How Five Boston Companies are Making Space for Employees to Share Their Passions

Bringing personal interests into the workplace strengthens relationships and invites innovation.

Written by Dana Cassell
Published on Aug. 15, 2023
How Five Boston Companies are Making Space for Employees to Share Their Passions
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Working age Americans spend a lot of their lives with coworkers. The American Time Use Survey reports that between ages 20-60, Americans spend an average of 4 hours a day with coworkers. That’s a significant portion, not just of a day, but of a life. Who we work with - and how we connect with them - matters. 

“On weekdays,” says Alexa Buchta, Director of Revenue Operations at BlueConic, “I may spend more time with some of [my coworkers] than with my family! Being able to bond over a shared interest and passion is the perfect brain break and allows for relationships to form that wouldn't if you simply interacted with people in your area of the organization.”

Companies are taking note of this, especially in the post-Covid landscape where so many of us work remotely or in geographically spread out teams. The results are diverse and creative. Built In sat down with employees from five Boston companies to learn about how they’ve been able to engage their passions and connect with others at work.

Opportunities to connect range from book clubs and Slack channels to bi-annual “Hackathons” and daily “snacktivity” breaks. Co-workers are sharing parenting tips, teaching each other about their favorite hobbies and coordinating 5K races for the office. As ezCater’s Senior Manager Josh Levine says, “It’s a lot more fun and meaningful to work with people you feel connected to.”

 

Nicholas De La Torre
Scientist • Asimov

Asimov builds tools to program living cells and power advanced genetic design. 

 

How does your company encourage team members to bring, or engage with, their passions at work? 

One of the more unique ways Asimov fosters passion at work, that is abnormal for biotech, is a biannual hackathon week. Teammates are encouraged to pursue passion projects or join someone else’s idea that they think would be interesting. 

 

One of the more unique ways Asimov fosters passion at work, that is abnormal for biotech, is a biannual hackathon week.

 

The scope does not have to be directly work related. It can be about sharing a hobby such as rock climbing or trying to program cartoon images on a liquid handler to increase proficiency in automation. We have such a wide variety of team members that a favorite hackathon week activity was when the software team and the biologists taught each other basic programming and biological mechanisms. 

I think one of my favorite aspects of growing at Asimov is seeing new team member’s diverse passions augment the culture at Asimov. When I first started, there was a weekly board game group. Over the past two years, this has grown to a recurring book club, trading card group, and much more.  

A colleague wanted to share their passion for skiing and Asimov helped him organize a huge weekend ski trip. Whether it is pets, kids or hiking, there is a slack channel to share it. Asimov has continued to support and foster a place to pursue all these passions.

 

Tell us about a time when you've engaged with or shared a passion of yours in the workplace. What was special or unique about this experience for you?

I have a passion for automating and trying to make workflows more connected and efficient. I was interested in rethinking how we organized our data and experiments, so we gathered a small group during our hackathon week to brainstorm different methods.  

We ended up coming to a shared conclusion and implemented the new system that we still use almost two years later and is integral to our company. I think the uniqueness of this experience was that I was a new team member who was interested in trying to solve a problem and was given almost unlimited flexibility and autonomy to come up with a solution. This passion has evolved to working with our disparate groups from software to business development to integrate our workflows into a shared vision.

This flexibility and autonomy are an integral part of Asimov that allows us to pursue our passions outside the workplace as well. The ability to have a flexible schedule and work remotely helps me pursue other passions of mine like soccer, and others have more time with their family.
 

How does creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions help build culture and team camaraderie? 

At Asimov, we are trying to develop software tools for synthetic biologists. Software programmers and synthetic biologists come from very different backgrounds. Sharing common passions helps to foster camaraderie and build a bridge between the diverse backgrounds at Asimov.  

Having half the company fully remote all over the world, the monthly book club helps to connect people who do not normally work together or are not able to run into each other in the office.

I believe creating space for team members shows that everyone belongs regardless of what they are passionate about. This helps create a more inclusive environment to share ideas and work together towards a shared vision.  

Throughout my two years here, I have never seen a day where a puzzle was not being worked on. Whether to unwind alone between experiments or to chat with colleagues while trying to find that last piece, it has helped me to connect with colleagues about personal life and solutions to work problems.

