Gift exchange — because even #remotelife people like gifts

Post box with gift

Let’s be honest — there are many great perks about our #remotelife. We get to work anywhere in the United States, which means none of us has to move to a major city to do impactful work. We have a great team of people who vary in their background, age, life status, interests, and so much more. We have the flexibility we need to live real lives – taking off 2 hours in the middle of the day to hit up that long post office line or peacing out at 4:00 because we are on carpool duty or taking one of the many beloved dogs of Ad Hoc for a mid-day walk.

But, as with any great thing. there are two sides of the coin. #remotelife means we don’t get to physically see each other’s faces every day, and the watercooler chitchat is a little less frequent. Here at Ad Hoc, we have found numerous ways to address this. I mean, just check out our Slack — we have more than 400 public channels, more than half of which are related to interests rather than work. We have channels for #fitness, #books, #puns-and-wordplay, #snacks (and its counterpart #cooking), #ad-flock (a channel set up because a mama bird hatched some baby birds outside a colleague’s window and we all wanted regular updates). Basically, if you like something, odds are there are others here like you.

As 2018 drew to an end, the season of appreciation, gratefulness, and gifting was coming upon us. One thing I really missed was the random gift-giving between colleagues. Some people know this as Secret Santa, but I like to think of it more like a dear boss I’ve learned to love over time:

An animated image from the TV series The Office, with a quote - It's like this tangible thing that you can point to and say - hey man, I love you this many dollars worth

So were born the voluntary :secret-corgi: Gift Exchange (I am obsessed with corgis. I do not have one, but we don’t need to get into my :corgi-love:) and these custom emojis.

Ad Hoc logo with a gift bow on top animated image of a rainbow-colored corgi

How did we pull this off remotely?

Step 1: Set up a Google form to collect people’s names, addresses, whether they’d be home for the holidays (for folks who were traveling, we requested their gifts be sent before the holidays hit or after) and any wish list items (many said, “Surprise me!”). The gift budget was loosely capped at $20 (but I may have gone over :D).

Step 2: I gave everyone 5 days to sign up. In the end, 46 people signed up :party-corgi:

Step 3: I took the list of people, then randomized it. I matched people by having each person on the randomized list give to the next person on the list. So if the list read Person A, Person B, and Person C, Person A gave to Person B, Person B gave to Person C, and so on. It worked out pretty well. We had some last-minute sign ups, and it was easy to just slot them into the line without disrupting the whole thing. It was also important to me to match folks with people they might not typically work with every day. At Ad Hoc, we work on a ton of programs, and I wanted this to be a chance for people to interact with folks outside of their daily work life.

Step 4: The match email! I wrote a quick template setting up the guidelines, expectations, and – most important - the match!

Step 5: From there, it was all in the hands of the gifters to find their gifts and ship them out.

An animated map showing rainbow corgis moving across the country from state to state

My own experience

My :secret-corgi: giftee requested something “inspiring.” She’s a person I’ve met in design huddles but have never worked with directly, someone I don’t chat with every day. But no doubt, she is an amazing person, designer, leader, and mother. I had just finished reading Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir about her journey from a young girl to the woman we know today and thought this would be a great book that could inspire my :secret-corgi: to always be her most honest and authentic self. And what else do you need when you are being inspiring and constantly inspired? A pocket-size notebook with an amazing pen and a cup to hold all the liquids you need to stay hydrated and caffeinated.

My own :secret-corgi: knew of my love of tea and got me two amazing blends, one even a Vietnamese blend in honor of my heritage (I’m pretty sure I’ve never come across a distinctly Vietnamese tea blend before), along with some rocking socks

Jason’s experience

I’ve been with Ad Hoc around 6 months, and I’ve been really impressed by the company’s effort and focus on building a fun, tight-knit culture in a remote-first workforce. The holiday gift exchange is just another example. The interest form for my recipient said she liked coffee, things about cats, and pink stuff (among other things), so when I saw a pink coffee cup with an interesting cat pattern on it, I was excited to package it up a deliver a laugh to a co-worker I hadn’t even met yet. For me, I shared how much I liked cooking, and I received my gift (a package of various finishing salts) just as I was starting to cook dinner. I chatted a thanks to my Secret Santa and used them for dinner that night.

