May 26, 2020

By Saj Fernando, leadership annual giving officer, University of Minnesota Foundation, Jaden K. Hansen, associate development officer, School of Public Affairs, and Amanda Pieper, associate development officer, Community Partnerships, Medicine & Health

Since March and the transition to working from home, a lot of employees have been thinking about ways to stay connected and engaged with colleagues and adjust to the challenges that come from working at home. Jaden Hansen, associate development officer, School of Public Affairs, explained, "The three of us are working in different areas of development at the University and started the ECDP Alumni Group to help our newer colleagues stay connected and build a network with one another. We invited our colleagues to convene virtually to talk about overlaps in our work and to share resources. What we learned is that the work conversation was just the icebreaker.” (ECDP Alumni Group is composed of three years of cohort members from the Early Career Development Program at the U of MN Foundation.) 

The group set out to create a space for people to share how they are adapting to the new work landscape and used conversation starters such as “How has meeting with donors virtually impacted your work?” and “Has anyone done a virtual luncheon yet?” (Pro-tip: change it to coffee, the chewing is audible.) They allowed time at the end of each meeting to talk about empathy, vulnerability, and connection. The group kicked off the conversation with this statement that rang true for many:

We are not working from home. We are sheltering in place during a crisis…and trying to work.

Hansen stated that whether one is struggling to navigate sharing office space with partners, parenting, checking-in on at-risk family members, or navigating systemic inequities, everyone needs a space to safely share, vent, and ask questions. Suddenly, the things people don’t talk about at work, are the very things everyone most needs to talk about. At the first meeting it became clear that employees working from home also needed ways to find balance which would, in turn, help them to more effectively serve the mission of their units and the University. 

Fernando has found that the goal of the group is to foster professional and personal growth. The group has acknowledged the interconnectedness between work-life and personal-life balance. She hopes the group creates a space where people can connect with colleagues across various units, expand professional knowledge, develop skills, and excel in their careers. Those involved have noticed the importance of this balance especially during this pandemic, and there is a growing sense of seeing an opportunity in the gift of time - the chance to grow as a whole in all areas of our lives.

Pieper said as a spouse and mother of two young children, the phrase “up a creek without a paddle” comes to mind! On top of the hustle and bustle of making sure everyone has lunches, shoes, jackets, homeroom folders, and seven blue pipe cleaners for that day’s art project, there are Zoom meetings frequently interrupted by requests for a different breakfast, the location of the Spiderman costume, the location of mom, and on and on.

Pieper has found that though working remotely has been “a very long ten weeks”, she and her family are finally getting into a routine. She really enjoys having the time to dedicate to helping her kids learn to ride their bikes, daily walks for the dog, and a regular exercise routine for her. 

Pieper has found that patience is truly necessary for the daily internal struggle of being mom, wife, secretary, and teacher simultaneously, in addition to employee. Time management is also key when managing four schedules; squeezing in a Kindergarten morning meeting before a 9AM work meeting; scheduling snacks and TV time along with homework and outside play time; responding to emails or additional meetings that pop up at the last minute. 

Everyone is struggling to find the new routine and balance. The conversations people are having right now are strongly connected to the impacts of COVID-19 on work and personal life, and are the reason Fernando, Haden, and Peiper started the ECDP Alum Group. They plan to continue bringing colleagues across the development community at the University together for conversations that will expose them to diverse perspectives - to help everyone grow as development officers and as professionals in general.