Voices and Perspectives is a series from CallisonRTKL to elevate the perspectives of our people. We are grateful for their commitment to facilitate and celebrate equality, diversity and inclusivity in our firm and beyond. Today, we’re talking to Project Assistant Porsche Ellison about the necessity of human connection in a time rife with uncertainty.
Porsche Ellison is a Project Assistant in CRTKL’s Dallas, TX office. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University with a Bachelor’s of Science, she gained experience in the security industry before exploring her passion for AEC. Now after having been at CRTKL for nearly 5 years, she can safely say she does a little bit of everything. Providing administrative support to several groups, she is a valuable member of the global retail team. She is passionate about human connection outside of work, too– with a particular interest in hiking, traveling, and dancing.
While my official title is Project Assistant, my unofficial job is an office event planner. In the last year, I’ve found myself growing more and more involved in event coordination. The payoff of bringing our group together and seeing them laugh over dessert and wine is well worth the cost of late-night banner brainstorms and many, many trips to Sam’s Club. But lately, social gatherings have looked quite different.
In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our schedules were booked to the brim with Microsoft Team happy hours, Team trivia nights, and even Team first dates. But as our two-week work sabbatical dragged into multiple months (seven and counting!), video conferencing burnout was real. And there was no valid reason to cancel—what else could I possibly be doing?
With this burnout came isolation. While I wanted to keep the close-knit dynamic we’d developed in person, it was a challenge to keep everyone engaged and focused—myself included. And, as more serious issues like sickness and unemployment became unfortunate realities, who had the time to focus on parties? I saw that people on every level—from junior staff to C-suite leadership—seemed to have much bigger issues.
But the mental health effects of this isolation were real as well. Summer Fridays became a thing of the past. Birthdays and anniversaries came and went uncelebrated. Coworkers and their loved ones faced the harsh consequences of a global pandemic. But we didn’t realize the effects it had until it was too late— isolation stampedes, but loneliness creeps.
So, how do we maintain connection in the workplace without a constant barrage of video-facilitated mass conversations? We need to ensure that our events are not only fun, but inclusive for the vastly different people our organization is made of. Though it does still take work on the back-end, we have to remember that a lack of connection can have very serious—even grave—mental health effects.
We must ensure there’s variety in our digital programming, just like in the physical realm. From escape rooms to bowling alleys, many of our favorite activities can be replicated online. One of my personal favorites was this year’s Business Council of the Arts ‘On My Own Time’ virtual art gallery—where employees from a variety of companies in Dallas, TX could submit their works of art, including painting, photography, creative writing, woodworking, ceramics, fiber arts, sculpture and more.
As the holidays begin to approach, I look forward to bringing some of my favorite holiday traditions to the online realm, too. Our ornament decorating contest has always sparked a healthy dose of competition to the office—and this year should be no exception (except this year’s is Bring Your Own Tree).
But it’s not just about entertainment, either. We shouldn’t attend these events out of a feeling of obligation or boredom, but with a real desire to express compassion for those around us. Though we’re all facing personal challenges, we must remember that our colleagues are as well, and the help that we would like to receive for ourselves is a universal desire. As we all know, we must be the change to see the change– one mini cupcake at a time.