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EDGI in the Time of COVID

By Kelsey Breseman, Stephanie Knutson, EDGI

EDGI members meeting over Zoom for our bi-weekly All-EDGI meeting

Though no field of work is un-disrupted by the global pandemic, EDGI has largely been a site of stability for its members — volunteers, paid contractors, and academics alike. This is an opportunity to reflect on and share a few pre-COVID practices within EDGI’s working culture that help to give the organization resilience through a disrupted context.

While all organizations with the ability to do remote work have had to address the technical challenges of doing so in the last two months, and many have addressed the need for social engagement now that we no longer see each other in the hallways, fewer seem to have addressed the issue of many people’s decreased capacity for work, while trying to juggle jobs, family obligations, and the increased stress of daily life. These are unprecedented times in which we’re all trying to do more with less. The pandemic’s global impacts affect each person differently. Some are struggling with isolation and need a sense of community and meaningful work while others are overwhelmed and need to focus on their own households. EDGI’s explicit approach is to support its members in either case.

We have a culture of openness and frankness — especially around capacity. Any EDGI member is welcome to tell the group that something is too much, or that they are overcommitted and need help. Through our community practices, we’ve built a culture where, crucially, this is okay. Anyone who says they need to pass off their work, long-term or temporarily, knows that they can say this without shame. Other members volunteer to pick up anything high-priority, or the group allows projects to be back-burnered until collective capacity is increased. This is an important aspect of resilience, especially in an organization that is primarily volunteer-based.

EDGI’s all-remote work style is the most visible element of our organization’s readiness for the specific challenge we now face. Collaboration is enabled by our tools (Zoom, Slack, HackMD, Google Docs, Github), but embraced through our practices. Our members are already familiar with video conferencing software, on which kids or pets will show up in a work meeting, and how to use call-in audio to supplement a lagging video call. For communications around collaborative work, the standing norm is to post questions, updates, and thoughts in the public Slack channels. Consensus decision-making on a remote committee can be challenging; we have developed processes for asynchronous voting and discussion, as well as for Strategic Coordinating Committee members to declare themselves temporarily unavailable, in order to avoid delays in decision-making. Nearly all of our outputs are co-authored. Rather than just sending these around, it’s common for us to schedule a video call where we all work on the same document at the same time, so we can ask quick questions, and so that those with less availability can reserve some dedicated work time for the piece.

Beyond the technical aspects of remote work, we are familiar with the social challenges of distance: if you can’t have a casual conversation over lunch or while passing by, what aspects of communication and social bonding are missed? Especially through the Alternative Org working group, EDGI has identified and practiced several elements that bring casual communication into the remote space. We begin meetings with a check-in question, chosen by the meeting’s facilitator. These can be anything from “How is your day going?” to “What’s something interesting you’ve read recently?” to “What are you looking forward to right now?” Check-in questions create the time and space to drop our guards — which in addition to building community and making us smile, make it easier to talk about feeling overloaded with EDGI work, when that occurs. Review and feedback sessions invite members to talk about how their work with EDGI impacts them personally and professionally, surfacing discussions about role or process changes. Spark meetings, with no agendas, are open spaces for collaborative brainstorming and ideation. Members also call each other 1:1 for deeper discussions across a range of topics. 

On Slack we have multiple channels that are intended to build and reinforce connections. Our #ta_da_list is the opposite of a To Do list. It’s a place to post about completed tasks, to celebrate accomplishments, and to make visible the often invisible work of maintaining our organization. #remote-together is where we share social opportunities like lunches and happy hours for EDGI members, as well as outside events that might be of interest to members. In #edgi_kiddos we share photos of our kids, pets, and lives outside of work.  

Ultimately, this is work driven both by passion and compassion. EDGI was born from a moment when many people felt powerless as individuals, and was a way people could do something concrete and powerful together. The movement coalesced into an organization that is still here years later at least in part because the individuals involved had formed important and interconnected relationships with one another and the work. This is a collection of caring people. This is a community. This is a movement.