This year, for my birthday, I wanted to celebrate with my work team. As an entrepreneur, I spend so much time with this team, sensitive to their ups and downs, paying attention to their likes and dislikes, their productivity and their inspirations. It had been a year of growth for us and this team had been there, neck deep in it with me. So, when it came time to celebrate my year, I couldn’t think of better people to celebrate with.
Getting together with them was impossible and, even if it were safe to gather, I have a remote team. We’ve been a remote team from our inception, it’s not new. COVID actually highlighted many ways in which Coolperx was agile from the beginning. But, this was one of our first celebrations as a team, many of us had never met outside of a computer screen. (Yes, I hired quite a few people during COVID). Being remote and virtual was something I leaned into when planning my remote event.
I sought out solutions from vendors, friends and the internet in trying to plan my party. Most of the solutions I found were coming up short. Very short. The cocktail classes required gadgets I didn’t own. Virtual happy hour didn’t really seem inclusive anyway, though I don’t typically ask the drinking habits of my employees. I have never been a big drinker myself, I can count the times on one hand that I sat with friends drinking and talking. I found a virtual board game that sounded fun, but I’m one of the only board game fanatics I know and if I can’t get friends to come to my house for game night when we’re safe from a pandemic, how was I going to keep my team engaged for a whole virtual game? Though, later, I found these speculations and worries to be baseless and that my team could and would engage virtually in these types of activities, I wouldn’t have known had I not gone through the process of planning my virtual birthday party.
Knowing what my clients are going through and solving problems before they know that problems even could exist is one of the reasons I’m still in business. I’ve created so many fit videos and blog posts like the one about the women’s sizing in company branded shirts so that my clients don’t make mistakes that I’ve learned along the way. And, learning about remote team building events was not going to be different. I was determined to experiment with possibilities until we found what worked.
Finally, I did find a virtual cooking class we could all love and enjoy in the safety of our own homes. I chose sushi to share a little of my heritage with the team who was helping me build my business. And, we love sharing our lives and vulnerabilities with each other! Searching for a vendor was the easy part. In fact, the vendor I used fell into my lap. The owner of the company we used is a friend of mine. But, Googling it would have worked just as easily. There are a ton of virtual cooking classes out there, but I started my testing close to home and supporting another woman-owned business.
Still, after paying for the class and chatting with her team, there were challenges. We paid for the class, but food was extra. I later learned that it’s a typical thing to charge extra for food, and that it’s expensive to have someone shop and pack food, let alone shipping dozens of boxes across the country. And, shipping sushi supplies is no joke. The risk of shipping sushi grade raw fish to Indiana or Georgia from Seattle seems high. I found out that people like to go get their own ingredients and prepare for this event. Shopping themselves extends the experience a little longer and people are able to put their own spin on their recipes...revealing some of their own interests and personalities along the way.
We were told that for $75 extra, we could have food delivered to our houses, but only those within a small radius of downtown Seattle. Again, this makes sense. What I didn’t expect was for that to require a minimum order of 10 people to live in that radius and was informed pretty late that we’d all have to go buy food. My remote team had only one person living in the delivery zone.
Team building shouldn’t require this much panic, I thought as I got in the car to head to the Japanese grocery store to start gathering supplies. Kids build their teams and groups with a simple hello and occasionally a hug. I miss hugs. But, I wanted to build a resilient and engaged team with adults. I’ve studied business psychology and team building for years, this shouldn’t be this hard. But, I’m also an introvert. Something in me was panicking about having to engage with people virtually. I liked my one on one meetings with each of my teams and all other meetings had dedicated purposes and goals. This one was casual and would possibly require me to start and maintain conversation while cooking.
I walked through the Japanese grocery store, reminiscing about my childhood in Japan, filling my cart to the brim with these specialty foods and candies, extra rice because short grain white rice with shredded cabbage and soy sauce is my comfort food. As I was checking out, my nerves relaxed and I thought about sharing my excitement with my team. The excitement that led me to spend $200 in supplies that day. That would be something both funny and personal to share with them and I wondered what their shopping experiences were like. I wondered what insights I could gain from the things they shared or the way they engaged with their families in the room. Later that day, just as if any other event that would take place in our kitchen, we cleaned and prepped.
The instructions were delivered via email to me, I spent a little time putting them into an easier, pertinent email to my team and sending it off the night before my event. There wasn’t much prep, soaking a few items an hour or so before the class was enough. When it was time to log in, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a host who introduced our Japanese chef. I loved the fact that she was actually located in Japan and was making her breakfast while we were making dinner. She hopped on the zoom call wearing paper “happy birthday” glasses! It was so touching. Something that is silly in American culture is entirely enjoyable in Japanese culture. I got teary thinking of these two sides to me, the one that is so comfortable in everything Japanese, but still feeling a little like a foreigner and the one who feels like a silly foreigner in the country in which she was born and loves. I hear my silliness is part of my charm ;) And, now I got to share this with my team. It never occurred to me until that moment that though I was trying to build up this team and learn things about them, it was special because I was also sharing myself with them.
The cooking class was a great experience. I finally understood what is meant by the saying “no two events are the same.” This one group in this one moment came together virtually and had fun. The conversation was lively, the dishes each person made was unique! I did find out more about the personalities and preferences of my team. And, this was a foundation we could build upon. I loved meeting their significant others, their children and being invited into their kitchens even remotely. There was a sense of intimacy that we could use to bond together.
If you are looking for a remote or virtual team building experience, I highly recommend virtual cooking classes. Whether the one you choose offers food delivery or not, this is not something to be missed.