While Direct Agents recently celebrated our 18 year anniversary, there’s another, less exciting, commemoration in our midst. This March marked the 1 year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. While it might not seem like a day to celebrate, we can look back at the past year and recognize how far we’ve come since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been one year since the world seemed to shut down. Since then, we’ve made progress and begun to open up again.


It seems contrary to the typical sentiment, but Direct Agents has had a year or productivity and growth. As a team, we’ve never felt so close and inspired to start on new projects. When we began our contingency plan last February, we felt nervous and on edge. The planning and preparation by the People & Culture team brought a sense of ease to the situation. 


When March approached and the lockdown began, our individual homes became the new DA office. Zoom took the place of our conference rooms, and we began weekly company meetings to communicate any updates. Even when there was no new information, seeing everyone in their little square boxes on the screen felt calming.


The People & Culture team was always able to roll with the punches, but this time, we were rolling fast. The number one concern was keeping the culture alive, virtually. How could we stay engaged when every other aspect of the world felt so disconnected? One of our first realizations was that quick lunchroom chats no longer existed. This led to virtual water cooler and Coffee breaks. Outside of the office, we kept our lives connected with Pet Breaks and Family Fun Nights! We also celebrated birthdays with virtual cards signed by the whole team and anniversaries with treat surprises at home. 


On top of all that, our culture events did not slow down. Happy Hours continued, even if it meant virtual wine nights. New culture events and monthly challenges were created, such as the DA Combine which tested our physical, intellectual, and artistic abilities with weekly challenges. The DA Combine was such a success that we continued with the DA Playoffs and ended with the DA Super Bowl. Some of the most successful events were hosted by DA employees. Our bakers and chefs taught virtual classes, while our artists hosted follow-along “paint and sip” art events.


As the months started passing and the uncertainty continued, we heightened our focus on wellness. We had virtual fitness sessions, yoga classes, and meditation breaks. Wellness Wednesdays were born where we encouraged everyone to take some time to work without the interruption of internal Zoom meetings. We also implemented Self Care Days, where once a quarter, everyone is encouraged to take a day for themselves – outside of their paid time off and sick days. 


Onboarding new employees virtually was a new challenge in itself. The goal was to keep the virtual experience as close as possible to in-person onboarding. Pods were created where employees from all different experience levels were mixed into groups for lunch bonding sessions. NXTGEN was also born as a way to recognize leaders who showed outstanding commitment to DA’s thriving culture. NXTGEN leaders help the culture team plan bonding events for our newer employees to connect with other teams. 


As we began transitioning to a hybrid office, the People & Culture team couldn’t have been more excited to reintroduce our office and create a safe space for our returning employees. We felt hopeful for the future of our in-person collaboration, and our spirits were lifted. While our office looked different, we still felt the same sense of community. As departments began to coordinate in-person working days, we were able to schedule team events, such as meetings in Washington Square Park and outdoor happy hours. Culture events were also able to continue in our hybrid setup, with some employees tuning in virtually and others joining from the office.


Thinking back and remembering the uncertainty of March 2020, our work kept us energized and motivated. It was the people at this agency who were able to keep making memories despite being scattered across the country. We cared about each other’s well being and worked as a team to keep the culture alive.


Throughout the challenges that the last year brought, we find positivity in the fact that we were able to progress and grow as a team. We virtually onboarded new team members. Our Polycultural Strategy services were born during the pandemic. Our NXTGEN leaders stepped up to the plate to organize events and continue our virtual culture. We’re in the midst of launching two new podcasts, and we continued to produce episodes for Rising, our existing podcast. Despite having our lives turned around, we do deserve a little celebration. 


Maddie Quevedo, People & Culture Coordinator