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6 Things I Learned while Living with My Co-Workers

Most people might say that they spend so much time at work that they essentially "live with their co-workers." You see them throughout most of the week, you're spending lunch with them, dedicating hours to solving mind-wracking problems, staying over hours, you've argued over decisions, and celebrated over victories.

But how might things be different if you actually lived with the same people you work with? This year I got the chance to experience living with my 5 co-workers as part of our full-time job at the Prince of Peace Catholic Newman Center. Yes. We literally lived together. 6 college students. In a house. For a year. For work.

What does a year of living with your co-workers look like, exactly? Well, to start, you're not just co-workers. As one of my friends who previously took on this job said, "it's an entire balancing act based on three pillars: getting along as colleagues, friends, and roommates. If one of those goes down, they all go down." Figuring out how to do this was a learning experience of its own. Here are six things that I learned based on that experience:

1. Communication is key.

Developing our own structure for meetings and general communication was a learning process. Our first mistake was relying solely on Facebook Messenger for communicating important reminders. Simply texting "meeting at 6pm!" to the chat does not guarantee that everyone will show up at 6pm. In response to this, we moved over to using SLACK for team communications. This made things significantly more organized because we could separate different topics into different channels. Each event we were planning had its own channel, so we no longer had to deal with 3 threads going on at the same time in one chat. We also made more of an effort to give each other reminders in person rather than just through text.

2. "If you can't disagree, you're doing a disservice."

This was something I overheard at a meeting for my school's nursing department where they were discussing qualities they wanted in a department chair. One of the group members wanted someone who could disagree.

I'm a pretty passive gal. I thought that disagreements in teams were a call for unwanted tension, but I've learned that it doesn't need to be. Sometimes, choosing to disagree with an idea could save your project. And disagreements don't have to consist of heated arguments or awkward tension filling the room. Healthy disagreements are constructive and productive.

3. You need to tackle issues within the team right away.

Dishes are piling up, people are too loud during quiet hours, planning for projects is getting stressful and frustrating, disagreements are no longer constructive, and people are giving attitude. Letting these issues pile up and take over only makes the situation worse for everyone. If someone is doing something that bothers you, talk to them one on one (in a respectful manner, of course). If there's an issue that's prevalent among the group, or someone is not changing their ways even after talking to them one on one, then that might be a good time to bring in another team member to help resolve the problem. Don't let issues fester and grow. It can be scary to confront things, but a lot of the time, you just have to do it.

4. The work load won't always be evenly distributed. And that's okay.

People have other responsibilities that aren't just their job. They have school, family, friends, and their own health to take care of. Sometimes someone in your team will be overloaded with other work to do, sometimes someone will be going through a really rough patch in their life, and sometimes you will have to carry part of someone else's load. That's okay! A big part of being a good team member is being compassionate.

5. Set aside intentional community time with your teammates.

Having monthly bonding time plus weekly prayer time was essential to our team dynamic and well-being. This was how we were able to exercise our pillar of friendship within the group.

For monthly bonding, each member of the team was assigned to plan a bonding day for another member of the team. The activities would consist of things that that member enjoyed doing, and the entire team would participate in those activities. For example, my co-worker Emma loves scrapbooking and sushi, so I planned a relaxing scrapbooking night for all of us followed by going out to a sushi restaurant a few blocks from the house. (I got 2 rolls, 2 onigiri, and miso soup for just $8!)

Some sushi we got at a restaurant called Musashi's. Super cheap and super good!

From our scrapbooking night.

Our weekly prayer time consisted of telling each other our highs and lows for the week, either saying what we're grateful for, how God is working in our lives today, or sharing a virtue we want to improve in, bringing up our prayer intentions, and reciting a short prayer all together (a decade of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy, singing a hymn, or reciting a St. Maximilian Kolbe prayer, who was our patron saint).

Granted, not all work places/teams are going to have this type of intentional time together, but it helped to know how my teammates were doing that week so I could help them in whatever way I could. It can be easy to get angry at a co-worker for not picking up their slack until you hear what they were actually going through that day. So, get to know your co-workers on a more personal level if it's appropriate. It puts things into perspective.

6. You have to set a solid foundation of values.

This was from a retreat we planned for 3 months where 50+ undergrads attended to hear student testimonies and grow in fellowship.

Before even starting a project with your team, take the time to think about your team's purpose and values. Of course, everyone knows that a team needs to have specific goals, but if you don't understand why you're pursuing those goals, then your plans are significantly more at risk to fall apart. There is something bigger to achieve than success, pulling huge numbers, making money, gaining publicity, and finishing tasks.

In times of stress, frustration, and arguments, we would always remind ourselves that the work we did was not about us, but about those we were impacting with our work: new freshmen transitioning into college, new transfer students looking for a community, current undergraduates, local community members, God. "Being right" and "having the final say" in project planning or decision making wasn't worth the time or stress if it meant being distracted from our purpose.

The Best Job I've Ever Had

This was one of the most fulfilling jobs I've ever had that pushed me to grow in all areas. I'm incredibly blessed to have been a part of a team who challenged me to be a better leader, worker, and friend.

Living with the people that I work with taught me to have more compassion and empathy for others. It was eye-opening because I basically gained insight into what my co-workers were going through in their daily lives. In my previous jobs at Burger King and the little grocery store on campus, my co-workers and I would exchange little bits and pieces of our day, but conversations rarely ever extended beyond that.

The way you interact with your colleagues changes drastically when you become a part of their lives, and they become a part of yours. Maybe this might sound like a super crazy, miserable concept to most people, but I'm grateful to have my co-workers be a part of my life, and that I've made some life-long friends.

My team of 6 Peer Ministers on a beautiful snow day!