The new corporate landscape of 2020 has presented a number of challenges for smaller companies, especially for those with employees that were already partially remote pre-COVID. I feel fortunate that at MEI, we have found ways to keep our remote working environment interactive, between increasing video conference meetings to effectively using Slack to remain connected socially and professionally with the team during the day. Finding these ways to stay connected has been important in maintaining the tightknit feel of our small team.

With life becoming fully remote (school, work, social) it also means that for many of us, “work day” hours are passively melting directly into time that used to be earmarked for personal activities: fitness, hobbies, family time or simply down time. During a recent panel discussion I participated in at Solar Focus 2020, my fellow panelists and I discussed the ‘less spoken about’ toll this lack of personal interaction was taking, especially on women.

While working remotely can in many ways offer more flexibility, it can also create a non-stop work week that lacks the boundaries of a more traditional 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday office environment. I personally found that the absence of these outside work activities, which previously may have provided an outlet for stress or simply a motivation to stay active, was affecting both my physical and mental health. And as a regularly competitive athlete, the lack of peer-motivation only exacerbated the pressure felt by missing activities that I’d become accustomed to always being on the schedule. “I’ll work out tomorrow” became a phrase I heard myself repeat too many times, followed by lack of follow through, and guilt.

I’m a strong believer in the healing power of serotonin and adrenaline, and I could feel myself getting more lethargic, lazy and unmotivated as each COVID month dragged on. I wondered if some of my female colleagues felt the same…so the first MEI 30-day challenge was born.

For the month October, the Women of MEI committed to holding each other accountable, staying motivated and supported through a progressive fitness challenge that was guaranteed to take everyone out of the comfort zone, whatever that was. The group set individual goals at the start (ie. improve sleep, lose weight, increase muscle tone and stamina) and set out on 30 days of ab, squat and planking exercises. The daily check-ins via Slack kept the group in touch more often and became a nice break from the daily work routine.

We mixed things up by sharing funny workout memes (because who doesn’t love a good meme), sharing a favorite workout song of the day, and kept the group as positive and guilt-free as possible. I’ve coached athletes from children to adults in a variety of endurance sports, so leading the daily check-ins became a highlight to my day, and it provided me personally with motivation seeing coworkers rising to the challenge and moving past moments of doubt or procrastination towards feeling a sense of accomplishment.

What we lacked in “team building” from being in an office on a daily basis together, we started to build virtually in manner slightly off-set from the normal work routine. We missed days, we didn’t feel 100% all the time, but everyone participated in the support and encouragement of the group as we worked our way through the month. I asked my coworkers how they felt the challenge went, and wanted to share their thoughts:

“I was seriously lacking motivation to be active, especially during this time of COVID, so when Jenn suggested this work out challenge, I was all for it! It’s really nice to do this with colleagues as well because we know how busy we all are, so we are here to support each other and won’t judge when someone misses a day. We all have our long days and feeling drained, so it’s nice to know that we are working out separately, but still together as a group. It makes me want to keep going not just for myself, but to say I was able to accomplish this challenge with my teammates is very fulfilling.” – Christiana Katsoulos

“The workout challenge has been great so far. It is so motivating to take this on as a group – we are all working from home, I felt this established a connect between us all – a reason to check in on each other every day. It’s also affirming to know we can push ourselves and take on workouts which are progressively more strenuous. Also, this is adding to my workout song collection as we all share those as well!” – Shivapriya Balasubramanian

“The workout challenge has been the bright spots of my days lately. It’s much more fun and motivating to exercise with the girls versus working out by myself. With the hilarious memes and great workout songs we’ve shared, I look forward to getting my workout done every day and it has been a nice escape from all the COVID blues. It also feels nice to stay connected this way during this time of isolation. Thanks to the girls who make this fun!” – Grace Huang

As we roll into the winter months, the #WomenofMEI have talked about our next challenge, adding in some cardio and finding different ways to help stay active and healthy, both physically and mentally. We challenge other companies to get creative in finding ways to bring employees together during what can be a lonely time for some people and reconnect in a fun and healthy way with coworkers that you may have only seen via Zoom or Teams. If you’re looking for some motivation to get started, we’ll share the playlist we created through our October challenge. Not get out there and get moving!