In the Before Times, early 2020, working in-person was a given for the majority of people. Yet for me and many of my friends, virtual work was already the norm, and we were developing a co-working space in Boston because we needed social connection in our remote work. After months of meeting and experimenting in the space, in March of 2020 we gathered on a Saturday to assemble furniture, celebrate, and put the finishing touches on the workrooms. That’s probably when we gave each other COVID, but we didn’t know that yet. Nobody could imagine the challenge that was to come.
By March 9, 2020, we had our first day of welcoming co-workers into the space. And by the weekend, most of us were experiencing serious and escalating symptoms of COVID-19, though in that early stage of spread in Massachusetts, no testing was available. Quickly, it became apparent to us that co-working in person would not be viable in the near term. Yet what we needed most was to be in connection with one another. That was one of the difficult things about COVID; there was so much pain, hardship, and grief, yet we were disconnected from our support networks.
Nobody wants more “Zoom fatigue” or waste-of-time meetings on their calendar. People blame the technology, but the problems with attempts at virtual gathering are so rarely about the technology. I believe a version of teleportation is available to us via video conferencing—we are just in the baby stages of learning to use it. For me personally, coming out of the fever journey and a long period of illness, I was behind on my work for clients and also extremely tired with no creative juice to bring to the table. It was helpful to find myself not alone. We were all struggling.
Lawrence Barriner II, coach and facilitator, changed the game with an offering: PomPod, a virtual workspace. He wrote, still making sense of what was happening, “Clearly COVID-19 is a thing. Most of us are physically apart, and there is tension between (a) slowing down and resting and (b) building community and getting what work we can do done.” Lawrence initiated a Zoom gathering where we could get stuff done using the Pomodoro technique, which is great for concentration. It had worked for us in person, but would it work online?
In short, we turn off all notifications, concentrate for 25 minutes on a single task with the Zoom open, and then talk to each other for five minutes about what got done and what remains in the balance. At first the interruption every 25 minutes was hard, but as my brain has gotten used to it, I find it supports endurance and completion of tasks. Having even just one other person nearby when I am working helps keep my focus. It doesn’t matter if the person is doing the same thing as me or not. Listening to other people talk about their progress and tasks helps me stay focused on mine.
Kendra Hicks, director of radical philanthropy for Resist and candidate for Boston City Council District 6, has been there from the very beginning. “PomPod provides me with focused time to get work done with accountability from a collective of people who are also there to help me get unstuck if necessary.” It is surprisingly helpful. Just the other day, after a couple of rounds being stuck on a task, co-worker Andrea Atkinson, executive director of One Square World, asked me, why are you blocked? Within two minutes she helped me identify a next step that resolved the task in less than 30 minutes by delegating.
Hicks appreciates that PomPod helps break up the day. Rather than working for long exhausting periods of time, she works in bursts and stays energized. During peak shelter-in-place, Barriner said of PomPod, “Without it, I would be flailing in my work life. Also, I love these people.” The quality of the people, the simplicity of the method—PomPod became a lifeline. Today, we have more members joining who are creative consultants, healers, organizers.
“In the midst of pandemic mind (low energy, high distraction, easily blocked) PomPod helps me move what I need to move,” Barriner said. “It makes clear, through the process of explicitly naming my work goals and being witnessed in my successes and failures, what of my work is energizing, exhausting, flowing, or blocked.”
For Sol Gonzalez, a facilitator and astrologer, PomPod has been essential for concentration. “I’m building a healthier, less isolated practice space for working and productivity. Self-employment can get really lonely and confusing and blocked. PomPod allows us to be in each of our own work, together.”
Even though this practice was forced by sheltering in place, the qualities of gathering online, working independently, and being witnessed in your process is something we can create in any organization, any day. Among the creative changemakers I know, we value how fast our work can move and how deep we can go when we meet in person. There is nothing that can match it. Yet I have always remained curious—and experimenting—with how to connect online. Because connecting online is not impossible; we just need to upgrade our practices. The pandemic forced us to innovate and stay together. Creating a PomPod environment where people can connect while they work brings up energizing feelings, like a good day at the office.