 

 

Nichole Simbeck
Deputy Group Lead, Human Resources • STR

STR makes the world a safer place by developing technology and applying it to solve emerging national security challenges.

 

How does your company encourage team members to bring, or engage with, their passions at work? 

Employees are encouraged to form and join a variety of affinity groups at STR. These groups create a space where folks with a shared interest can connect and build relationships. Some of the affinity groups we have at STR center around fiber arts, cooking, volunteer work, running, photography or connecting over the works of JRR Tolkien.

Another way that STR encourages employees to pursue their passions at work is by creating a variety of spaces for employees to innovate and share their work with the company. Recently, an employee fascinated with the science of decision making turned her knowledge into a brief on mitigating bias in the interview process. She was able to present at a group meeting and enjoyed sharing her knowledge and contributing to more inclusive hiring practices.

 

Tell us about a time when you've engaged with or shared a passion of yours in the workplace. What was special or unique about this experience for you?

In 2022, I received my coaching certification through iPEC. I love being a coach. STR has provided me the opportunity to hone my skills by coaching leaders throughout the organization. It has been an incredibly fulfilling part of my role. 

I'm also passionate about health and wellness. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to bring a variety of wellness activities and events to STR. Some of these include a 5K run for charity, stretch and roll clinics, and movement challenges.

 

How does creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions help build culture and team camaraderie? 

Fostering relationships in the workplace is so important to company success and it truly can begin with something as small as a dog photo or shared recipe. Creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions gives employees the opportunity to connect more deeply. I've seen employees connect initially over things like running or photography and then continue to build on that foundation and grow into allies at work.

 

Creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions gives employees the opportunity to connect more deeply.”

 

 

 

Izzy Cheng
Senior Associate Software Engineer • Capital One

Capital One is a banking and financial services provider whose offerings include credit cards, checking accounts and personal and business loans.

 

How does your company encourage team members to bring, or engage with, their passions at work? 

We have the flexibility in our day—and Capital One encourages us—to take time to pursue passion projects, attend interesting panels and lean into whatever else we’re interested in. Some of Capital One’s opportunities include Green Teams for sustainability efforts, the Capital One Art ProgramCapital One Pro Bono and our many Business Resource Groups. The company’s support goes beyond the programs.

Tell us about a time when you've engaged with or shared a passion of yours in the workplace. What was special or unique about this experience for you?

I regularly interact with the Capital One Art Program, which offers classes, exhibitions and artist talks. I love sharing my paintings on our Slack channel and cheering on other people's work. It’s a treat to be part of such a kind, supportive community. 

 

I love sharing my paintings on our Slack channel and cheering on other people's work. It’s a treat to be part of such a kind, supportive community.

 

How does creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions help build culture and team camaraderie? 

Art is such a big part of myself, and I feel very understood and seen being able to share that at my day job. I initially worried that when I pursued a career in STEM that I’d have to set art aside, but my team loves to find ways for me to incorporate it. I’ve created team logos and styled many of our presentations. Capital One supports my passions. 

 

 

Josh Levine
Sr. Manager, Learning & Development • ezCater

ezCater is a marketplace that connects businesspeople with a variety of catering options. 

 

How does your company encourage team members to bring, or engage with, their passions at work? 

ezCater has built and upheld a culture where we can be ourselves and where we want to get to know each other. This creates the space for our passions to come up in day-to-day conversations. For example, one of my team members has a print shop business with her husband - we recently got a tour of the mini-factory they have in their basement. Another team member competes in Ironman events. We all love hearing about what each other are up to outside of work.

As far as more formal programs, our internal learning academy, ezU, allows employees to share their passions with the rest of the company by developing an educational session. We recently had a team member lead an ezU session called “How to Love Nature Like a Naturalist” where she shared her love for nature and her path to becoming a trained naturalist and offered suggestions for how the rest of us could connect more deeply with nature. 

Topics have ranged from professional to personal development, and we’ve offered 26 programs in the past year alone. We’ll continue to offer opportunities through ezU for team members to share their passions and teach each other.
 

Tell us about a time when youve engaged with or shared a passion of yours in the workplace. What was special or unique about this experience for you?

