The secret fun section

Changing how things get done in government is difficult. Doing it during a life-changing, history-altering event like the COVID-19 pandemic can be beyond stressful. With so much going on in maintaining covid19.ca.gov and our personal lives, things can get a little heavy.

That’s why we take time in the day to create a supportive, fun culture that helps us deliver our best work for Californians.


We created an entire Slack channel dedicated to thanking people for going above and beyond, significant accomplishments (like feature or page launches), or for just being a good person. These notes helped the mood stay fun and supportive even when things were tough. Consistently recognizing others strengthened the supportive culture of the team.

The question of the day

At our morning standup meetings, we talk about what we’re doing today and if anything’s blocking our progress. We also add a little fun by throwing in a question (affectionately known as the QOTD). It’s an opportunity to get to know the people you work with better.

Good standby questions include:

  • What are you watching these days?
  • What have you read recently?
  • What was your favorite part of the past weekend?
  • If you could travel anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?
  • What’s your wrong definition of a weird word (like pergola)?
  • Making someone who usually crushes college team names at pub trivia name the one for everybody’s alma mater

We also did months of themed questions in February for Black History Month and March for Women’s History Month.

Communication tools

We use Zoom and Slack for most of our communication. These helped our team bond and connect more than we would have if we’d just used email and Jira. We developed team norms about how we use each tool.

  • Slack for urgent or real-time communications
  • Zoom for meetings
  • Email for coordination with people outside of the team (especially if we wanted an easily accessible record of decisoins or discussions)
  • Jira for project management tracking (especially for tasks that do not need to be done immediately) and record keeping on work on given tasks and projects


Our team adopted enthusiastic and frequent emojis on Slack to respond to posts by others to support each other, share emotions, and have fun. Emojis were an easy way to express ideas that didn’t require high cognitive burden or triggering a notification (and including Slack’s all-too-familiar double wood stick knock). Some favorites included:

  • Hearts in all colors to support others
  • Praying hands to indicate thanks
  • Eyes to acknowledged someone has seen a message
  • Butter for Team Butter, the industry guidance redesign team who are “as smooth as butter”
  • The Kermit flail, sometimes used for joy and other times to acknowledge how crazy things were

Cameras in meetings

Many people choose to keep their cameras on during video conference meetings. This creates camaraderie and connection across the team, especially important with everyone working remotely. As one team member said, “With even half the room, it helps to get some visual feedback when you are making stupid jokes.” At the same time, no one is ever pressured to turn their camera on. With so much going on in life, we gave each other the grace to not be put together.

Song of the day

At the end of the day we’d report on Slack about what we accomplished (sometimes including things still in progress or blocked). Some people used YouTube or Spotify to include a song they felt encapsulated their day, was something they’d listened to while working, or was just something they wanted to share.

Variations included:

  • Smell of the day
  • Thought of the day

Unstructured check ins

When things move fast, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a silo. To combat this, some teams have standing meetings for the sole purpose of checking in with everyone. This helps people feel less alone and provide a space to voice if they’re feeling overwhelmed. This time can also be used for general discussion. If the team does not have much to talk about, it provides protected time in their schedules.

Created and maintained by Office of Digital Innovation