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How Apartment List Embraces Remote Team Building Through Art

By: Debbie Sorkin
November 19, 2020

I lead Design at Apartment List, which includes user research, product design, and marketing design. Every quarter I prioritize a team offsite, but given Covid and our transition to remote work, I wanted to re-imagine things.

Before jumping into the details of an off-site and a productive agenda, I sat down with my team and we took a step back. Given our focus on the humans that use our product, we started with a human-centric question: who are the people on our team, and what are the people problems we are trying to solve? (And yes, this mirrors our product development process ;-))

People problem 👩‍💻

Unsurprisingly, we started with some user stories. As a member of the design team:

1. ...There isn’t time to pull away from my day-to-day work

  • ...and expand my mind and creative thinking
  • ...and bond with my teammates, especially while fully remote during Covid
  • ...and do work towards a meaningful cause

2. ...I feel strongly about contributing to diversity, equity and inclusion

The Solution - Art Day! 🎨

Two themes stuck out to me: first, we wanted to create something, and feel untethered from our daily constraints. Second, we wanted to contribute to something meaningful, which may not be related to our immediate scope of work.

As a result, we decided to create some art, and later hold a virtual auction, with proceeds going to a good cause. We wanted to be inclusive for art day, so accepted art from any art medium (paint, mixed media, photography, video, writing, etc.). We shared a common theme for inspiration: each of our identities -- whether our culture, background, or personal attributes, we wanted to celebrate our similarities and differences.

To remind ourselves of this focus, we decided to donate all proceeds from the auction to the Black Artists + Designers Guild. Making things even better, Apartment List offered to match our contributions, amplifying the potential impact of our art!

The Art Day agenda ✍️

As great as this sounded, we wanted to make it even better with some bonding activities. So we baked in some inclusive activities, like morning cooking and afternoon cocktails (or mocktails), where we could socialize and share our work. Here is what the agenda looked like:

8:30a - 9:15a - Breakfast with Daniel 🍳 - Daniel kicked off the day teaching us to cook, and allowing us to break bread and socialize! We made an Israeli dish called Shakshuka, with a cross between the Bon Appétit and NYT recipes. We simplified it to save time!

9:15a - 9:45a - Virtual art day kick-off! ✨ We spent the next 30 minutes sharing our plans with each other, discussing details, getting feedback, and generally just bouncing ideas off each other.

9:45a- 12:30p - Individual creative time 🎨 - heads down time to create. People could remain dialed into our zoom room for company, or disconnect and focus.

12:30p - 1:30p - Team Lunch 🍱 - We all rejoined the zoom meeting link, and Apartment List paid for take out for everyone (thanks A-List!).

1:30p - 4:45p - Individual Creative Time 🎨- more time for everyone to go heads down and create. And again, people could join the zoom room, or not!

4:45p-5:30p - Cocktails/Mocktails with Jordan + show and tell 🍹- Jordan helped us end the day with a lesson on making a specific cocktail/mocktail. Jordan called his recipe, "Is it Friday yet?" and produced a delicious “quarintini,” which resembled a classic margarita. While we enjoyed our beverages, we all shared our progress, and in some cases the final result.

🎨 Virtual Art Show

A few weeks later, we held a virtual art exhibit during lunch time. The entire company was invited, and we held a silent auction for people to bid on our art. Since there was so much enthusiasm, we even included art from A-List employees outside of the design team! Here are some of our final pieces, and a video from the art show:

Impact through art 🎨

I consider this event a major success (or a win-win-win-win). Our team got to bond and create art, Apartment List got to celebrate our creativity, and we donated to a cause we care about. And with Apartment List’s matches, we raised $6,442 for the Black Artists + Designers Guild.

Want to join in on the next one? We’re hiring!

AUTHOR
Debbie leads Design at Apartment List, which includes user research, product design, and marketing design. . Read More
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John Kobs
John Kobs is the CEO and Co-founder of Apartment List, the fastest growing rental marketplace in the United States. John believes that everyone deserves a home they love, and has built Apartment List on a foundation of trust and transparency for renters and owners.
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