the company really does place value on building relationships. Having opportunities to spend a day together in the park makes having coworkers feel more like just having friends.
Above: Jenny soaking up a simple, fun afternoon
Catching up and Playing Catch
Q: What were some favorite or memorable moments from the day?
JP: While we had no set agenda, we all had one goal: have fun. We all prepped by bringing things to do … baseball gloves, frisbees, footballs, a collaborative Spotify playlist, blankets to sit on, cameras for photos, a cooler full of drinks. It was fun to see us gather in the morning and catch up and look around and think, “What can we get into?”. We just started to play. We had a few games we had set up, but by the end of the day, we had made up an entirely new game of our own that took a complete team effort to gain points. No competition, just collaboration. We played until it was time to go home, yet none of us wanted to go home. That night, I got home and was exhausted physically from a day of nothing but fun and games with people I love spending time with. And because of that, the entire day was memorable.
GS: I can’t remember the last time I threw a softball around, so it was great play a little catch with Brittany, Andrea and Zion. It was also a sharp reminder that I’m in my 30s and DEFINITELY need to warm up before doing exercise haha.
I also really enjoyed bumping a volleyball around and then all of us eventually inventing a new game involving the Kan Jam can. We started out rough, but I feel like we really got into a groove towards the end. I also haven’t been more exhausted in a long time, and I have two kids! Also, remember when that nice Tulsa Parks man came over on his tractor, and we thought we were getting kicked out or something, but actually he was just the kindest human on earth and offered to take a group picture of us? I sure do.
RT: We met in the morning round 10:00. As the day went on and our coffee started to kick in, we started to pick up games of catch and volleyball. Our team always has such good energy. There is nearly always an inside joke or something hilarious that is happening, so that part of the day was so lively and exciting. In contrast, my favorite part of the day was the hour just after everyone arrived. We hadn’t seen each other together in so long that taking a moment to sit in each other’s company and just have conversation was lovely.
Above: The Marketing Team members (sans Vicky, our amazing marketing colleague in EMEA!)
Q: What do you love about the Marketing Team, and. how did the meetup make space for that?
GS: I think the two things that stand out are:
- Everyone on the team is just an excellent person. These are people I genuinely consider friends, not just coworkers, so I know that I can rely on them for life things, not just work things. I truly enjoy spending time with them at every level, and that’s something pretty rare in a workplace.
- As fun as it is to work with people you like on a personal level, it’s just as valuable to work with people who are actually good at their jobs. Professionally, everyone on this team is the very best at what they do. There’s none of that awkward, “I like so-and-so, but I just can’t rely on them.” There’s nothing better than being able to collaborate with people who bring great energy, ideas and execution to the table.
I think the thing a lot of organizations or teams get wrong is that they trend too far in one direction or the other. When you work with people who are your friends but aren’t professionally competent, you end up compromising on quality, becoming inefficient or creating awkward dynamics where the work isn’t the focus. Conversely, when you work with a bunch robots that are technically proficient but miserable to be around, that’s not exactly the most fun or enjoyable work dynamic. The beauty of the InterWorks Marketing Team is that you don’t have to choose.
A meetup simply reinforces all of that. It reminds you how much fun you have with these people and how much you enjoy being around them. We’re reminded of this in our work every day to be sure, but again, it’s nice to have some tangible reminders.
Get Lost in Good Company
Q: Any parting thoughts about the meetup?
Brittany Dunn, Partner Marketing Manager: I love that we have a group of people with various skills, likes, musical tastes, etc., and we were able to just chill in a park and still have so much fun. I feel like our group is very inclusive of anyone and everyone, and I love that we have a vibe of acceptance and fun. We laugh at all the things and create so many insides jokes. There is no expectation of who you have to be in order to be a part of the team. Come as you are, and we’ll love every part of you. We’ll laugh with you, we’ll cry with you, we’ll break each other’s watches, it’s fine, we’re fine. 😊
JP: I don’t have kids of my own, but I spend time with my nieces and nephews who range from 5-10 in age. When I am with them, they just have fun. They find things to do wherever we are. Their imaginations run wild so easily. Children are truly the masters of play. As we get older, I think we lose so much of that. So with the Marketing park meetup, I wanted to pretend we were kids again. It truly felt like we tapped into that energy, and it’s such a shift from the day-to-day mindsets of work (even though our work can still be really fun). It also allowed us to really be present in the moment with each other, which is also hard to do in the digital age. Ironically, it was the same day that Facebook and Instagram had a major outage. We had no idea because we never picked up our phones to log into social media. I even lost track of my phone and keys at one point. That’s a lovely feeling: to get lost in the moment surrounded by a group of great friends. I hope that’s what other teams can feel from their meetups, too.