middingv. intr. Feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it—hovering on the perimeter of a campfire, chatting outside a party while others dance inside, resting your head in the backseat of a car listening to your friends chatting up front—feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be.John Koenig*
This week, someone who appreciated our work sent cookies to the Holloway team. It was a surprisingly old school, wholesome gesture. The cookies arrived in our San Francisco office, where about half the team works. We weren’t all there, but we celebrated this gift together, and collectively cooed about the Twitter thread it spawned. (Our cookie benefactor even offered to make more and ship them to all our remote locations!)
The gesture reminded us how important it is to stop and reflect in celebration. Sociologist Amitai Etzioni posits that celebrating helps us manage tensions and recommit to shared values.* Celebration brings us emotionally closer to other people, brokering joy, “collective effervescence,”* and release from daily stressors, while building much-needed trust for when too many meetings fry our collective nerves or miscommunication breeds strong emotions. Deadlines be damned, it’s Hope’s birthday and we’re gonna have donuts.
Celebration orients us together in space and time to reflect on why we’re there in the first place—often with food, drink, and music and dance. The tiny dopamine hits of the internet cannot compete; true celebration sustains us. But how do we celebrate when we can’t be together in space, and potentially even in time? We can’t rely on propinquity. Remote celebrations are like successful long-term relationships: you have to schedule and make dedicated space for the good things, otherwise they’re much less likely to happen.
A few months back, in the run-up to a big launch, we gathered on Zoom on a Friday afternoon, drink of choice in hand, and had a virtual happy hour. No work talk, just a chance to more earnestly discuss things that often come up casually around here: music, poetry, good food and drink. Dogs—there’s always dogs. I was reminded how witty, funny, and talented my co-workers are. Sitting on my deck, I felt tension release from my body. I remembered why the work and these people matter so much to me. We should do that again soon.
This blog post from Buffer about ways they connect as an all-remote team is only 5 years old, but it shows how quickly technology and tools can change. (Hipchat anyone?) What persists are the reasons why we want to connect and celebrate, and the unique challenges that remote work provides.
At a previous company, I started a #highfive channel in Slack, where anyone could commend someone else for, well, anything. It didn’t get overused, and people seemed to genuinely enjoy it. Virtual Not Distant provides a few similar tactics, and a bunch of other great suggestions for how to help remote people connect more often and effectively.
A full six years ago, The New York Times was writing about how many places were already starting to have virtual happy hours. (It also has two weird cavalier references to workplace sexual harassment that would merit more than a passing remark now.)
All roads inquiring about how and why humans celebrate lead back to Durkheim’s “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.” It’s one of the earliest scholarly sociological inquiries into how and why humans aim to relate to each other socially, with a specific focus on the “collective effervescence” of rituals, and the roles they play in displaying and thereby reinforcing our own identities.
That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.