Today was the first (very) full day of CUPE National 2021. For HEU members, it wasn’t our first virtual convention. I’d say we are becoming pros at attending them. But if I had to highlight a single skill we are getting even better at: it’s creating a community regardless of the distance.

For anyone who is trying to keep a team together, I’d say our members have created an easy blueprint that I’m going to share in three easy steps.

1. Create a chat away from the convention. In our early days (meaning: until two weeks ago) we used Facebook Messenger. This was great and I loved it. We ran into some problems though. Facebook Messenger caps out at 200 people. So we upscaled to Slack. Do I endorse one over the other? No. Use what works best for your team. You’re building a community, not aiming for perfection.

2. Set a tone and, when in doubt, choose the fun inclusive tone. Regardless of the platform, we set some ground rules. For us, it was stuff like, “stay on topic,” and “be nice.” The rules were very casual but in a time when bringing up vaccines is equivalent to setting off a social time bomb, being able to keep a chat drama-free means everyone can enjoy the company of people they can’t see up close.

3. Have themes. Today, for example, the HEU women wore white tshirts and a black sweater or blazer. Everyone looked amazing and everyone knew who their group was. Of course it’s optional and yeah, regrettably not everyone saw it in the chat. But even those who didn’t know were still able to know who their people were. That was important.

Being apart for the last 20 months has been challenging. We like being together. But if you can’t be together, we can still find creative ways to be a team.