Julia’s experience

Being a remote worker can sometimes get lonely. It’s rare that we find ways to connect in real life with our work colleagues. Participating in the gift exchange was a great way to help connect us as a team and help spread a little joy in each other’s lives. And Cindy is awesome and I am so glad I get to work with her and OMG DID YOU SEE WHAT SHE SENT ME!?

Jenn’s experience

My favorite gifts to give are ones that foster creativity and help people achieve their dreams. I happened to pull the name of a co-worker who I’d already been having conversations around creativity with. So when I pulled her name, I waited until we had another creative conversation scheduled and listened for what might make a good gift. She mentioned wanting to take a drawing class. As a happy coincidence was having a gift subscription sale that put 3 months of classes into the range of our magic corgi limit!

Valarie’s experience

As a giver:

I’d only been with Ad Hoc for a couple of months, so I was worried about not knowing enough about my teammates to buy someone a personalized gift. But once I received my giftee, I had a lot of fun learning more about her so I could find something just for her. I snooped around on our random Slack channels to find out more about her and what she might like. I hope she was happy with her gift!

As a receiver:

Since our teammates are scattered across 37 states, we had a chance to share our local treasures with someone across the country. I gifted tea that was sourced from war-torn countries around the world by a small company located about 10 minutes from my home in Texas, and I was gifted snacks that are popular in my Secret Santa’s hometown in California.

Cath’s experience

I normally run from enforced corporate jollity, especially Secret Santa, but I stunned myself and voluntarily joined up. My Secret Santa sent me gifts that are his favorites, which he wanted to share and thought I’d enjoy. I got two great presents but also received a third when I found out about our shared interests. I figured out who he is, and we had a great chat. Working 100% remotely can be isolating, no matter how much you love it, and our Secret Santa experience was a fun community builder. Thanks to our Secret Santa Chief Director Elf (SS CDE) for organizing!

A sampling of our gifts

I'm so looking forward to a nice cup of joe from this. Thanks Denver. Danger monkey coffee beans

Secret santa beef jerkey from Sacramento California. Thanks, Secret Santa!

OMG OMG OMG - thank you Cindy for my wonderful secret santa gifts! heart-eyes emoji. Gifts include Becoming by Michelle Obama, cards and pens

Drawing pens and designer pencils from my magic-corgi-santa! And the foxes I immediately drew after receiving new tools!

Arrived yesterday. Thanks to my anonymous corgi-santa, this really cheered me up. Smiley face. Gift of party grub.

Secret Santa arrived at the Jersey Shore! Gift of candles, coffee and a card.

Hey, thanks Secret Santa! Gift of bumper sticker and coffee beans.

Thanks Secret Santa! Gift of a Washington DC mug.

Secret Santa strikes! Thank you! Gift of a book and pen set.

Thank you Andrew S. for my secret-corgi delivery! Gift of a gloomhaven sticker set.

Thank you so much! I love the giant books, especially the ones about Zelda! Very Secret Santa, I was able to find out the origin was Portland, Oregon, but not much more. Gift of a Zelda book, other assorted gifts, and a card.

Secret-corgi totally nailed it. I'm a foul-mouthed foodie who needs to improve grip strength.

Aw yay! Thank you South Carolina-based secret-corgi for filling my request for fun things from where you live. Excited to eat things covered in hot sauce while wearing fun socks and dreaming of Greenville.

Secret santa came! Smells amazing, great addition to my workplace.

Secret santa suddenly strikes with sumptuous sips and snappy storage solutions! Shanks! Er wait, thanks! That's the one.

Thanks to my secret santa Alex Mack!. Gift of books and pez.

This is so adorable. Gift of mug made by a team member.

Everyone please appreciate these incredible socks that Nicola got me for secret santa. Heart eyes emoji!

Sam thank you for the awesome cookbook! Perfect gift for me. The recipe was 100 and super easy to do on a weeknight. Mushroom tacos with avocado salsa.

Awesome! Thank you secret-corgi! Gift of socks and olive oil.

Thank you secret-corgi for the wonderful teas and mug! Drinking the delicious orange grapefruit tea now can't wait to try the others because they smell amazing.

Just got home from vacation and made a cup of my secret holiday gift. Thank you secret-corgi.

Socks and green tea! One is even a Vietnamese blend.

Thank you to my sweet secret santa. Gift of chocolates.

Thanks Secret Santa. Heart emoji. Gift of a mug.