I love hosting events and bringing people together. Earlier in my career I had a dream of creating an in-person community space where we’d experiment with different ways of connecting friends, families and strangers alike. I thought I’d call it Community Lab, and while I haven’t yet created that in-person space, when I brought up the idea of trying out a virtual version at ezCater, my manager was extremely supportive and excited to see how it would go. 

We’ve since started a Community Lab series in March as a part of our ezU programming and these have been very well-received so far. In our first Community Lab, we had participants get into groups and virtually travel the world together using all of the tools that the internet offers. 

In the second Community Lab, we hosted “A Very Short Film Festival,” with nine short films in the hour and a discussion afterwards. 

As a remote-hybrid company with people from many different backgrounds and experiences, this has been a great way to bring employees together to connect, learn from each other and continue building our ezCater community.

 

How does creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions help build culture and team camaraderie? 

Sometimes when we’re at work, we can end up seeing our colleagues as employees only, as if they don’t have full lives and experiences outside of the workplace. So much of our creativity and skills are drawn from experiences we’ve had outside of work, and when we create the space to get to know and understand each other better, we also create the space for us to connect more deeply, challenge each other to do our best and support each other when things get hard. 

This is particularly important as a majority of our people work remotely and don’t have those daily opportunities for in-person connection. It’s also a lot more fun and meaningful to work with people you feel connected to. In my career, I’ve always picked the opportunities that let me work beside people I’m inspired by and admire, and I’ve never regretted those choices. It helps me grow professionally and personally, and allows me to do my best work. 

 

It’s also a lot more fun and meaningful to work with people you feel connected to.

 

 

Alexa Buchta
Director, Revenue Operations • BlueConic

BlueConic provides a customer data platform, separating marketers’ first-party data from disparate systems and making it more accessible.

 

How does your company encourage team members to bring, or engage with, their passions at work? 

At BlueConic, we engage through various platforms. In slack we have interest-specific groups where people can share their passions and interests (#catsanddogs, #true-crime-crew, #dropyourplants, #potterheads, and #crafty, to name a few) as well as a daily “snacktivity.”  

Snacktivities started at the beginning of the pandemic, when we realized we wouldn’t be back in the office for a while, as a way to connect on a topic many could participate in that was completely separate from work. Whether it’s a quiz, poll, trivia or debate about the best movie that starts with the letter B, we’ve done it nearly every day since April 1, 2020. 

Our “Culture Crew” hosts a monthly book club, coffee and donut roulette sessions where we spend 30 minutes getting matched with a random member of the BlueCrew to chat with for a few minutes before moving to the next; they also  partner with the DEIB Council for Drag Queen Bingo in June each year, among other things. 

With a physically dispersed team, we are always thinking about ways to bring people together that don’t feel exhausting after spending all day in Zoom meetings, as well as regional meet ups to build connections with people you may not see day-to-day.

 

With a physically dispersed team, we are always thinking about ways to bring people together that don't feel exhausting after spending all day in Zoom meetings.”

 

Tell us about a time when you've engaged with or shared a passion of yours in the workplace. What was special or unique about this experience for you?

As I prepared for my maternity leave, I joined our #bluecrewrents channel on Slack. It was SO helpful to get support as I prepared for a major life change and it has been an invaluable resource when I had questions about product recommendations or how to prepare for our first road trip with a baby. Becoming a parent and transitioning back to work can be difficult and at times the balance can be daunting, but knowing there are people navigating it right alongside you is comforting.

 

How does creating space for team members to share and engage with their passions help build culture and team camaraderie? 

We all spend SO much time with the people we work with. On weekdays, I may spend more time with some of them than with my family! We only see a small sliver of each others’ lives when working. 

Being able to bond over a shared interest and passion is the perfect brain break and allows for relationships to form that wouldn't if you simply interacted with people in your area of the organization. Personally, my favorite spot for a brain break is the #movie-buffs channel where people post reviews for movies they’ve seen and hype up releases they are looking forward to. It’s so fun to know another member of the BlueCrew is also sitting in a theater near them watching the same thing!

 

 

RELATED READINGhttps://www.builtinboston.com/2023/07/26/how-blueconic-supportive-culture-catalyzed-execs-career-growth

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed Companies

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