If you are like me, then connecting with people is the best part of any job. I was immediately excited by the opportunity to work in the Vancouver Parks Canada office as a Learn-to Camp team member because connecting with people is what we do! During a normal season, my role would have been to develop and deliver workshops to the public that teach new Canadians how to camp… and then to go camping with them!
Yet, as we all know, this was not a normal summer season.
I found myself meeting my coworkers for the first time on a video conference call, with no public events in sight! I was worried this summer would feel lonely, isolated, and generally lacklustre. I am now happy to say, with absolute confidence, that it did not! While there were unique challenges posed by the current global situation, there were also many opportunities that arose entirely because of it. I would like to highlight three main lessons I learned in this role and generalize them a little. Hopefully both you and I will be able to take them into whichever opportunity we find ourselves exploring next—global pandemic notwithstanding.
With the move away from in-person programming to remote work, my job description seemed to change overnight. At first, it was challenging to see past all the types of events we were no longer able to do. Yet, the necessary shift allowed us to tackle different projects, work with various partners, and connect with new audiences.
For example, we were able to focus on diversity and inclusion even more than we would have during a normal season. We did so by looking for new opportunities, not just despite the pandemic but because of it. I had the chance to co-develop a new virtual program specifically designed for young children with autism. Without these new circumstances, my efforts may have been directed elsewhere. Yet, delivering this program to the kiddos was the most rewarding part of my placement. I simply cannot describe how amazing it felt every time the participants’ eyes would light up at a new prop, or when they would unmute to share a story of that one time they saw a bear! These are the interactions that make me excited to go to work.
Staying focused on the positives can be a challenge, and it is something that I am always striving to improve in myself. However, adaptability is our biggest asset during times of uncertainty like these. By pivoting quickly and looking for opportunities, we can push forward new projects and explore new goals.
Having a strong relationship with your coworkers not only makes your days more pleasant but also offers you support (emotional or project-related) when you need it. One of my worries was that it would not be possible to build those relationships online. Luckily, I was proven wrong.
My experience onboarding with the Learn-to Camp Team was exceptional. Not only were we able to spend more time than usual on in-depth training, but my supervisors dedicated time every day during our first month for team-building activities. Being able to let loose and get a little silly with my coworkers made all the difference in feeling comfortable with them and excited to “come in” to work each day. One of the most creative ways we connected was through the Slack add-on, Donut. This application would pair individuals within our Slack workplace daily for a 30-minute conversation. This way, we were able to meet members from other teams who we might have seen in the hallways or on breaks during a normal season but would see very infrequently online.
In sum, the successful efforts of my supervisors to build a strong and positive workplace culture have shown that doing so online is more than possible. Yes, connecting through a computer screen felt strange at times, but with some creativity a little extra effort, we can build strong connections with our coworkers in any type of workplace.
Now, I know I just spent the last three paragraphs defending working from home but staying focused from your couch can be a challenge, too. There were four habits that I developed to help me stay on task:
Firstly, I let in the natural light! In fact, I set up my desk in front of the biggest windows in my house. This helped me feel more awake during the day and more connected to the real, non-virtual world.
Secondly, I created a dedicated workspace that I would (almost) exclusively use during work hours. Keeping work and leisure separated in my physical space helped me focus during the day and keep my mind off work during the evenings and weekends.
Thirdly, I made sure to get fresh air often. I kept my windows open as much as possible and got outside for at least 30 minutes during lunch. I would also take walking meetings on the phone whenever I did not need to be at my desk. The days that I forgot to get outside always felt the longest and most draining.
Finally, I made sure to stretch and take breaks during the day. Sometimes a little movement was all I needed to get back into the zone. I kept a yoga mat next to my desk and tried to fit in 2-minute yoga sessions or some jumping jacks to get the blood pumping every hour or so.
Truthfully, there are many positives to working from home. Productivity can go up in quiet and private settings, you do not need to wake up early and commute, dog snuggles to de-stress are hard to beat, and do I even need to mention the endless snacks? If we can stay on task while working from home, it might just be the best thing ever.
Working remotely was not what I, nor any of us, were expecting this summer. However, a global pandemic did not preclude one of my most rewarding work experiences yet.
This co-op placement has been truly outstanding. I was constantly amazed by the team’s drive, integrity, and compassion and I am beyond proud of the work we have accomplished. I am so grateful for the mentorship and support I received from my supervisors, and for the relationships I built with my coworkers. I look forward to returning to Parks Canada as part of the public outreach and education team this January.