Orthogonal Staff Zooming through Summer 2020: Great Work & Margaritas

Ke Li Yew
Ke Li Yew

Life and Work in the Summer of 2020

Nothing beats the team-building value of face-to-face all-staff events. But what happens when events are restricted due to coronavirus and we have to use Zoom? At Orthogonal, we make lemonade out of lemons. Or in this case, margaritas with limes.

It’s not an understatement to say that this has been an uncertain, and sometimes just straight-up bizarre, summer. One of our employees even had a tornado go down his block in Chicago earlier this month, but thankfully none of his family was hurt and the damage to his house was limited. (No, that’s not him being interviewed by ABC’s local news.)

Stress levels can be high as well as all continue to adjust to the indefinite situation of working at home while continuing to manage personal responsibilities, tend to personal health concerns, and still keep delivering great work for clients under deadlines that never seem to get lighter.

Orthogonal recognizes and truly appreciates how hard all of our employees have been working, especially over the last several months. Our team has created some great successes on a number of important client projects, and their amazing work has also paved the way for us to line up new work with our existing clients, start work on great new clients, and continue to grow our firm’s headcount in the midst of a recession. (Yes, we are hiring!)

The Challenge: Building intra-staff relationships

As a project-based consulting firm, our staff (especially newer hires) dive into their projects and not necessarily interact with people on other projects on a regular basis. So we have to make an intentional effort to create those interactions, which are crucial both to nurturing our firm’s culture, as well as strengthening the web of professional and personal connections across our firm. In the end, it’s our culture and the relationships between our staff that make Orthogonal a great place to work and allow our amazing staff to actively share their insights and knowledge with each other.

Having a strong Slack-based communication platform and a good set of other web-based tools is key but, web-based tools that rely on the written word will only get you so far. In the end, there is no replacement for old school communication that’s real-time and involves facial expressions and body language!

The Solution: All-Staff Meetings, Tacos, Margaritas, and Movies

This is why we host an all-staff meeting on every other Friday afternoon. At these meetings, we come together to announce company news, share ideas and project achievements, conduct ongoing training, and draw lessons learned from recent work so that we can continually improve the quality of everything we do.

At each meeting, we also take time to have some fun, chat as a group, and help our staff get to know each other a little better. For example, on the meeting agenda, there is a slot where someone from Orthogonal interviews someone else from the staff for 5-10 minutes so we can all learn more about a colleague both professionally and personally. We engage everyone in the company at the end of this interview by having our “interviewee” share Two Truths and a Lie.

This summer we had planned to swap our last meeting in June for an afternoon of playing hooky as a firm. Pre-pandemic, the plan was that all of our staff (including the out-of-towners) were going to meet in-person in Chicago. To emphasize that this was a break from work, everyone was going to be invited to bring a guest.

The afternoon was to start with a drinking lunch at one of Chicago’s great taco and tequila spots. Then, it would continue with us all going to an opening day showing of the much-anticipated movie adaptation of the amazing Broadway musical, In the Heights.

Although Mother Nature had a different plan for our summer, that didn’t stop our team from taking a break to celebrate the fantastic and important work that our staff has done this year, delivering impressive connected device software products to our clients and helping people improve their health by empowering them with insights and interventions.

Instead of tacos and a movie, on a recent Friday we held a Zoom-based summer party. On that Friday morning, three of Orthognal’s staff drove around town and personally delivered a margarita-anchored party care package to each employee at home.

NikitaBobAaron and Bernhard

The Party Care Package

Orthogonal Care Package

In each care package was:

  • Two Margarita Glasses with Orthogonal’s logo emblazoned on one side and the party’s theme, Zooming Through Summer 2020 written on the other.
  • Patron Silver Tequila which Thrillist says “Patrón Silver is the gold standard of tequila to mix with margaritas (despite being silver).”
  • Simple Stirrings Margarita Mix which was rated the winning margarita mix by MyRecipes, applauded for being “balanced, and not too sweet or sour.”[1]
  • Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt for the glass rims.
  • Garrett’s Popcorn, an iconic Chicago brand has been making gourmet popcorn since 1949. For
    those who don’t know Garrett’s, many families have a holiday season tradition of waiting in a long line that goes around the block no matter how cold and windy it is!
  • Jeppson’s Malört is a bit of a running joke at Orthogonal. A brand of bäsk liquor and another Chicago icon, Malort is known for its bitter taste, as well as the many memes about Malort faces. We warned everyone in advance not to mix Malort into the Margarita, because the only thing worse than Malort straight up could be a Malortini.

Malort Faces

The Summer 2020 Party

After some opening conversation and a toast to our staff from Ted Wallhaus, our Director of Connected Healthcare, we had a contest for the most impressive drink preparation. (It didn’t have to be a margarita and it didn’t have to be alcoholic, just had to be impressive.)

The recipes submitted for the contest included Frozen Smokey Margarita, a Rudlophtini, and a Monkey Gland. The winner was a New Fashioned, which was created by my husband Douglas.  (The recipe is at the end of the blog.) His prize was a copy of the book Margaritas (The Art of Entertaining). Orthogonal Margarita Glass

While we enjoyed our drinks, we also heard a guest talk from product experts at Nordic Semiconductor, a leading Bluetooth technology company whose products our staff regularly work with on projects.

The event was a success for our staff, and our guests from Nordic appreciated our invitation to a bring-your-own drink Zoom meeting on a summer Friday afternoon. That was doubly true for the product leader who joined us from Denmark at 10 PM his time on a Friday night.

We couldn’t meet in person, but we were able to see each other (at a distance) for package drop-offs and made special ways to celebrate our team and recognize their teamwork and achievements.

Plans for Summer 2021

The release of In the Heights at movie theaters has been rescheduled for June 18, 2021, so we already know the date of next year’s Orthogonal summer party!

The Winning Drink Recipe: The NEW Fashioned

  • Ingredients
    • 8 oz Tommy Bahama White Sands Rum
2 oz Grand Mariner liqueur
    • 1 oz Simple Syrup
    • Luxardo Cherries
Lavender Bitters
  • Directions (for 2 people)
    • 2 Luxardo Cherries in a Shaker, and add ice; 
add spirits and 5 dashes of Lavender Bitters and shake until cold;

 put 1 Teaspoon Cherry Juice into each snifter, and decant the shaker slowly on the inside of the snifter, held at a 45-degree angle; add two additional Cherries on a swizzle stick, and add several of the dirty ice cubes. Garnish with Gold Leaf.
  • If you’re curious, The New Fashioned is an updated riff on The Old Fashioned whiskey cocktail.

About the Author: Tanya Andresen Wojcik is Director of Delivery at Orthogonal.

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