I was one of the people who started a new job during lockdown (here at Spawn). I was trained and met my new Alaskan coworkers through a series of Zoom meetings, and got to know their sense of humor and quirks through virtual happy hours and coffee dates, all from the comfort of my kitchen-turned-office in Denver.
After nearly a year, I was able to travel to Alaska for the first time and finally really meet the people that belonged to the faces I’d come to know over a screen. I thought I would have the feeling that I was meeting everyone for the first time, but surprisingly, it felt like I had already known them, so I’ll throw some kudos to technology. I would find myself casually waving at people I communicate with every day before remembering, “Oh yeah, I may work with you, have your living room wall décor memorized and know the sound of your dog’s bark, but I’ve never met you in real life.”
However, there are some things you come to find out when you’re actually with people IRL.
1. Surroundings make a difference. And it's nice to be in the same one.
Let’s start with the office itself. I assumed the office would be cool, but I didn’t realize how spacious and colorful it was. Every conference room has floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the ocean where you can watch icebergs float by like a real-life screensaver. Something about being in the same place helps people work more cohesively.
2. Find out who the couch potatoes and water cooler talkers are.
There’s a blue velvet couch in one of the conference rooms that I was eyeing on the last day of my trip and Siobhan assured me it was kosher to recline on it while I worked. In fact, she does it all the time. And office chatter increases exponentially when you are working together IRL. I’d find myself poking my head out the door at the sound of laughter. And that’s a good thing.
3. Some pups (and people) are even better in person.
I learned that Hannelore’s dog, Hatcher, has a head and paws that are way too big for his body. I’ve seen Hatcher in photos, but it isn’t until you see him in real life that you realize his physique has the adorable-factor of a puppy.
I'm sure my coworkers learned some new things about me during my time in Alaska, too... namely, that I'm a terrible skier. But these people will literally lift you up when you're down.
4. Real-life human moments create meaningful conversation.
Oh, and the sidewalks are icy in March in Anchorage. After I almost wiped out walking into the office, Alonna told me Lisa bought everyone spikes for their shoes for Christmas one year.
5. Get ready for your second first impression.
First impressions are influenced by nonverbal communication and body language, and nuances are lost over a screen. So, there’s pressure to leave a good second first impression on your coworkers by looking the part. It’s also interesting to see how your perceptions of coworkers change when you see the way they communicate and hold themselves.
Throughout my trip to Alaska, with my iPhone camera, I kept trying to capture the beauty of the surrounding mountains, oceanic views, snow-covered trees and the blueish-pink lighting that glowed down on it all. But my footage seemed to fall short compared to what I was really seeing. Whether it’s the sound of laughter when office doors swing open or the view from the top of Alyeska on a clear day, there’s an element to real life that just doesn’t translate through a screen. Today, I’m back in my kitchen-turned-office in Denver and feeling grateful to have experienced the real thing.