Lunch Break with a Side of Gratitude

Jennifer Best
4 min readSep 16, 2020


Six months ago today, I started a new job in the event industry. Not just a new job, but this also included a move to a new state several hundred miles away from where I lived for the past two decades. My move and job change were in full swing when the COVID-19 outbreak started in the US.

Great timing, right?

After my first day on the job, I left the office, new laptop in hand, and I have largely been working remotely since. I’m no stranger to remote work, but meeting a new team and taking on a new role virtually is an entirely new experience that a lot of people are having right now.

Earlier this year, we were pacing for another record-setting year at our company. Then, the virus took hold in the US and the live event industry stalled.

Navigating the Pivot to Virtual Events

The event industry has taken a giant pivot towards virtual and hybrid events instead of live conferences. The financial impact of COVID-19 on the larger event industry is daunting. Throughout our industry, there have been layoffs, furloughs, and salary cuts, and those are for the companies that have managed to stay afloat.

Within days of joining the company, we shifted our market strategy that’s demonstrated double-digit growth consistently. Taking a deep breath, we headed into uncharted territory. We invested time and resources to supporting virtual events right alongside our clients, unsure at the time how long it would be until live events could return.

We had to make all of these sacrifices as a company. Six months later, while we are finally starting to see glimmers of the live event industry returning to normal, the virtual event industry is expanding into a market segment that many think will be here for a long time.

The Impact of Remote Work on Our Culture

While working remotely is new to many of us, we’re getting the hang of it. We all now know how to position our webcams correctly for Zoom calls, and some of us have even upgraded our internet connections and improved our home offices. We also now know which team calls require us to fix our hair and which we can safely stay off video.

For a team that’s been repeatedly named a “Best Place to Work,” our company culture thrives on the social element of working together in an office. We are definitely more successful as a team than individually, and by the nature of what we do, there are no successes that happen here without the help of others in the company. Some companies just “talk the talk” of teamwork but my coworkers actually walk the walk too. It’s a very motivational environment to work in and this suits both my personality and work style.

Like a lot of organizations, we’ve adjusted with the times. We schedule regular team building activities virtually, but we’re still missing that day-to-day social interaction we’re used to having. While we might have gotten used to this new virtual work environment, we still feel somewhat isolated from our teammates on a personal level. For new hires like me who started jobs during the COVID era, it is even more challenging to build trust in and relationships with coworkers when I’ve not even met many of them in person yet.

Hungry for Social Interaction

It was time to explore new territory again. When I had an offer from Chris Schembra, author of Gratitude and Pasta and keynote speaker, to spend time with our team and help us put gratitude back in our day, I gladly accepted. We intentionally didn’t tell our team much about our speaker in advance, and we then invited everyone to lunch.

What happened next changed us as individuals and as a company.

The AAE team celebrating gratitude over lunch with the help of Chris Schembra, speaker and facilitator.

In the span of a 90-minute workshop, Chris helped us build stronger connections with team members, find gratitude for people in our lives that we don’t typically thank, and feel more connected than we have in months. Leveraging Zoom’s randomly-assigned breakout rooms, we got the chance to really talk to our coworkers and connect with them on a personal level. It was an emotional and uplifting experience.

I finally got the chance to talk 1:1 with coworkers who I’d not met. I found things in common with each of them in the span of a few minutes, time we wouldn’t have taken out of our normally busy days without this dedicated workshop to build connections.

Despite the challenging timing of my job, industry and geography changes, I would do it all again. I’m exactly where I should be and grateful for it.

Investing in Remote Employees

Holding an internal workshop featuring an external speaker or facilitator is a really great way to bring virtual teams closer together, inspire and educate, and demonstrate investment in the success of your team and company. We’ve had similar requests for speakers to address and help management lead during this challenging time, and in some cases, requests for speakers to simply entertain their employees for a much needed virtual break.

How are you investing in your virtual team? If you haven’t yet considered bringing in a virtual speaker into your organization, maybe it’s time, and we can help.