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Bridging the Global Gap During COVID-19

By Victoria Hekking |


Being on the Culture Committee for a widely spread company with team members worldwide can often be as daunting as exciting. Until recently, our Culture Committee at Construct was very regionally focused. Though we have one team that spans all three of our main offices, most of the events we were coordinating (if not all) were office-specific rather than company-wide.


Coordinating Happy Hour or after-work activities just didn't seem practical considering how many different time zones we needed to consider, especially while keeping in mind the rate at which our global team has been growing. With the occurrence of the COVID-19 global pandemic and its ranging impacts across the world, finding ways to unite our teams has required even greater creative, out-of-the-box thinking than usual.



Connecting During COVID


At the beginning of the pandemic, I attended a webinar during which one of the speakers mentioned that what we are going through right now is "not social distancing, but instead physical distancing."


I've thought back on this quote several times while sitting at home on the couch away from my co-workers, family, and friends. Though I don't get to physically be with my co-workers regularly, I have noticed ways in which we have been able to connect that we haven't before.


When COVID-19 required us to begin working from home, our regional COO's all implemented daily stand-up meetings and bi-weekly lunch meetings. Though I wasn't able to take advantage of the serendipitous conversations that happened with my co-workers throughout a day at the office, I found that I have actually been able to learn more about the actual work they do regularly and get to see elements of their personal lives as they work from home offices. This was especially helpful for me to get to know remote workers on our U.S.-based team.



Trying Out Virtual Coffee


All the new company initiatives got me thinking about creating the same environment of discussion across our entire team. That's when I came across the idea of Virtual Coffee.


So "What is Virtual Coffee?" Virtual Coffee is an initiative where people across our entire company, from interns to executives, get randomly assigned to meet with each other. They then have the opportunity to reach out, arrange a time that works for both of their schedules, and meet up over Google Meet or Zoom to have a coffee and a casual "get-to-know-you" conversation.


Once I got buy-in from the Culture Committee, we then tested it out and gathered feedback, which was even better than anticipated:


"I enjoy getting to know people from the company I have had no previous contact with, especially on a social level."

"It's nice to interact with people that I normally wouldn't under the current circumstances."

"It made me feel like a part of the team. It was nice to talk about work in the sense of 'why we're all here.'"

I’m happy to say that we have now launched Virtual Coffee as a company-wide initiative, and I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone that I haven't had the chance to really get to know before. Virtual Coffee, among all of the other new company initiatives, has provided a great opportunity to actually take advantage of these seemingly undesirable, complicated, and worrisome conditions we are living in right now.



How Does This Relate to the World of Education?


Like the realization I've recently had in connection with my colleagues, I've also acknowledged that the same possibilities exist for the future of education. Connecting digitally may not always be the most desirable, because let's face it, we're all human beings who desire face-to-face human connection from time to time. But what online education does is open us up to a range of possibilities that we may have never even considered before.


Learners can connect with people all over the world, deepening learning beyond the surface. I have always been an advocate for learning and growing through experiencing new perspectives. What better way to do this than by connecting with a classroom full of people who live in different regions and experience different cultures?


Beyond the general benefits of online learning, many of us are inundated with greater accessibility, more flexible learning content for students, and just-in-time learning for non-traditional students. This pandemic has allowed me to have a more personal understanding of something else that is very valuable: online learning really opens up the doors for our students to learn from a world-centric point of view—a truly invaluable benefit.



The New Normal


As the world becomes more digital, one of the most valuable things we can teach our students and learners is how to work with people. People from different backgrounds and cultures who have different preferences and ways of communicating. The new normal is changing, and we need to be adaptable and aware.


Consider students who can't afford to travel to the most prestigious schools but are worthy of such an education. We are limiting our ability to grow as an entire human race when we don't make opportunities available. This reminds me of the saying, "it's not what you know but who you know." And though this can be the unfortunate reality for many people, opening up the world to learning through greater digital access will give more people opportunities to expand their network and succeed based on not just access, but instead capability.


Although this may be a time of physical distancing, let's not let it limit us from the amazing opportunities we have to increase our social circles beyond those that we previously had—both in our personal lives and in the ways that we learn and interact with the world around us.

AUTHOR

Victoria Hekking

Marketing Manager at Construct