On day one of orientation at Adelsberger, you hear a lot of information. This includes all the usual things: passwords, time cards, getting added to the Slack channel, and so on and so forth. The necessary tools that allow the modern workplace to function. There is, however, one more ingredient, aimed not at function but at understanding. This understanding is not sought after for the purpose of anything strictly utilitarian or even for executing a job at all necessarily, although that may be a by-product. Every incoming intern is expected to set up, on their own initiative, a meeting with every other employee of the company simply for the sake of getting to know that person and their skillset more fully.
Last week was meeting week for me. It was my second full week with the company after orientation, but week one was full of school and papers and the boatloads of writing that you have to do when you choose writing as the primary thing you want to study. So all of my meetings were scheduled for this second week, a bit of flexibility that made my schedule much easier. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday each held slots for multiple meetings, a staggered little list of reminders filing down the afternoon slots of my Google calendar. As work goes, this was about as easy as it gets. It helps that creative people with creative jobs tend to be fun to meet with.
When I entered my virtual Zoom meeting, Alex Russell’s face greeted me in close-up, high definition. He stared, nose almost touching his laptop, directly into the camera and so therefore directly at me. After a beat or two of me waiting to see if he was lagging or stuck somehow, he jumped back from the screen, danced for a second, and abruptly sat down.
“So, let’s talk about Jake Scott.”
A singer-songwriter we both like and who Alex recently got to meet at a dinner. We discovered this during the photoshoot for my company headshots and I included it as the reason for our meeting in my invite to Alex. We talked about Jake Scott for a few moments; favorite songs, his upcoming album, the things you discuss when you share music with someone.
He sipped almost delicately, pinky finger in the air, from a tiny espresso mug. I asked about it and the conversation switched to coffee. He brewed the shot from a Nespresso. How good were Nespresso shots? Decent, not all that strong. We both were curious about upgrading our setups and learning to pull quality shots, we both were skeptical about the cost and knowledge required. Eventually, we did talk about work (don’t worry, Kevin, this was actually productive).
Meetings, of course, are a part of any workplace. I’m not young enough or naive enough to try to spin “we have meetings!” into some kind of revolutionary statement. That said, these meetings are not about agenda items. This is about fostering community, cooperation, and curiosity. This is also about integration into a working apparatus that is by and large physically separated. Other than occasional brainstorming meetings and welcome lunches when a new hire joins the company, this workplace is not a physical work place.
The post-Covid corporate world has forced everyone to adjust, of course, but not everyone has adjusted with the same priorities in mind. Every week some online magazine publishes a think-piece about how virtual work is destroying the productivity of the American workforce. Clearly, those writers have not met Alex Russell, who uses Zoom not only to produce but to perform, or Ricky Santos, who taught me (most of) how to create an animation from a still image over the course of a 30 minute virtual meeting. These one-on-ones unite a seemingly ragtag group of designers, videographers, photographers, writers, and random 20-something interns into a team which values overlapping knowledge and mutual learning and convenient espresso. Community can be achieved in the modern workplace which isn’t a workplace at all. You just have to value the people who form that community in the first place.