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Team care in a crisis

The Office of Digital Innovation (ODI) launched and managed It’s been California’s official COVID-19 response website for over 2 years. This post is part of a series about the work we did and lessons we learned during that project.

Working on COVID-19 has been hard. There were daily, critical updates on policies and programs. Our work impacted millions of people. Information had to get up fast so people could make decisions about how to stay safe.

ODI got through it thanks to a culture of team care our leaders fostered. This didn’t mean that we took it easy. Far from it. Team care meant giving ourselves space and grace in our work.

Here are my three favorite team care practices from the COVID-19 website project.

The morning stand-up and Question of the Day

This was the first time most of us worked in a full-time remote role. Lots of us missed the everyday interactions from the office.

We started each day with a team stand-up to get top priorities. It also gave us a daily touchpoint with each other. It reinforced that we were part of a team who was going through the same things.

We also included a Question of the Day in our standup. Most of them were light and fun, like “What are you watching these days?” They provided levity in a hectic time. One memorable question was: “What is a pergola? (Wrong answers only.)” One answer: “A pergola is a large bird in the parrot family.”

We also used the Question of the Day for reflection. We created monthly series of questions for:

  • Black History Month
  • Women’s History Month
  • Asian American Pacific Islander Month

These questions helped us explore history and current events. I learned a lot from our discussions and came away with some challenges for personal growth.

Song of the Day

We summarized our work at the end of each day. This helped us update key stakeholders so they knew what had changed on the site.

Some of us added a Song of the Day to our updates. It could be:

  • A song that summarized the day
  • Something we jammed out to while we worked
  • An earworm that was on our mind

It was a little look inside our coworkers’ day, a small pick-me-up after lots of work. Some of us walked away with new tunes for our playlists. Thanks to Peggy Gartin, Nancy Wilson’s I Wish You Love is one of my new staples.

Taking time to check in

Three smiling people in videochat windows

Working remotely, we didn’t have the opportunity to stop by a coworker’s desk and see how they were doing. This meant we might miss someone struggling.

Many of us checked in with each other to keep lines of connection open. Sometimes it was just a quick Slack message.

My team, the content team, created a biweekly meeting with no agenda. It gave everyone a space to share what was on their mind. We used it to:

  • Ask for help
  • Get a second opinion
  • Clarify something that was confusing
  • Balance workloads

These meetings broke down our remote work silos. They reminded us that we had a support network who could help when we needed it.

Moving forward

Though we don’t do all these things today, they’re still part of our team care kits. I’m thankful I worked with great people during COVID-19. They walked the walk when it came to caring about each other, not just as coworkers, but as human beings.

Michael is a Senior Content Designer with the Office of Digital Innovation.